James Lockett's road to the National Football League might have come to a dead end last weekend.
The recent University of Tulsa graduate, a two-year starter at strong safety for the Golden Hurricane, was hoping to be selected in the final round of the three-day NFL draft that concluded on Saturday, April 24 or signed as a free agent. His agent, Dallas-based Adam Mirkes, said six teams had expressed interest in Lockett before the draft, and he expected at least one to extend a free-agent offer to the Arlington, Texas, native if he wasn't chosen by the conclusion of Saturday's seventh and final round.
No such luck, Mirkes said.
"We did not get a call yesterday," a disappointed Mirkes said on Sunday, April 25. "We thought most likely we'd get a free agent offer, but no calls came. In talking to the other agents at my agency, we thought most likely that was due to the depth (of talent) of this draft. There were guys who slid to the late rounds or out of the draft completely who normally would have gone in the fourth or fifth round."
Mirkes said his client had taken the disappointment in stride.
"He's in good spirits," Mirkes said. "That's just his nature."
The lack of interest in Lockett, who did not return phone calls from Urban Tulsa, illustrates the long odds most players face in developing a career in professional football. A standout running back at a large high school in suburban Dallas, Lockett nevertheless received only a handful of college offers before deciding to play at TU. A knee injury sidelined him early in his career there, but he rallied to become a big contributor in the team's defensive secondary as an upperclassman, twice earning second-team All-Conference USA honors.
But his relative lack of size and speed no doubt worked against him in his hopes to land an NFL contract. Lockett worked out at TU's annual pro day -- an event in which a school's draft-eligible players go through a series of combine-like drills for NFL scouts -- on March 8, but he tweaked his hamstring while running the 40-yard dash and had a disappointing performance.
Lockett and Mirkes both hoped that wouldn't work against him too much, and Mirkes went so far as to say a couple of weeks ago he would be surprised if Lockett didn't earn at least one free agent offer.
But the Texas Tech graduate -- who is just getting his feet wet representing would-be professional athletes -- is not giving up on his first client. He said his next move is to try to get Lockett an invitation to an NFL rookie camp.
Under that scenario, he said, Lockett would go to camp as an unsigned free agent and compete against other rookies that were drafted by the team or signed as free agents. If he showed enough promise, Mirkes said, he could be signed to a standard free agent contract -- a two- or three-year deal at the league minimum with a signing bonus of $5,000 to $25,000 and get a chance to make the team when training camp opens in July.
"I've got eight to 10 feelers out, and we're hoping to hear something soon," he said. "We're hoping somebody bites."
If a team is interested in bringing Lockett in for a look, it will be soon, Mirkes said.
"Most teams have their camp rosters full in the next couple of days," he said.
"If that happens, great. If it does not happen, we'll look at our (Canadian Football League) or (United Football League, a fledgling American league that completed its first season last year) options, as well as look at NFL camps as cuts are made and other options become available. We'll keep going, trying to find an opportunity."
Mirkes still believes that chance will come for Lockett. He acknowledged that trying to sort out exactly what NFL teams are looking for is not easy.
"He was rated on some publications ahead of some guys who went in the seventh round and slightly behind some guys who went in the fifth round," Mirkes said. "I just don't know. I'm sure (Texas quarterback) Colt McCoy thought he'd be a late first-rounder, and he went in the third. It was disappointing, and to me it was surprising. But I can at least swallow it a little easier because this draft was so deep."
Mirkes joined Lockett and his family in Dallas last weekend on the draft's final day, hoping it would be a joyous occasion. Instead, Lockett was left to ponder the likelihood of a future without football, something for which he appears well prepared, unlike many college players whose eligibility has expired. He earned his degree from TU in marketing in December and has secured a summer internship with Northwestern Mutual.
Even so, Lockett isn't quite ready to slam the door on his pro football dreams.
"We knew this could happen, but we thought the odds were he'd get a free agent possibility," Mirkes said. "But he's optimistic, even if it is the CFL or the UFL. Some opportunity will come along ... Trying to predict who can play and who can't play is pretty much a crapshoot. While this is not ideal, I'd just call it a tougher road than we thought we'd have."
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