The nine-month suspension of long-time agent Gary Wichard handed down by the NFL Players Association Friday is the most impactful agent discipline from the present union leadership to date.
Agents routinely complain about the business recruiting of college football players. Every agent I speak to has the same opinion of the business: the business is getting worse all the time (yet they all keep at it).
Rare discipline for name agent
To this point, despite these complaints, the union – the governing body for certification of agents – has taken a quiet stance. The vast majority of agents facing discipline have been agents with very few players of note such as the other agent disciplined along with Wichard (Teague Egan) and Josh Luchs, the former agent featured in the Sports Illustrated last month.
Now, however, the union has landed a big fish. It is Gary Wichard, a Los Angeles agent well known in the football industry practicing since 1986. Wichard has strong relationships at the NFLPA and in the media and a client list that includes Dwight Freeney, Terrell Suggs, Jason Taylor and, from last year’s Draft: CJ Spiller, Jimmy Clausen and Taylor Mays. Every team negotiator in the NFL has dealt with Gary (I negotiated the contract of Packers running back Brandon Jackson with him a couple years ago.)
Wichard has had an eventful year. Right before the Draft, the client that put him on the map, Brian Bosworth, sued him alleging more than $2 million due to negligence. Gary then watched top prospects Clausen and Mays; projected to be first-round picks, fall to the second round. And in the summer, he negotiated an eye-popping $43 million guaranteed for the Broncos’ Elvis Dumervil, although the contract provided no new money for Dumervil in 2010, with guarantees kicking in in 2011. Dumervil then suffered a season-ending injury.
NFLPA and agents: an uneasy history
Under the previous leadership of Gene Upshaw, the union had little regard for agents aside for Upshaw's agent Tom Condon. With the new leadership of DeMaurice Smith, the NFLPA has yet to embrace the agent community. It provides periodic calls to a select group of agents to give limited updates on bargaining, calls largely devoted to advising players to save their money.
The union action suspends Wichard for violation of the “Junior rule” – prohibiting contact with players who have not completed their true junior or redshirt sophomore seasons. – with North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin.
The agent community has taken notice. The union took action against one of the bigger names in the industry. Wichard is off the market for the 2011 Draft and, presumably, any negotiations for his veteran clients.
Although the stewardship of NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith will ultimately be defined what happens in collective bargaining, he took a large step in defining an active approach towards agents with the suspension of Wichard.
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