Sources: NFL won’t open supplemental draft to more players if college football season is canceled

The supplemental draft will not be significantly altered this year to accommodate players who have already chosen to return to college, multiple sources told Yahoo Sports.

The NFL has been assuring teams and agents behind the scenes that players expected to be eligible for this year’s supplemental draft are those who would be in a typical year. With uncertainty hovering over the college football season, the fate of the NFL’s supplemental draft was a subject of much speculation throughout the football industry.

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NFL front offices had worked ahead in case draft-eligible players like Clemson’s Travis Etienne, Ohio State’s Shaun Wade and Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard attempted to declare. College coaches worried that top players could attempt to duck out this summer and try to get picked and join an NFL team.

Players like Clemson's Travis Etienne would not be eligible to enter the NFL supplemental draft this summer because of coronavirus concerns, sources told Yahoo Sports. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)
Players like Clemson's Travis Etienne would not be eligible to enter the NFL supplemental draft this summer because of coronavirus concerns, sources told Yahoo Sports. (AP Photo/Sean Rayford)

The supplemental draft, which doesn’t have a set date yet, normally accommodates players with unusual circumstances that prevent them from being eligible for the upcoming college football season. Those reasons include academic suspensions or failed drug tests.

But if the college football season is delayed, cut short or canceled altogether due to the coronavirus, that circumstance apparently will not meet the NFL’s threshold for allowing players to apply for draft entrance this summer rather than waiting for the 2021 selection process.

“We were given some guidance [from the league] that there won’t be a big influx of supplemental players or anything like what is being speculated,” one league source told Yahoo Sports on Thursday. “They aren’t planning for it to have any different guidelines than in past years.”

A source in the agent community who has previously dealt with the supplemental process said the rigid guidelines from past years — and the league’s reticence to make exceptions to them — will likely firewall the league from having a glut of players suddenly attempt to jump into the supplemental pool.

“The paperwork involved and just the levels of what you have to show the league to prove some kind of hardship for one [player’s] situation is unreal,” the source said. “It literally felt like it went on forever. I wouldn’t ever want to go through that again. The documentation they want to see just to prove that someone should be eligible is endless.”

It remains to be seen if the college football schedule will be altered, so it’s still a moot point whether players could have a hardship or extenuating claim at applying for the supplemental process, which is normally slated for June or July.

If the college season is fundamentally altered, there has been speculation in the agent community that a player or a collective group could choose to sue the NFL for entrance into the process. However, the league could also take the unusual recourse of simply refusing to have a supplemental draft entirely, in hopes of eliminating any grounds for a lawsuit.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the league canceled it this offseason and just said it was due to the coronavirus impact on its own schedule,” one agent said. “You can’t sue the league to let you into a supplemental draft if no supplemental draft exists.”

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