Once the NFL draft has announced Mr. Irrelevant, every general manager gets busy.
Not on contract negotiations for the players they just drafted, but on the athletes that they didn’t select. Undrafted free agents are contacted and offered an opportunity to attend a tryout. This does not guarantee they will attend training camp, like being drafted does. And if they have a good tryout, they then ink a training camp deal.
Cleveland Browns GM Andrew Berry signed nine undrafted guys which brings a total of 17 rookies that will compete in training camp.
- DL Lonnie Phelps, Kansas
- LB Mohamoud Diabate, Utah
- RB Hassan Hall, Georgia Tech
- TE Thomas Greaney, Albany
- DE Jeremiah Martin, Washington
- S Ronnie Hickman, Ohio State
- S Charlie Thomas, Georgia Tech
- CB Tanner McAllister, Ohio State
- CB Caleb Biggers, Boise State
At first glance, S Hickman is the most well-known player. But Berry gave DE Lonnie Phelps of the Kansas Jayhawks a whooping $250,000 contract with a $50,000 signing bonus. The duo is being hailed by Pro Football Focus as two of the best of the undrafted rookies that remained available after the draft.
By NFL standards, $300,000 isn’t a large amount whatsoever. It’s more of a workout bonus added to a lot of contracts. If any Browns fan made that amount in a single year, he/she is doing quite well. To everyone else, it is indeed a large amount.
His Twitter handle is @lonniephelps10.
So, who is this Phelps guy?
The Browns newest defensive end is an Ohio native having been raised in Mount Healthy which is nestled in the extreme lower southwest corner of the state. He attended Mount Healthy High School.
Phelps would explode off the snap all game every game. Many saw this trait as a rarity at the high school level.
Phelps said this about his high school playing days to Cincinnati.com:
“I’m watching the ball at all times. Soon as it moves, I’m gone. I’ve had games where I had to figure out ways to get off triple-team blocks. I’m having too much fun. I started as a freshman, but I didn’t really know much. The next year, I learned how to use my hands more, how to get off the ball quicker.”
He became known for a quick first step and on passing downs would usually get beyond his potential blocker. Phelps’ signature motion is the swim move, and since college has perfected it. In his final two seasons at Mount Healthy, he had to adjust to double-team blocks on a regular basis despite working on a 215-pound frame. He had nine sacks his junior year and 10 as a senior leading the Southwest Ohio Conference both seasons.
For his senior season, in addition to the sacks, added 55 tackles, four forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery/interception each. Phelps was named First Team All-District, Second Team All-State plus was selected as the Division-3 Defensive Player of the Year. 247Sports.com rated him as a three-star recruit.
Phelps was also a starter for the school’s basketball squad. During this time he ran a 4.8 in the 40 and could squat 315 pounds.
Despite all of his high school accolades, he had only one college offer from Miami University of Ohio. He committed there shortly after his final football season ended.
At Miami of Ohio, Phelps had beefed up to 244 pounds. The program used him in 13 games instead of redshirting him to which he finished with 4.5 sacks and 19 tackles. He also blocked a punt and returned another blocked punt for a touchdown.
Coming off the success of his freshman year, in his sophomore season, he played in just three games with eight tackles and two sacks. Miami only played three games as the others were canceled due to the pandemic. Phelps was named Third Team All-MAC despite the short season.
Phelps played well in his junior campaign highlighted by 9.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also had 30 total tackles and one forced fumble with 11 starts. For his efforts, he was named Second Team All-MAC.
Before his senior year, Phelps entered the transfer portal and was picked up by Kansas.
Their head coach Lance Leipold explained to cjonline.com what they were expecting from Phelps:
“So Lonnie was somebody that we definitely felt we needed to get older and get someone who’s had experience at the position in that type of scheme. So, very excited about the addition of him. When it’s time to go, he’s business and he just loves playing the game. He’s physical. He’s going to give us a pass rush, all those things. He hurt his hand the other day, and missed a little bit of time, but he wanted in there before, even, he was cleared — which, again, shows he’s ready and chomping to go prove something. And that’s exciting to see. ”
What inspired Phelps to choose Kansas? He told Jayhawk Slant:
“All of the D-line staff, I feel as if they were keeping it real with me and with what they said to me, they are bringing in the pieces that they need in the organization. I would like to be a part of that just like they want me to be a part of it.”
Phelps did not disappoint. He came advertised as a pass rusher and had 6.5 sacks, finishing with four sacks more than his nearest defensive teammate. He showed consistency and had some of his biggest production against the better teams.
Cleveland, you just got a DAWG @Lonniephelps10 x @Browns pic.twitter.com/pSx5lkbquV— Kansas Football (@KU_Football) May 1, 2023
After his lone season with the Jayhawks, Phelps was named Second Team All-Big 12.
Invited to this year’s Reese’s Senior Bowl, he shined every practice against very talented offensive line prospects.
But his efforts at the NFL Combine is what has set him apart.
The Browns had a seventh-round pick but traded it to Baltimore. Why didn’t they just draft Phelps?
Phelps is naturally strong but has also worked hard to improve his quickness and strength over the past three college seasons. He has improved his timing on pass-rushing situations and has a great jump off the snap. He has been called a student of the game while in college. That assessment will be challenged almost immediately in Browns’ training camp.
With all these great accolades, the question is, why didn’t Cleveland simply select him? They had a seventh-round pick that they traded away to the Baltimore Ravens for a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft.
The word on the street is that Browns GM Andrew Berry wanted Phelps, and then was given an opportunity to gain another draft pick in 2024. So, it is believed that the Browns agreed upon a hefty undrafted free-agent contract rather than cost them a valuable draft pick. In essence, they received the player and a draft pick upgrade.
It’s not like giving an undrafted rookie some large cash before training camp even opens is anything new for Berry and Cleveland.
In 2020, Oklahoma State cornerback A.J. Green signed an unprecedented amount of guaranteed money in his undrafted free agent contract. Green inked a deal that gave him a guarantee of $145,000 which placed him directly into training camp. At the time, Green’s deal was the largest amount ever reported for an undrafted player directly after the draft had concluded.
Cleveland Browns wanted Oklahoma State corner A.J. Green badly. They signed him to a free agent deal that includes $145,000 guaranteed, with $130,000 base salary guarantee and $15,000 signing bonus, according to a league source— Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) April 26, 2020
This sent shockwaves across the league for a guy who was passed on by all 32 teams for seven solid rounds. He’s a competitor who felt he could make it anywhere.
Then last year, Berry inked LSU DT Glen Logan to a $60,000 guaranteed deal shortly after not hearing his name for three days. Green remains on the Browns roster, but Logan was released on the final cutdown last year and wasn’t picked up by any other NFL club. He then played this spring for the Houston Roughnecks in the XFL. That league pits the Arlington Renegades against the (Washington) DC Defenders in the XFL Championship Game Saturday, May 13 at 8:00 pm (Eastern) on ABC as well as ESPN.
So since the Browns have handed the keys to the franchise to Berry, Cleveland has displayed that they will dole out large deals for undrafted free agents that they feel can contribute and possibly make the final roster.
Other NFL clubs are now offering similar deals for the better undrafted rookies who might have fallen through the cracks. Receiver Bryce Ford-Wheaton’s phone blew up with offers just minutes after the final name was announced. He ultimately chose the Giants who gave him a $236,000 guaranteed deal with a $20,000 signing bonus.
Phelps has an upside with plenty of intrigue dumped on him. Can he make it in this league as a 244-pound pass rusher? If he makes the Browns’ final roster, will he become strictly a special teams demon? Does he join the linebacker group? Or can he duke it out for a roster spot as a situational pass rusher? Maybe he could give the defense 15 snaps a game as a rotational defensive end in certain packages.
One thing Phelps will give the Browns is hustle. He is also a high-character guy.
He is good against the run as well while he possesses a non-stop motor. There has to be a place for a guy with Combine stats such as his.
One only has to point to Von Miller who was an athletic defensive end and yet weighed just 250 pounds. All of Phelps’ Combine numbers are almost parallel to when Myles Garrett performed there years ago.
Do not become surprised when Phelps makes the final roster. He was called a “dog” while in Kansas. Now, make that “dawg.”
What is your opinion of the Browns signing Phelps to a $300,000 deal before training camp?
This poll is closed
Awesome! More pass rushers the better
He better make the team for that payout
I would have signed for much less