The new CBA made it less complicated to be an agent because there are now fewer moving parts to a contract. In addition, the pendulum of leverage has clearly swung to the side of the teams and their salary cap managers. For years agents were running over teams by garnering massive signing bonuses on long term contracts and getting draft picks back to the table as soon as they showed to be a irreplaceable asset to the team.
However, there are still enough issues that agents have to stay on guard for in order to protect their players. Here are five don’ts every agent should be aware of:
1) Don’t play doctor! When an NFL player gets hurt, most teams want to purge that player/liability from their roster if they think he wouldn’t make the team (hurt during camp), is replaceable, is average by NFL standards, and/or is aging. Teams approach a player and ask them to take an amount of money that would be equal to the amount that player would make while on injured reserve. So if it’s a sprained MCL the team may offer 5 weeks of pay saying it takes 4 to 6 weeks to heal. The agent will always get a second opinion for the player and use that doctor’s input as well to negotiate the amount of weeks. However, now the agent and the salary cap manager are predicting the player’s health based on a doctor’s and team trainer’s opinions. In essence, two people with no medical experience are in charge of predicting the health future of a player. This system and procedure is flawed in many ways. Teams also try to write in limits on the player’s ability to make workmans comp claims.
The bottom line is that agents aren’t qualified to play doctor and when in doubt it’s best to leave a player on injured reserve until he tells you he is 100% to play football again. It also leaves the player with the ability to file a grievance against a team if they release him too soon and he can also keep the right to file workmans comp.
2) Don’t try to pick a winner: When players are free agents they tell their agent that they want to play for a contender. In the beginning of this season many media outlets picked the Falcons, Texans, Packers, Redskins, and Giants as divisional winners. Nobody picked the Chiefs to win anything. An agent needs to place a player on the team that pays him the most, where he fits the system and he will play a lot. The way the success of teams ebb and flow, you never know who the next Seahawks will be.
3) Don’t place your player on a sinking ship: When the head coach and/or the GM is inevitably on their way out, players get lost in the shuffle. When I have a free agent I always try to place him in a stable environment with a somewhat predictable future. When I have a free agent, like running back Bobby Rainey for example, I placed him on a team (Ravens) where I knew he would be seen a lot in the preseason and be coached extremely well by Wilbert Montgomery and John Harbaugh. When coaches are on the hot seat they lean on veterans and think more short term and have little interest in developing young players.
4) Don’t believe anything a team tells you: I’m sure the opposite advice can ring true for salary cap managers, “don’t trust anything the agent tells you”. I truly believe that everyone is loyal to who writes him their check. There are some coaches and executives on teams I really do trust. But I don’t rely on all their opinions to make decisions. Coaches, GMs and team employees prey on young agents and players. They give advice and recommendations that sound good at the time and may even be sincere. However, a team’s chemistry and roster is ever evolving and fluid. Team decision makers constantly have to make changes where promises to players and agents have to be compromised.
5) Don’t overestimate the marketplace (contract value) of your client: I truly feel the biggest mistake young agents make is overvaluing their player’s value in free agency. Free agency is a game of musical chairs. Under the new CBA, about two to five players at each position get paid a premium and the rest get close to the minimum. There was an AFC player last year whose agent was asking his current team for $7 to $8 million per year. The team offered about $4 to $5 million per year with about $10 million guaranteed. The agent refused the money on behalf of his client and thought he would get more in free agency. He touted him to several teams but they balked at his price tag. As the agent started to realize the player wasn’t demanding that kind of money, he lowered his price but it was too late. The player ended up signing a 1-year deal for under 2 million, and he’s not even starting.
I definitely made some mistakes as a young agent but I was always quick to get second opinions from those more experienced than me at the time. Players only have one career while we as agents get to manage many. Therefore, every player deserves mistake free representation.
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