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Explaining how the NFL works, Part 20: The supplemental draft

Let’s examine the process of some of the inner workings in the NFL and how teams manage the situations.

Buffalo Bills v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

Whether it’s when the NFL is in the full swing of its regular season or if it’s during the downtime of the early summer, there still is constant news and happenings with the league that has made itself relevant 365 days a year. When various things are discussed, sometimes there are terminologies and procedures where fans might have a general understanding of things. Even the most die-hard fans may have certain areas they don’t understand exactly what various things mean and wish to have a better understanding.

Over the next few weeks, I will take some time to do my best in thoroughly explaining some of the various inner workings of things in the NFL. These are not on-field items but more from an administrative standpoint. Whether it be understanding the waiver wire, the Reserve/Injured List, or the breakdown of the practice squad, we’ll take a look at some of the various terms that are thrown around and utilized in descriptions of things in the NFL but may not be fully understood.

Next up is looking at the supplemental draft.

What is it?

The NFL supplemental draft is something which has potentially been held each season since 1977. It is set up for players who were not in the regular NFL draft that year for various reasons but wish to play in the upcoming season. While in the earlier years of the supplemental draft some players “missed the deadline” for the declaring for the NFL draft, the explanation in more recent years from the NFL that a player had a “change in status” of their collegiate eligibility since to draft deadline. Whether it’s for academic, personal conduct, or other reasons, a player who was no longer eligible to play another year in college could enter the NFL supplemental draft.

How does it work?

If there are players eligible for the NFL supplemental draft, the league announces the date sometime at the beginning of the summer with the draft generally taking place in July. But for this draft, it is more of a silent auction than anything else. If a team wishes to acquire a player who is in the supplemental draft, they put in a bid for the player of a given round they would select them in the draft. If no other teams place a bid on the player, the team receives that player and surrenders their pick for that round in the NFL draft the next year. So if a team puts in a fourth-round bid on a player they are awarded, they surrender a fourth-round pick in the next draft.

If multiple teams put in for the same player, he is awarded to the team who had the highest round pick as their bid. If multiple teams have the same round bid for the same player, the team with the highest priority would receive the player. Where it used to be the order of the supplemental draft was the same as that year’s NFL draft, it was adjusted more recently to where there are three different tiers of teams. The lowest tier is teams that had five or fewer wins the previous season, the second tier is teams with six or more wins the previous year, and the top tier is teams who made the postseason. Within each tier, a supplemental draft lottery will determine the order of the priority of teams. So if two teams had a bid of the same round on a player, they would be awarded to the team who was in the lower tier.

If no one puts a bid for a given player, they become an unrestricted free agent.

Recent supplemental drafts

The NFL has not held the supplemental draft for the last three years. The last supplemental draft was in 2019 where the Arizona Cardinals selected safety Jalen Thompson because he was declared ineligible for his senior season because of an NCAA rules violation.

Although the NFL can hold the supplemental draft, they are not required to do so. Exact reason for why the NFL has not held the supplemental draft the last three years was not officially announced. Whether it be no players declared for the supplemental draft or if the NFL is simply moving away from it is speculation.


First and foremost, the Pittsburgh Steelers have never selected a player in the supplemental draft. Whether or not they have ever placed a bid as unknown at this time.

The last time a first-round draft pick was used in the supplemental draft was 1992 when the New York Giants selected quarterback Dave Brown. Graduating following the NFL draft, Brown had a year of eligibility remaining but did not declare until the draft was over.

The only player taken in the supplemental draft who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was wide receiver Chris Carter in 1987 who was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round. Carter was suspended for his senior season because he signed with an agent. In the same year, Brian Bosworth was selected in the first round by the Seattle Seahawks after he was dismissed by Oklahoma after the 1986 season. Bosworth did not declare for the NFL draft in time but became eligible for the supplemental draft because he graduated from Oklahoma one year early.

Another infamous supplemental draft pick came in 1985 when the Cleveland Browns selected quarterback Bernie Kosar. Wishing to play for the Cleveland Browns, Kosar announced in March he was foregoing his final two years of eligibility at the University of Miami and was taking expedited courses in order to graduate that year as players were only allowed to enter the draft after their senior season or if they graduated. But while the Minnesota Vikings traded with the Houston Oilers for the top pick in the draft to take Kosar, he refused to submit the paperwork and instead opted for the supplemental draft. The reason he did so is because the Browns traded their first-round picks in 1985 and 1986 as well as a third-round pick in 1985 as well as a sixth-round pick in 1986 for the Buffalo Bills rights to the top pick in the 1985 supplemental draft. By doing this, Kosar was able to pick his team. This brought about lawsuits and other things which ultimately were dropped and Kosar got his wish and landed in Cleveland.

In case you missed other parts of the series, they can be seen here: