Steve Sabo is a 24-year NFL veteran who worked with the Atlanta Falcons for the last 12 years and the Cleveland Browns prior. He most recently operated as the Director of Pro Personnel for the Falcons, and previously held Atlanta’s Director of College Scouting role for six years.
When an NFL team’s season ends, things really kick into gear for the Pro Department. During the regular season each department is evaluating potential Unrestricted Free Agents, Restricted Free Agents, potential Salary Cap Casualties, and players who may be available via trade.
Each team will have a form of End of Season Meetings once their year ends. In said meeting, the Coaching Staff, Personnel Department take a leading role in evaluating every player on their roster, their role, and vision for the future. Many teams will include Football Operations (Salary Cap), Medical Staff, Strength and Conditioning, and Player Engagement in these discussions.
From this meeting, the team will put together a list of their own team needs, make decisions on their own Unrestricted and Restricted Free Agents, assess potential cap casualties and trade targets, and come up with individual off-season program plans for on-field/off-field improvement for each player.
Once the Team has concluded their End of Season Meetings, the General Manager, Player Personnel Director, the Pro Department, and Football Operations will have their Free Agency Meetings to put up their Free Agency board and to develop a target list of players for coaches to evaluate.
Depending on the team, some will have their scouts read reports and stack the players. Other teams will read reports and watch video as a group to get the department on the same page. The General Manager can assign individual players or players at a targeted position for the Pro Department to do cross-check reports to get an extra set of eyes on players. From these meetings, Football Operations will begin to assess their targeted players and positional markets.
Before the Combine, the Pro Personnel Department will meet with the coaches for another set of meetings to hear the coaches present their assigned players and how they fit with their team. After this meeting, the Free Agency board will be adjusted, and the target list will narrow even further. With the new target list established, the Pro Department will work directly and indirectly with their sources to get updated character Information to assist in their decision-making process.
Depending on the team, the Pro Department may be asked to sit in on the Club February College Meetings. They have the opportunity to learn about the Draft Class, help provide NFL comparatives, and to listen and highlight players of interest to assist for future pre-season scouting.
During the Combine, the Football Operations Department and Pro Department will have meetings with agents to assess their client lists, gauge interest, and get a rough estimate of what players are looking for in the market. Also, during the Combine, the Pro Department can be given a position to evaluate during the workouts to provide a fresh set of eyes and different opinions.
After the Combine and in the weeks before Free Agency starts, Pro Departments will be doing heavy research on what they are hearing around the League regarding Free Agents, staying ready for salary cap casualty players to hit the personnel notice, and keeping track of what Restricted Free Agents will not get tendered. It is very important for the Pro Department to be ready and have current reports on those players, so the team reacts quickly and can be as proactive as possible. Reactive teams ultimately lose out on players and opportunities to get better.
With the Restricted Free Agent Tenders being so high ($5,562,000 First Round Tender, $3,986,000 Second Round Tender, $2,433,000 Right of First Refusal in 2022), I feel the biggest value in Free Agency will be in the Restricted Market. The Pro Departments that do their homework will have a great opportunity to add young rising players or younger veteran players who can add to their position depth and improve their Special Teams.
When Free Agency starts, Pro Departments will help set up player visits and assist in the recruiting of players that come in from office visits, or from being a part of a group that takes the player out for a meal. There are also opportunities to bring in players down the line or players who have recovered from injuries to a workout in their facility.
While Free Agency is moving forward, the Pro Department is still looking for value players. You never know who can slip through the cracks. Another important project that Pro Departments will start is assembling NFL team needs. The Pro Department needs to have a grasp of what the other 31 teams need heading into the Draft, and they achieve that by using what they evaluated during the season, evaluating how Coaching/Coordinator changes affect each club’s scheme, and assessing the players added and lost.
In between Free Agency and the Draft, Pro Departments can be asked to assist in Draft projects. They can provide help in doing position cross- checks, breaking up clusters of similarly graded players, or watching top-end players to help provide comparatives to NFL players if appropriate. Pro Departments evaluating college players can provide a more accurate level as to where the player fits in the League, as they can be more current on ‘what is playing in the League.’
In March, with the return of the USFL, Pro Departments will be scouting the new League. Teams will focus on the young players, high production players, and players they need more information on. Players who stand out can help the low-end depth for the 90 Man Training Camp Roster, add to the Teams Emergency List, or garner enough interest to be brought in for a Tryout. This is another opportunity for the Pro Department to roll up their collective sleeves and try to dig out some players with some tools that can help round off the Roster.
Pro Departments can assist in helping cover Pro Days when the College Staff is spread too thin. They either put together or help assist in their local Pro Day in inviting and evaluating local area players. They will also sit in their Final April Draft Meetings to listen and learn again about the Draft Class and how players are getting finally stacked.
Leading up to the Draft, Pro Departments will finalize their team needs and will help in gathering information they are hearing around the League. Over the course of the Draft, Pro Departments will provide strategic help to the General Manager on what the current primary need or needs may be to assist in possible trades either up or down. The Department needs to be ready for any possible Draft Day Trade offers involving current NFL Players that could possibly be moved while the Team is on the clock or during the Day.
Post-Draft, Pro Departments will track their teams’ rookie class of both Drafted and Undrafted Players to help put together the roster for the Rookie Mini-Camp. Pro Departments will also have a list of current younger players ‘on the street’ that can be eligible for Rookie Camp to get a look at some possible ‘down the line’ players of interest.
The Goal for every Department in the team building process is to provide solutions and get as many evaluations completed as possible during the Fall and Off-Season so the Team can operate from a proactive place. The more proactive teams can capitalize on openings for improvement.