What struck Kofi Hughes most about his NFL Draft and post-NFL draft experience is how much it resembled his college recruiting process.
In both cases, one team identified him as a target very early in the process and stuck with him the whole way. He expected that more would follow, but none really did. However, the one team that did, he said, turned out to be the right fit anyway.
That’s why late on Saturday night, the former Indiana wide receiver decided to sign an undrafted free agent contract with the Washington Redskins.
Hughes is one of two IU players who have signed or will sign free agent contracts, guaranteeing them a spot on the training camp roster in August. Running back Stephen Houston said he will sign with the New England Patriots today. Safety Greg Heban and kicker Mitch Ewald did not get contracts, but were invited to tryout for the Chicago Bears at their rookie mini-camp, which runs Thursday through Sunday.
“In high school, they say once you get that one offer it kind of snowballs,” Hughes said. “Well, I got an offer from IU early, but all I had was IU. But that was the best fit for me. In this case, all I had was the Redskins, but there was no other situation depth chart-wise or organization-wise that worked any better. This was the best fit for me, and I’m glad it worked out the way it did. It was the Redskins who me and my agent decided during the draft we were going to sign with. It’s great that they were on board with me because I was on board with them as well.”
Hughes said he started hearing from the Redskins at about 9 a.m. on Saturday, the final day of the draft and continued hearing from them throughout the day. He didn’t expect to be drafted, but he knew an offer would come. He did hold out hope for some time that his hometown Indianapolis Colts would make an offer, but when they didn’t he quickly decided to sign with the team that had shown him the most interest. He joins teammate Ted Bolser, who was drafted by the Redskins in the seventh round, as well as former IU corner Tracy Porter.
The Redskins are set at the starting wide receiver spots with Pierre Garcon and the recently-signed DeSean Jackson. Backups Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson give them two more returners who caught at least 30 passes last year. Still Hughes, who caught 47 passes for 739 yards and seven touchdowns as a senior, believes there’s still opportunity there.
“There’s room on the depth chart to make that fifth or sixth receiver spot,” Hughes said. “And I’m looking forward to being a special teams dog for them. Playing special teams makes me offer more to the team than just playing wide receiver. Some of the older wide receivers don’t play special teams. I’m glad that I can bring that to the team. That makes me more attractive to that program.”
Houston found himself in a similar situation to Hughes. Houston said the Denver Broncos showed some interest, but the Patriots were the organization that showed the most consistent desire to add him to the team.
Houston graduates as the Hoosiers’ ninth all-time leading rusher with 2,304 yards and ranks sixth all-time in total touchdowns at the school with 29.
“It’s a great opportunity and I’m going to make the most of it,” Houston said. “We’re going to go from there, and I’m going to silence all the critics.”
Heban and Ewald both expected to sign free agent contracts but got bad breaks after the draft.
Heban, IU’s defensive captain and third-leading tackler last season, said he got a free agent contract offer immediately after the draft from the Kansas City Chiefs. He didn’t take it immediately, he said, waiting just a few minutes to see if either the Colts or Jacksonville Jaguars would offer. They didn’t, he said, and when Heban’s agent got back in contact with the Chiefs about six minutes later, they’d signed another safety.
Still, he’s hopeful that his opportunity with the Bears will be extended to August training camp because they didn’t add much to the secondary in either the draft or free agency.
“That kind of hurt me trying to see what other offers I could get,” Heban said. “… It’s a little bittersweet, but it’s good knowing the Bears have a need in my position.”
Ewald didn’t get a free agent contract offer but thought he was going to. He said he heard from the Houston Texans throughout the draft and that they gave him the indication they would offer him a contract. However, he quickly learned that he was their second choice, as the Texans instead signed Rice kicker Chris Boswell. Ewald said that while he and his agent were focused on that situation, he may have lost out on other contract opportunities. Though he was thrilled to get an opportunity from the Bears, especially because they didn’t take another kicker as an undrafted free agency, he also knows they’re set at the spot, having recently signed Robbie Gould to a four-year, $17.9 million contract extension.
“It was a disappointing and frustrating night because I think I can compete with a lot of the guys who were signed,” Ewald said. “… But it’s still great that the Bears want to bring me in. I know it’s not a deal, because they already have Robbie, but it at least gets my name out there and gets my foot in the door.”