Lost in the shuffle of the Baltimore Ravens signing franchised defensive end/linebacker to a six-year, $62.5 million dollar contract with $38 million in guarantees, and the Kansas City Chiefs signing franchised quarterback Matt Cassel to a six-year, $63 million dollar contract with $28 million guaranteed, was the Oakland Raiders’ decision to waive sixth-round defensive end Stryker Sulak two weeks before the start of training camp.
As a sixth-round pick, it’s possible that Sulak may not have won a spot on the Raiders' 53-man roster, as Bay Area News Group’s Jerry McDonald pointed out last Tuesday, but that's not the issue here.
One issue, aside from the Raiders failing to notify neither Sulak's agent, Bob Lattinville nor Sulak himself of the decision to place him on waivers for nearly a full day after doing so, is that by waiving Sulak before he had signed a multi-year contract, the Raiders denied him of the momentous occasion of signing his first NFL contract with the team that drafted him.
Granted, there’s not a lot of pomp and circumstance involved when a sixth-round draft pick signs his contract, but that moment surely has some meaning to the player, who has worked hard to reach this level.
The other issue is that by waiving Sulak, the Raiders likely cost him over $90,000 in signing bonus money.
According to Article XVI, Section 4(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement "In the event the exclusive negotiating rights to the drafted player are assigned to any Club through the NFL waiver system, the acquiring Club must immediately extend the Required Tender following assignment. If released through waivers, the player shall be treated as an Undrafted Rookie Free Agent, with the right to sign an NFL Player Contract with any Club".
What this means is that if a team were to claim Sulak on waivers, they would be required to tender him at the minimum salary level for 2009 ($310,000) and would need to account for that figure, as well as the prorated portion of his signing bonus, under their rookie pool. No team had the room under their rookie pool to make a claim, so Sulak has cleared waivers and is now regarded as being an undrafted free agent.
Instead of receiving the nearly $94,000 signing bonus the 199th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft could expect (the player chosen after Sulak, New York Giants cornerback DeAndre Wright, signed for $93,009), Sulak now enters the undrafted free agent market, where the top signing bonus this year was $25,000 (Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Marlon Favorite), at a time where NFL teams are focused on getting their own draft picks signed in time for camp and likely lack the room in their rookie pool to offer Sulak any more than $2,000-$4,000 to sign.
According to Lattinville, several teams have expressed an interest in Sulak, but those teams are already at their roster limit. Still, Lattinville hopes to have Sulak in an NFL training camp next month.
"Stryker has gotten an early taste of the business (side) of the NFL, but he's up for the challenge." Lattinville said. "Some club is going to get a fine player with an enormous amount of motivation."
Which teams might be interested in Sulak?
Many draft analysts projected Sulak (6-5, 251) as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. With several teams making that transition this off-season, surely they had Sulak, who had 10.5 quarterback sacks and 6 forced fumbles last season, on their draft boards. Below are some teams that could be interested in bringing him to training camp:
Denver Broncos – If Mike Shanahan were still handling the personnel duties in Dove Valley, Sulak to the Broncos would be a slam-dunk. Denver is one of those teams shifting to a 3-4, and with just 4 outside linebackers presently on the roster--all converted 4-3 defensive ends--Sulak could be a consideration for new Broncos general manager Brian Xanders.
Kansas City Chiefs – The Chiefs are also transitioning to a 3-4 defense, and while they have eight outside linebackers on their roster, three are of whom are undrafted free agents who may lack Sulak’s upside. Also, Sulak was a four-year starter 125 or so miles down the road at the University of Missouri, where he posted 22.5 quarterback sacks, second on the school’s all-time list.
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers run the 3-4 and are a bit thin at the outside linebacker position. The six they have on the roster have combined for just 58 NFL starts and Parys Haralson is the only 49ers’ outside linebacker signed beyond 2010.
New England Patriots - Between Adalius Thomas, Shawn Crable, and Pierre Woods, the Patriots appear set at the outside linebacker position. However, they only have five on their roster and love guys with phrases like "hard-worker" and “overachiever” on their scouting reports. Also, the pick the Raiders used on Sulak was acquired from New England. The Patriots acquired the 40th pick (Ron Brace) in exchange for the 47th (Michael Mitchell), 124th (Louis Murphy) and 199th (Sulak) picks in the 2009 NFL Draft. So signing Sulak could turn that from a 3-for-1 trade to a straight 2-for-2 swap.
New York Jets – Calvin Pace is facing a four-game suspension and Vernon Gholston is coming off a sub-par rookie season, but that’s not why the Jets might have an interest in Sulak. The Jets top three outside linebackers are pretty much set, but Sulak could improve their depth and signing him would be like gaining an additional sixth-round pick to their three-player draft class of 2009.
In addition to writing for NorthwestFootball.net, Brian McIntyre maintains his own blog, where he’s tracking the signing status of the 2009 NFL Draft Class, writes for FalconInsider.com, and charts games for Football Outsiders. If you’d like to e-mail Brian, you may do so by clicking here.