Navigating the NFL Draft: Can An NFL Draft Pick Turn Down The Team That Picked Them

John Rizzo

NFL Draft

The NFL Draft is a thrilling annual event that sets the stage for the league’s future stars. However, amidst the excitement, a crucial question lingers: Can an NFL draft pick turn down the team that picked them? 

In this blog post, we will explore the intricate mechanics of the NFL Draft and the nuanced answers to this intriguing question.

Drafted players technically cannot refuse the team that selects them, but they do possess a degree of negotiation power. Factors like draft position and talent influence their ability to shape contract terms. 

Moreover, players can employ the tactic of holding out for a better deal, though this move carries risks.

Join us as we delve into the intricacies of the NFL Draft process and uncover the factors that impact a player’s ability to navigate this critical juncture in their professional football journey. Stay sharp. 

What Is the NFL Draft?

The NFL Draft is an annual event in American football where National Football League (NFL) teams select eligible college football players to join their rosters.

 It typically consists of seven rounds, with each team taking turns to choose players in a predetermined order, based on their performance in the previous NFL season. 

The order is designed to give the weakest teams the first opportunity to select the best available talent, aiming to promote competitiveness within the league.

The draft serves as a primary means for teams to acquire new talent, whether it be star quarterbacks, skilled wide receivers, or robust defensive players. 

The selection process is highly anticipated by football fans, as it can have a significant impact on a team’s future success. Players not chosen in the draft become undrafted free agents and can sign with any team of their choosing.

Can An NFL Draft Pick Turn Down The Team That Picked Them?

NFL Draft Pick Turn Down The Team That Picked Them

An NFL draft pick can turn down the team that selected them, but several factors come into play:

Negotiating Power

A player’s ability to decline the team that drafted them largely depends on their leverage. 

Top-tier prospects, often selected in the early rounds, have more bargaining power and can express their preferences or negotiate better contract terms with the team. 

They may choose not to sign immediately, seeking a more favorable deal.

Draft Slot

Players selected later in the draft may have limited bargaining power compared to early-round picks. 

They might be less likely to decline a team’s offer, as they are still aspiring to secure a spot in the league. However, they can choose not to sign and re-enter the draft in subsequent years.

Holdout Option

If a player refuses to sign with the team that drafted them, the team retains their rights for a certain period, usually a year. 

During this time, the player can hold out and wait for another team to trade for their rights or make a more appealing offer.

Impact on Reputation

Rejecting a team’s offer can have consequences for a player’s reputation and future opportunities in the NFL. It’s a delicate decision that players must make, considering their long-term career prospects and goals.

While NFL draft picks can decline the team that selected them, the outcome varies depending on the player’s talent, draft position, negotiation skills, and the team’s willingness to accommodate their preferences.

The NFL Draft Mechanics

The NFL Draft Mechanics

The NFL Draft mechanics involve a structured process for teams to select college football players to join their rosters. Here’s an overview of how it works:

Draft Order

The draft order is determined by the previous NFL season’s standings, with the weakest teams selecting first and the Super Bowl champion choosing last in each round. 

This order aims to promote parity within the league by giving struggling teams better opportunities to improve.

Draft Rounds

The NFL Draft typically consists of seven rounds, allowing each of the 32 NFL teams to make one selection in each round. 

Teams with compensatory picks receive additional selections based on free-agent losses from the previous year.

Time Limit

Each team has a set time limit to make their selection in each round. The time varies depending on the round but is usually around 10 minutes for the first round and shorter for subsequent rounds. 

If a team doesn’t make a pick within the allotted time, the next team can make their selection.

Trading Picks

Teams can trade their draft picks with other teams, allowing for strategic moves to acquire desired players or accumulate more selections. These trades can involve current or future draft picks.

Compensatory Picks

In addition to the standard draft picks, the NFL awards compensatory picks to teams that have lost more free agents than they signed in the previous offseason. These picks usually occur at the end of rounds three through seven.

Undrafted Free Agents

Players who are not selected in the NFL Draft become undrafted free agents. They can sign with any team, giving them a chance to make an NFL roster despite not being drafted.

Player Eligibility

Eligible players are typically college football prospects who have completed their junior or redshirt sophomore seasons or declared for the draft early. 

Players must also meet various eligibility criteria, including a minimum age requirement.

Draft Day Event

The NFL Draft is a highly publicized event, often spanning multiple days. Teams make their selections on a stage, and players attend the draft or join remotely. 

It’s broadcast on television and streamed online, with analysts providing insights and commentary.

Signing Contracts

Once drafted, players negotiate contracts with their respective teams. 

The terms of these contracts are subject to the NFL’s salary cap rules and the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) and the NFL.

The NFL Draft is a crucial annual event that shapes the league’s future by bringing in new talent and giving teams the opportunity to improve their rosters.

The Right to Decline in The NFL Draft

The Right to Decline in The NFL Draft

In the NFL Draft, players do not have the explicit right to decline being drafted. 

When a team selects a player in the NFL Draft, they hold exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with that player. However, there are some important nuances and situations to consider:

Negotiation Leverage

While players cannot refuse to be drafted, they do have some negotiating leverage, especially if they are highly regarded prospects. 

They can negotiate contract terms, such as salary, signing bonuses, and other incentives, with the team that drafted them.

Holdout Option

A player drafted by an NFL team can choose not to sign a contract right away, which is known as a “holdout.” During this time, the player remains in the NFL team’s rights, but they do not join the team, practice, or play in games. 

This strategy is often used when a player and the team cannot agree on contract terms.

Re-entry in Future Drafts

If a player declines to sign with the team that drafted them, they do not have the option to immediately join another NFL team. Instead, they have to wait until the next NFL Draft to be selected by a different team. 

This decision carries risks as it may impact a player’s draft stock and career prospects.

Career Implications

While it is technically possible for a player to decline to sign with the team that drafted them, it is a rare and strategically significant decision. 

It can have consequences for a player’s reputation and future opportunities in the NFL, as teams may view them as less cooperative or committed.

While NFL players cannot outright decline being drafted, they have some negotiating power when it comes to contract terms. 

However, the decision to hold out or decline to sign with the drafting team carries risks and is not a common occurrence in the NFL.

Standard Rookie Contract Terms in the NFL Draft

Standard Rookie Contract Terms in the NFL Draft

Standard rookie contract terms in the NFL Draft can vary based on factors like a player’s draft position and the specific team’s salary cap situation. 

However, there are some general principles and terms that are typically included in rookie contracts:


Rookie contracts for players drafted in the NFL typically have a length of four years. Players selected in the first round have an additional fifth-year team option that the team can exercise.

Signing Bonus

Players receive a signing bonus, which is often the largest guaranteed portion of their contract. 

The signing bonus is paid upfront, typically within a few months of signing the contract, and it counts against the team’s salary cap spread out over the contract’s length.

Base Salary

Rookie contracts include annual base salaries, which are often at or near the league minimum for rookies. These salaries are paid weekly during the regular season.

Performance Bonuses

Some contracts may include performance bonuses based on playing time, performance statistics, or other criteria. These can vary widely and provide an opportunity for players to earn additional income.

Offseason Workouts

Contracts may specify requirements for participation in offseason workouts, minicamps, and training camp. These requirements are typically mandatory and are part of a player’s responsibilities.

Guaranteed Money

While signing bonuses are guaranteed, some or all of a player’s base salary may also be guaranteed. This means that even if the player is cut by the team, they will receive the guaranteed portion of their salary.

Cap Hits

The total value of the contract and how it affects the team’s salary cap can vary. The signing bonus and base salary, along with any roster bonuses, workout bonuses, or incentives, all contribute to the contract’s annual cap hit.

Roster Bonuses

Some contracts include roster bonuses that are paid if the player is on the team’s roster on a specific date, often at the start of the league year.

Fifth-Year Option (for first-round picks)

First-round draft picks have an additional fifth-year option included in their contracts. The team can exercise this option to retain the player for a fifth season before negotiating a new deal.

It’s important to note that rookie contracts are subject to the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA). 

The CBA sets rules and guidelines for player contracts, including salary caps, rookie compensation pools, and other financial aspects of the contracts.


Can an NFL draft pick refuse to play for the team that drafted them?

Yes, technically, a player can choose not to sign with the team initially. However, the team retains its rights, and the player may not join another team until the following year’s draft.

Are there consequences for turning down the team that drafted you?

Yes, it can impact a player’s reputation and future opportunities in the NFL. Teams may view them as less cooperative or committed to the league.

What factors influence a player’s ability to negotiate with the drafting team?

A player’s negotiation power depends on their draft position and perceived talent. Higher picks have more leverage to negotiate contract terms.

Can a drafted player hold out for a better contract?

Yes, a player can choose to hold out and negotiate for better contract terms, but they remain under the team’s rights during this time.

Can a player drafted by a team be traded before signing a contract?

Yes, it’s possible for a drafted player to be traded to another team before signing a contract, and this trade can impact the player’s future destination in the NFL.

Wrapping Up

while the NFL Draft offers an incredible opportunity for college football players to enter the professional league, the ability to turn down the team that drafts them is a complex and rare occurrence. 

Players may have some negotiating power, particularly if they are highly regarded prospects, but the decision to decline an NFL team’s offer carries significant consequences and risks. 

It can affect a player’s reputation and future prospects within the league. The NFL Draft is a pivotal moment in a player’s career, and most athletes aspire to make the most of this opportunity within the framework of the draft system. 

As the NFL continues to evolve, so do the strategies and negotiations surrounding draft picks, making it a fascinating aspect of the sport to watch and analyze. Best of luck. 

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn