For NFL prospects, cost of getting drafted can surpass $100K

Getting a player to the NFL draft's finish line leaves a trail of receipts, rental car reward points and steps through airport security.

For the four- to five-month period between the college football season and the draft in late April, prospects must be trained at the highest level, housed comfortably, fed premium food and prepared for team interviews. They have family members who might need some of these things as well. In one case this season, a prospect needed a gender reveal party covered.

And in most cases, not one cent comes out of the player's pocket.

The player-agent recruiting game often comes down to one question: What do you cover? The answer can vary depending on the caliber of the player.

"I don't blame the players. It's a competitive environment," said Andy Simms, an agent who oversees football operations at Young Money APAA. "One way to differentiate yourself is to spend money on prospects. And so you have to ask yourself if you're willing to play that game."

The teams have a role, too: They fly dozens of prospects into their facilities for pre-draft visits and workouts.

Even the players are surprised by the scale of it.

"I felt like I was aware I would need [the expenses], but I didn't know to what extent, what cost," said Michigan State safety Khari Willis, considered a mid- to late-round prospect. "Some understand it, while others are blind to it. They have no idea."

After speaking with nearly a dozen people involved in the process, here's a tally of possible expenses for a draft prospect from January to April.

Five-star training facility: $10,000 to $25,000

EXOS is a "human performance company" that hosted 150 NFL prospects at its five locations this draft season. A player can have it all over two months at such a facility -- position coaches, housing, meals, speed training, interview prep, massage therapy, Wonderlic test prep.

EXOS even helped Notre Dame linebacker Drue Tranquill and his wife organize a gender reveal.

"We are a one-stop shop for agencies," said Adam Farrand, the company's vice president of pro/elite sports.

All of this comes at a cost. Eight-week plans start at around $17,000 and rise based on supplemental work or a player's rehabilitation needs, since most don't leave school 100 percent healthy. There are cheaper options, but many agencies use a top-shelf production now.

Decades ago, players trained at their colleges. That still happens -- Iowa is known for keeping many of its guys -- but think of EXOS and others as turnkey draft prep.

Willis, who trained at an EXOS facility, was digging his resort-style condo facility in Pensacola, Florida, minutes from his training.

"We see ourselves as part of their team to prepare the athlete and provide as much information as you can to the agent," Farrand said. "We spend more time with these athletes than anybody during that time."

Additional housing: $2,000 to $3,000

Players need somewhere to stay after the eight-week training regimen is up. And they aren't staying at mom's house.

Stipends/lump sums: $5,000 to $100,000

This is a wild variation, but if a surefire first-rounder wants a payout with no strings attached, what started as a reasonable per diem turns into a sizable check.

A late-round pick might get $5,000. A top-10 pick might multiply that amount by 10 to 20.

"I know players, the top guys, who get several hundred thousand in a total package," one veteran agent said. "For a solid top-50 pick, it might reach $100,000. And much of that can come from a payout."

Willis, a two-year starter at Michigan State, heard a lot of promises from agents during the process. He signed with and trusted Element Sports Group, opting to focus on the draft prep costs and breaking up his stipend into weeks.

"You hear numbers at the Senior Bowl. Some guys are up there in the tens of thousands," Willis said. "And I know guys who have spent tens of thousands in those short months."

Marketing guarantee/loans: $10,000 to $50,000

This is a creative way of getting money to a player. If he's projected to make, say, $50,000 in overall marketing, the agency can advance some of that money, which he must pay back.

But only the fantasy football positions such as quarterback, running back and wide receiver earn enough marketing dollars to make it worthwhile.

In some cases, a player will be loaned money that he must pay back after the signing bonus from the rookie deal clears. This is considered a win for the agency, not the player.

Rental car: $1,000 to $2,000

Without a loan, most players aren't dropping serious coin on a new car before that signing bonus hits.

That's why many agents cover transportation throughout the four-month draft process. Agents often work out deals to rent directly from the training facility where the players are working out.

Willis drove a Dodge Charger with less than 1,000 miles on it. He was pleased.

Friends and family: $5,000 to $10,000

Paying expenses of family members is not a prerequisite for most agents, but if top players expand their wish list, they can ask for flights for family to training sessions and even regular-season games.

Medical coverage: $2,000 to $3,000

Some players might want short-term coverage until drafted, when team coverage kicks in. Gotta protect the ligaments during training. This isn't typical but is an option, especially if rehabbing a preexisting injury is involved.

Pre-draft team meetings: $20,000

One team source estimates the average pre-draft visit costs around $2,000, including flight, hotels and a dinner out with the staff. An active prospect might make 10 of these.

Miscellaneous: $1,000 to $5,000

This can add up in a hurry. Several agents opt to pay for shipping back all the free shoes and equipment players get at the combine. Some players want help with hosting a pre-draft party.

Some training facilities offer interview prep -- former NFL team executive Charley Casserly consults with EXOS -- but if they don't, getting outside help is another expense.

Extra massages or chiropractic work is always on the table.

GRAND TOTAL: $56,000 to $218,000

As the bill adds up, agents must weigh how many clients -- and modest rookie contracts -- they can take on before the payback. Their commission is, at most, 3 percent.

"Out of 10 guys, you assume four won't make it, another four maybe play five, six years at low money, and hopefully two hit a nice second contract," one veteran agent said. "That's the cost analysis."