How does the NFL Supplemental Draft work?

Dear Sports Fan,

I recently posted this question on Fancred, “Raise your hand if you understand the supplemental draft at all.” Barely anyone raised their hand, and we’re all sports fans on Fancred! Can you help? How does the NFL Supplemental Draft work?

Jake N.

Dear Jake N.,

Hey Jake — I think I can help. Every spring, the NFL holds an entry draft for any player who has played at least two years of football since high school and would like to play in the NFL. This is a giant event with over 200 players selected and many more who declared themselves eligible for selection but who were not picked. When a team picks a player in the draft, it means that they have the exclusive right to negotiate and sign a contract with that player. No other team can try to sign them. Players who don’t get picked become free agents and are able to negotiate with any team that wants them, and indeed, many of them get signed, albeit to shorter, less lucrative contracts. Every year though, there are a few players who slip through the cracks. Either they intended to be in the draft but messed up their paperwork or, at the time they needed to make the decision, they wanted to stay in college for another year, but since then, something has changed in their life. This change could be a life event –  a death in the family, an expected child, or it could be something more salacious, like having become academically ineligible for another year at college or getting in trouble with the law. The Supplemental Draft, held in July, is a chance for players who missed the draft but have a qualifying reason (the NFL decides) to enter the NFL this year, to be chosen by teams.

The Supplemental draft is a reasonably simple procedure but it’s badly named. It works much more like a blind auction than a draft. The first thing that happens is that an order of teams is established. All the NFL teams are divided into three groups: teams that won six or fewer games last year, teams that won more than six games but didn’t make the playoffs, and teams that made the playoffs. Within each group, a random drawing is done to establish an order. Once the order is set, teams can make bids on eligible players. This year there are seven eligible players. Teams bid on players by declaring a number from one to seven. These numbers are meant to be the equivalent of the round in the normal draft the team would have selected the player if they had been the normal draft. Of course, as with most elements of sport, there’s no obligation to be truthful. Teams bid whatever they think will work, not what they actually would have done. Once all the bids are in on a player, the team which claimed they would have drafted the player in the earliest round (1st is better than 2nd is better than 3rd and so on) gets the right to negotiate with that player. If there are two or more teams with the same bid, the team that is earlier in the order gets the player.

The reason why the numbers correspond to draft rounds, instead of being totally arbitrary, is that there is a cost for winning a supplemental draft bid. When a team drafts a player through the supplemental draft, they lose the equivalent round draft pick in next year’s normal NFL entry draft. This is a fairly big cost, considering that the pool of players to choose from is so much bigger in, say the fourth round of next year’s draft compared to the handful of players in the supplemental draft. As such, teams virtually never bid very high for players in the supplemental draft and in many years, the draft comes and goes without a single player being picked. The only exception to this rule is firmly an element of the NFL’s history, not its present. In the mid-1980s, a couple players used the supplemental draft as a means of controlling which team they ended up with. This loophole, most famously used by Bernie Kosar to get to the Cleveland Browns and by Brian Bosworth to avoid the Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills, was firmly closed in 1990.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

What's so enjoyable about the NBA draft?

Dear Sports Fan,

The NBA draft is tonight, which means half of my friends will be glued to the television and the other half will be glued to their phones, getting constant updates and reading Twitter. I have to say, I enjoy basketball as much as the next guy but I don’t get the whole draft obsession. What’s so enjoyable about the NBA draft?


Dear Josh,

Sports fans come in many different flavors. Some people love a particular team but won’t watch a game between two other teams. Some people will watch any game but don’t really want to be bothered with having a favorite team. Some people care only about the on-the-court tactics. Some people love to watch beautiful bodies in motion. Some people follow a sport for the celebrity lives of its players. Somewhere in that mess of flavors, is a variety of fan who loves the draft. Here are some of the characteristics of that type of fan:

  • Love of the unknown – This is a key characteristic for most varieties of sports fan. Sports, after all, are one of the few types of entertainment (literally reality TV) where anything can happen at any moment. Still, during a game, the possibilities are limited by the players involved. LeBron James is unlikely to forget how to pass the ball. The New York Knicks aren’t going to miraculously become the best team in the league in an instant. Deron Williams isn’t going to dunk over Marc Gasol. During the draft, everything is possible, anything can happen, and it often does. Trades between teams involving picks and players happen frequently during the draft, as well as surprise player selections. Despite all the research, no one really knows how good each of the players eligible to be picked is going to be, so any pick could be the one that launches a team to the promised land of NBA greatness.
  • Hope springing eternal – For the type of fan whose primary focus is the fortunes of a single team, the draft offers the promise of success in the upcoming year. The pinnacle of this excitement comes when a favorite team has a high pick – one of the first five – or has stockpiled several reasonably high picks. The draft is set up so that generally teams who did worse last year have the best draft picks in this year’s draft. That optimizes the excitement of the draft for this type of fan.
  • Enjoys the setup more than the conclusion – For some fans, and I count myself in this category, enjoying the NBA draft is an extension of how they feel about all types of activities. Some people just like the setup more than the conclusion. I find examples of this all over my life. When watching movies or reading books, I gravitate towards beginnings over endings. For example, I love the first half of the famous movie, the Seven Samurai, with its long recruitment sections when each samurai is individually introduced, more than the final half when all the fighting happens. I love the first two thirds of the Usual Suspects for the same reason. It’s the same way with books. How about video games? I’ll start a dozen games without finishing any of them. Movies? Half the time, I spend more time browsing titles than actually watching them. Sometimes that’s all I do! The draft is all the setup with none of that pesky playing of games to get in the way of my enjoyment.

It’s also possible that your friends are college basketball fans in addition to being NBA fans. In that case, they have a vested interest in the draft because they already know the characters. One thing that almost every brand of sports fan likes to do is to think about who is better and who is best. The NBA draft is a form of ranking college (and international) basketball players from best to worst. Since that’s something college (and international) fans already do in their spare time, it’s fun for them to see if their instincts are similar to the collective wisdom of 30 NBA teams.

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

Why not make the NFL draft more fair to players?

The NFL draft was this past week. It has become a three-day extravaganza, hyped for weeks before and analyzed for months afterwards. Although we treat it like a sporting event, it’s really just a mutated job fair. The way it works is that the 32 NFL teams take turns selecting players. The teams select in the reverse order of how well they did in the previous year. This year, the first pick was made by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who won two games and lost 14 last year and the last pick was made by the New England Patriots, because they won the Super Bowl last year.

This seems like a fair system. Giving the worst teams the best new players, (or at least their choice from the new players) should create a league with some amount of parity, where it is difficult for some teams to continually be the best and some teams to get stuck at the bottom of the standings forever. Who, exactly, is this fair for? It’s fair for team owners who, despite a fair number of socialist league policies (revenue sharing, etc.) do benefit from the popularity and success of their own teams. It’s also fair for football fans who generally have hope each year that their team may compete for the playoffs or even the championship.

I suppose the current system is also fair for players, each of whom have declared themselves eligible for the NFL draft with a full and easy understanding of just what that means to their futures. It’s not always very nice though. A player can easily be drafted by a team whose management or coaches he does not like or from a city or region he doesn’t feel comfortable. A football player doesn’t get to choose where he lives, who he works with, or for. This year, Deadspin ran a short photo with caption style post about Amari Cooper, drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the fourth overall pick of the draft. The headline was “Amari Cooper Looks Really Happy to Be on the Raiders.” He doesn’t. And why would he? The Raiders are a notoriously inept organization with insane (sometimes good insane, sometimes bad insane, but either way, an acquired taste insane) fans. Cooper is from Florida and played his college football in Alabama. Now he’s got to move out to Northern California and play for a team that hasn’t had a winning record since 2002… when Cooper was eight years old.

Sure, there’s no need to cry for Cooper, he’ll be making over $400,000 this year, but the same cannot be said for the players who were drafted in the fifth, sixth, or seventh rounds. These players are on the fringes of the NFL and close to as many of them won’t have a job in two years as will. For all players, but for these guys especially, the difference between getting picked by a good team and a bad is enormous. So, why not think about other systems that are equally fair to fans and owners but perhaps more fair to the players? There are lots of different “fairs.” Before joining a pickup basketball game, the first thing you ask is “winners or losers?” In other words, does the team that just scored get the ball to start the next possession or does the team that just got scored on? Both are seen as fair options, one simply rewards one thing and one rewards another? The NFL could just as easily reverse the draft and reward the teams that perform well by letting them select first. That will help some players but not all of them. Another option would be to reverse the power structure. Make the NFL a little bit more like college, where teams can recruit players, but the players eventually get to choose from the teams. That’s actually a more feasible option than it may seem at first glance. Not all the players will just go to a few of the best teams because, thanks to the NFL salary cap which limits the amount of money teams can pay players, there’s a preexisting brake on how many good (and therefore expensive) players a team can have at one time. We could even still have a draft — where teams take turns announcing that they’ve chosen to select a particular player from the group of players that have said they wanted to play on that team. If a player gave his assent to a group of five or ten teams, the draft order might still determine which team gets to hire him.

Why not give a little bit more freedom to the players?

Why does no one seem to care that the #1 pick in the NFL draft is almost definitely a rapist?

It’s not hard to place what’s wrong with the National Football League draft happening on Thursday, April 30: the first player selected will almost definitely be a rapist. Not everything about the draft is so easy to figure out. It is hard to understand why the team with the first pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, would make this choice. There are so many other decisions they could make that would be easily defensible from a football perspective and would not involve hiring someone who is almost definitely a rapist.  It’s also hard to understand why journalists and media organizations of all shapes and sizes are either ignoring this fact or are merely motioning towards it with weak and insulting euphemisms like “off the field questions.”

The man who will almost definitely be made a millionaire when his name is the first called on Thursday night is Jameis Winston. Winston spent the last three years at the University of Florida State where he played quarterback for the school’s football team. He was part of the team in 2014 when it won a national championship and he became the youngest player ever to win college football’s most prestigious individual award, the Heisman Trophy, in the same year. He is also almost definitely a rapist. On December 7, 2012, a freshman student at Florida State told police that she had been raped. She would later identify the man who raped her as Jameis Winston and much later, when his DNA was tested and compared to some found on her clothing, there was a positive match. The comprehensive report on this crime and the subsequent investigation or lack thereof was written by Walt Bogdanich for the New York Times. Its conclusion is that “there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.” That doesn’t mean that Winston did not rape this woman, just that the state prosecutor in charge of the case decided they didn’t think they could get a conviction. In fact, that prosecutor, Willie Meggs has publicly said, in response to being asked whether he thinks that Winston sexually assaulted the woman, “I think what happened was not good.

We have a principle in this country that proclaims people are “innocent until proven guilty,” but that’s a legal principle, not a cultural one. “Innocent until proven guilty” makes sense as a legal rule because we generally believe that wrongfully imprisoning an innocent person is a worse miscarriage of justice than letting a guilty person go free. I believe in “innocent until proven guilty” as a foundational principle of law but I don’t think it means that we should blindfold and mute ourselves to a person’s actions simply because they were not convicted of a crime. From reading the New York Times expose, we know about the insufficient and probably willfully corrupt way the police and university officials handled the case. From reading Daniel Roberts wonderful piece in Deadspin, we know that the odds of being falsely accused of rape are “about the same as your odds of being attacked by a shark,” and that’s without factoring in that Winston was the most important football player in a corrupt and football crazed city. Winston is almost definitely a rapist.

Winston is almost definitely a rapist and I don’t think there’s actually much debate about the fact. So why won’t anyone say or write those words in the context of the NFL draft? The NFL draft is the signature offseason event for the most popular professional sporting league in the United States. It’s viewed by over 30 million people. Last year more than 9 million tweets (that’s up to 1.2 billion characters) were sent about the draft. Pre-draft media coverage is intense and focused largely on a form called the mock draft. In a mock draft, people predict what is going to happen during the draft — which teams are going to select which players. Virtually every mock draft this year predicts that Jameis Winston will be the first pick of the draft. Virtually none of them mention the fact that Winston is almost definitely a rapist. Some ignore it completely or some use euphemistic and infuriatingly demeaning language to refer obliquely to it. Below is a selection of mock drafts. (I chose somewhat randomly, but I did not exclude any for having mentioned the fact that Winston is almost definitely a rapist.) Many of these organizations have published excellent articles covering Jameis Winston as likely sexual assault perpetrator but in the context of the NFL draft, that work seems to have gone missing. mock draft by Charlie Davies: My top-ranked QB. Despite all the issues that surround him off the field, the Buccaneers feel good about their background checks and will make him their latest franchise QB.

CBS Sports mock draft by Rob RangThough questions still remain about Winston’s maturity, from purely a football perspective he is an excellent match in Tampa Bay…

ESPN mock draft by Todd McShayNo surprise here. I have Winston as the top-ranked player on my board, and I believe he will be the first overall pick by the Bucs on April 30. Tampa Bay has to get its quarterback of the future out of this selection, and while Winston does bring with him some off-field risks, I give him the edge as a player over Marcus Mariota. In the areas that matter most in projecting QBs to the next level — including reading defenses, going through progressions, anticipating throws and delivering the ball accurately — he’s one of the best prospects I’ve evaluated in the past 10 years.

Newsday mock draft by Nick Klopsis: …signs point to Winston more recently… As long as the Buccaneers have done their homework into Winston’s well-documented off-field issues, his name likely will be the first one called April 30 in Chicago.

New York Times mock draft from the Associated PressPlayer character and behavior should be even more of a deciding issue in this year’s draft. The Bucs, desperate for a quarterback, say they are convinced the guy they choose is not a bad apple and is a great prospect.

Washington Post mock draft by Mark Maske: …Winston’s off-field issues must be considered when making such a franchise-defining decision. But Winston is the more NFL-ready QB and it would be a significant surprise at this point if the pick is not Winston.

The MMQB mock draft by Peter King …Always got the sense the Bucs wanted to pick Winston, then went through the investigative process to see if there was some great reason not to. They couldn’t find one…

[editors note] With no sense of irony, King starts his column with a long discussion of another prospective NFL draft pick, Shane Ray, and how his recent traffic violation and marijuana possession charge is likely to end with his being picked significantly later than he would otherwise have been. No mention of rape though.

The Big Lead mock draft by Jason McIntyreHasn’t changed. Wouldn’t be my guy.

“Issues,” “maturity,” “character and behavior,” “not a bad apple,” “background checks,” and “off-field risks.” That seems to be how NFL teams think about the potential problem of drafting someone who is almost definitely a rapist. To be clear, this is not just how football teams think about picking a player, this is how multi-million dollar businesses are thinking about the hiring process for one of their key employees. That’s reprehensible, especially if you combine that with the well documented fact that NFL teams are notoriously bad at predicting the success of quarterback hires. If you have a high profile hire to make and know that your organization and its 31 competitors have a long history of struggling to hire well in this position, why would you choose to hire the guy who is almost definitely a rapist?

There are so many other things the Tampa Bay Buccaneers could do with the first pick of the draft. They could take another quarterback like Marcus Mariota, from the University of Oregon, who also won a Heisman trophy during his college career. Or select a player who plays another position, like defensive tackle Leonard Williams who is said to be the most reliable player in the draft. Or trade the pick to another team and let them employ the rapist. In an highly competitive entertainment industry where success is based not just on winning but also on inspiring a base of people to literally wear your employees name on their backs, why would you hire someone who is almost definitely a rapist?

There’s very little we can do about this before Thursday. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already made up their minds about who to hire and Vegas is so certain that it’s Jameis Winston that they’ll only give you $100 if you bet $1,000 with them. That’s about as certain as something can be before it happens. Sexual assault is an enormous problem in this country and having our biggest sports league so blatantly ignore it deters people from taking the problem seriously. The best thing we can do is refuse to hide behind euphemism. If you want, you can follow Keith Olbermann’s call to boycott the NFL Draft. My preference is for you to go to a draft party or a bar where people are watching the draft or turn it on in your own house, and when Jameis Winston’s name is called, turn to the people next to you and say, “That guy is almost definitely a rapist. I wouldn’t hire him and I don’t think a football team should either.”

Cue Cards 6-28-13: NBA Draft and Trade

stk321064rknCue Cards is a series designed to assist with the common small talk about high-profile recent sporting events that is so omnipresent in the workplace, the bar, and other social settings.

Sport: Basketball
Teams: All of them
When: Thursday night, 6-27-13
Context: The NBA Draft (for more detailed context, click here or here)
Result: 60 young men now have high paying jobs
Sports Fans will be Talking About:

  • The first pick. After weeks of discussing whether the first overall player selected was going to be Nerlens Noel or Alex Len or maybe Victor Oladipo, the Clevelend Cavaliers instead picked a guy named Anthony Bennett from UNLV.
  • Things didn’t get less strange after that. Often drafts are pretty predictable — not this one, it was full of surprises all the way through.
  • Most people will be talking about the team they root for and who they picked or didn’t pick. Let them do this — no one really knows anything at this point about how well these choices will turn out although everyone will have an opinion.

What’s Next: Now that the draft is done, trades and free-agent signings will rule the NBA landscape.

Sport: Basketball
Teams: Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets
When: Thursday, 6-23-13
Context: A trade!
ResultThe Brooklyn Nets trade Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, a signed-and-traded Keith Bogans, Reggie Evans, Kris Joseph, three first-round picks (2014, 2016, 2018), and the right to swap picks in 2017 to the Boston Celtics for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry.
Sports Fans will be Talking About:

  • Now it’s really the end of the Big Three era in Boston. After trading their coach on Sunday, the Celtics continue to dismantle the team they’ve had for the last few years. Paul Pierce in particular had been a Celtic his entire career since being drafted in 1998!
  • Who “won” the trade. Like the draft, it really won’t be clear which team got the better side of this trade for a long time (many years considering we won’t know who the Celtics will draft with all those future draft picks) but that won’t stop any fan from having a strong opinion on one side or another.
  • The crazy Russian — Nets owner Michael Prokhorov is known to be an eccentric Russian billionaire willing to spend gobs of money to win. He just put his money where his mouth is. The NBA has a “luxury tax rule” that if the amount a team is paying in player salaries exceeds a certain figure, they have to pay the league an equal amount over that limit. That money is then distributed to all the teams whose payroll’s are under the figure (called a salary cap.) The Nets just committed to being way over the salary cap for the next couple years.

Why is the NBA Draft a Big Deal?

Dear Sports Fan,

I know the draft has been televised before but I don’t remember hearing about it as much – has it always been this big a deal?


The NBA draft is quite a spectacle

— — —

Dear Terry,

Drafts have become a much bigger spectacle in recent years, particularly in the NFL and NBA – there’s no doubt about it. But for die- hard fans they’ve always been a critical part of the off-season.

That’s because, for lack of a better phrase, it gives the losers hope. Being a fan of a bad team can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Once the season starts it becomes fairly easy to see who the contenders are and fans of other teams have to find other things to get excited about. Before the season starts, though, everyone has hope. That hope may seem completely untethered from reality and can come off as desperate, where fans wildly overestimate the potential of players (and coaches!) who have never amounted to anything in their careers. But before a single game is played to prove them otherwise, long-suffering fans psyche themselves up for every season by convincing themselves that SOMETHING that happened in the off-season will make the next season different.

The draft is perhaps the greatest and cruelest purveyor of off-season hope. Since the worst teams generally have the best picks, they have the best chance of picking a player who might single-handedly turn their franchise around – witness the success last year of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskin led by rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III; or, the sustained success of the NBA’s Oklahoma Thunder after they drafted Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

BUT – and this is a significant but – drafting players is the ultimate hit or miss process. Despite all the time and money teams spend getting to know these players, ultimately there is no real way to tell how they will perform at the next level. Witness Greg Oden, a “can’t miss” center who was drafted first the same year Kevin Durant was  drafted second. Oden turned into a complete bust, largely due to the fact that his knees proved shakier than the Greek economy. For every Luck or RGIII in the NFL there are a dozen quarterbacks drafted and proclaimed a team’s savior who don’t pan out – the Cleveland Browns have been victimized by this repeatedly, which is why Browns fans are some of the saddest, if most dedicated, fans in the world.

Even for the oft-burned Browns fans, though, the draft represents hope and is one of the highlights of the off-season. Still, they have become bigger spectacles in recent years. This is primarily because the leagues have become much more focused on sustaining attention on their brand in the off-season – essentially trying to turn their part-time sport into a year-round commodity. Turning the draft into a televised spectacle is a natural part of that evolution. It may not seem like compelling TV but by incorporating clips packages and highlights of previous action and interviews with coaches and other players networks (ESPN) have managed to create a passable product that can help keep a sport relevant in the off-season.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

How Does the NBA Draft Work and Why Should I Care?

Dear Sports Fan,

The NBA Draft – How does it work? Why do I care? Are players (like Carmelo Anthony and What’s-His-Name James) that go right from high school involved in draft?

49 Round Pick


Dear 49 Round Pick,

Drafts in all sports are an opportunity to level the playing field – the worst teams generally get the higher picks and first dibs on the best young players. In the case of the NBA, the 14 worst teams are in the “lottery,” meaning they get the top 14 picks in the draft – only the order those 14 teams pick in is decided based on an old-school, ping-pong ball lottery.  So while the worst team has the best odds of getting the first pick(they get more ping-pong balls in the bingo cage-thing), it isn’t guaranteed.

Not a big deal, you think – after all, what’s the difference between picking number one or number two or three?  Well, if you’re a team from a smaller market who has a hard time attracting the best players, the draft is a very rare opportunity to get a franchise-altering talent at a price you can afford.  In particularly mediocre draft years, the difference between the best player and the second best player in the draft is barely noticeable – other times, the difference is between a game changer like Spurs power forward Tim Duncan (think Chris Rock) and a wildly overrated underperformer like the forgettable Keith Van Horn (think Dane Cook).

Talking about comedians, if you decide to try to pull the Sports Fan in your life away from watching the NBA draft tonight, you could do worse than start with this clip of Dave Chappelle’s Racial Draft sketch.

Chappelles Show
The Racial Draft
Buy Chappelle’s Show DVDs Black Comedy True Hollywood Story

How great is the Tiger Woods bit in hind-sight? Back to the NBA draft… High school players used to be allowed in the draft – now, in a nod to the fact that you learn everything you need to know in college your freshman year, you have to be 19 years old, at least one year out of high school and own one suit with at least 4 buttons to be eligible.

There’s also an unofficial rule that there has to be at least one successful white college player in each draft who gets picked in the first round even though pretty much everyone agrees he will not be successful in the NBA due to his lack of “athleticism.”

Back to the draft itself: it’s divided up into rounds, and generally each team has a pick in each round, unless they don’t have picks – for example, if they’ve traded their draft pick (essentially the right to a future player) to another team in return for a tangible, current player. Teams have a limited amount of time to make each pick, which is why team staff do ridiculous amounts of research and know more about the players than they do about their own children. There is real drama in some drafts – last second trades, surprise picks,[1] great rags to riches stories – but for the most part, you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to watch. So don’t feel bad if you can’t get into it.

One side note: immediately following the draft you’ll see the infuriating “Draft report cards” issued by sportswriters, most of whom feel compelled to note how ridiculous it is to judge a team’s draft class before they’ve even played a single game in the league – right before they judge every team’s draft class before they’ve played a single game in the league.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

The NBA Draft – How does it work? Why do I care? Are players (like Carmelo Anthony and Whats-His-Name James) that go right from high school involved in draft?
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. These usually fall into two categories: GMs who are stupid and pick a mediocre player way too high, or enormously talented players who teams refuse to draft for one reason or another. The latter usually involves marijuana. It’s unclear what drug some of the GMs are on.