Undrafted Free Agent
Leading up to the 2019 NFL Draft, Steelers.com will be bringing you Draft Day Memories from some current and former players. In our latest installment, Chris Hoke shares his story.
Chris Hoke wanted to hear his name called during the 2001 NFL Draft, but as it wore on he realized that free agency was going to be his route to the NFL. It worked out for him as he spent 11 seasons with the Steelers.
I was hoping to get drafted. I knew I was going to be a late round guy or a free agent. As the day went on, the first day watching the first three rounds, I knew my name wasn’t going to be called in the first three rounds. Sunday, the second day, you didn’t know what was going to happen. A couple of teams called, said we are looking at you, thinking about you.
My dad has a house on the Colorado River so we were there enjoying ourselves, keeping an eye on the draft and waiting for a phone call. When it didn’t come we were close to the phone waiting for my agent, communicating with him, trying to figure out what was going and where we were going to go.
I didn’t get drafted. It was kind of frustrating. You see all of those names go by, guys you felt you were better than. My dad was watching who was being drafted. He would mark every pick and what position they were. We kind of followed it that way. We were monitoring who was being picked and where. It’s kind of a frustrating day. It’s a good day for those getting picked. For the ones who aren’t getting picked it is frustrating because you felt like you were better than this guy or that guy. When you go as a free agent you are like, oh man. You always want to be drafted. But sometimes free agency is a great thing for people.
To get picked up as a free agent it was funny. I am a California boy so when I got a phone call saying I was going to the Pittsburgh Steelers I was like what in the world, where is Pittsburgh. There were other teams talking to us, but at the end of the day this seemed like the best situation.
I think a lot of it was my agent had a connection with some people here, he knew there was an opportunity here for me. The year before I came in a few of the defensive linemen left. They weren’t here anymore and there was an opportunity to fill some spots. It turned out to be the best situation for me. You see teams where free agents stick. I think my rookie year there were three free agents who made the team.
I got all of my flights set up. I was talking to coach (John) Mitchell. An ongoing joke when you hear about all of the money floating around the NFL right now, my signing bonus was $2,500, Compare that to all of the money that is floating around in the NFL right now that is a big load.
When you aren’t drafted you come in with a chip on your shoulder. You feel like you have something to prove. If you are a draft pick you are given the benefit of the doubt. If you are a free agent you aren’t given the benefit of the doubt. You have to earn every single thing you are given. That is the difference between a draft pick and a free agent.
It was a great experience, though.