Undrafted rookie free agents have it hard enough.
Mix in a couple of All-Pros playing your position — names that appear on fantasy draft boards — and you’re in the position Phil Bates faced when he signed with the Seattle Seahawks last year.
The former Omaha North star remembered getting to camp in the summer of 2012 to find a stockpiled receiver position.
“Sidney Rice. Golden Tate. Braylon Edwards. Terrell Owens. Doug Baldwin,” he rattles off. “That was an eye-opener.”
Even so, Bates contended for a roster spot. He spent most of the 2012 season with Seattle, the final few months on the Seahawks’ practice team.
Now he wants more: a spot on Seattle’s active roster.
“You’ve got to keep moving,” he said. “Keep getting better.”
Bates said he had a “great” rookie minicamp last year, and he took plenty of snaps in the preseason. But he was released after the third preseason game.
He worked in Arizona at the transportation business owned by his father, Phillip Sr.
“He did a lot fueling up vehicles early in the morning,” said the elder Bates, a former Nebraska fullback. “I don’t think he even likes fueling up his own car anymore after that. When (Seattle) called him back, he told me, ‘I’ll never be back.’ That day job, it wasn’t for him.”
The Seahawks brought him back in October in time to witness one of the biggest stories of the season.
Behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle made the playoffs. The Seahawks went to Washington and ended Robert Griffin III’s sensational first season with the Redskins.
The next week, Seattle lost a late lead against Atlanta and missed a chance to play for the NFC championship on a field goal with eight seconds to play.
And the 23-year-old who wasn’t among the 253 players picked in the 2012 draft was there for all of it.
“I’m truly blessed,” he said recently while back in Omaha. “My journey is not what I expected, but it’s been interesting. And it’s worked out so far.”
A touted quarterback coming out of high school at North, Bates spent the 2008 season at Iowa State before transferring to Ohio University, where former Nebraska coach Frank Solich had taken over.
He played quarterback as a junior, running for 519 yards and throwing for 178. A major injury to his throwing shoulder turned Bates into a receiver his senior season, after which he attracted interest from a couple of teams leading up to the draft.
Bates said he had a great pro day and was hearing from teams that they’d like to sign him as a free agent receiver.
“I got a call not much before the draft from an assistant coach in Seattle,” he said. “They came and worked me out and told me they could help me grow as a receiver.”
Bates took the field early in his first preseason game, lining up and running a vertical route. He looked up and was sure the ball was heading his way.
“I was so amped that it looked like it was coming to me,” he said. “But it was actually going to Braylon Edwards on the complete other side of the field.”
Bates learned the ropes and worked to develop a role while spending the better part of the second half of the season on the practice squad.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pounder said he has a spot on every special teams unit. Even with the trade for star receiver Percy Harvin adding to an already crowded receiver corps, Bates is optimistic about his second year in the league.
“I have a lot of stuff that I still need to work on,” he said. “I just have to keep getting better. The key is always showing improvement and showing value, showing that you can do a multitude of things.”
Advice has come from all over. Former high school teammate Niles Paul has found a role in Washington. Ex-Nebraska cornerback Zack Bowman has spent five years in the NFL.
And then there’s dad, who spent time in the NFL after his career at Nebraska.
“We always believe that you are the author of your own story,” Bates Sr. said.
His son’s story has had a few twists, a couple of turns and a rewrite or two.
“I can honestly say my story may not have been picture perfect,” the younger Bates said. “but it was perfect for me.”