by Jack Bechta
April 17, 02013
It’s easy for agents to take shots at another agent’s deal. However, that’s not my intention with this article so I won’t mention any specific contracts. However, there is still an unusual amount of high quality free agents on the street and it’s not always the fault of the system, the teams, the CBA or the player that they haven’t been signed and paid to date. Occasionally the agent is to blame and here is why:
Agents can be guilty of overpricing the player to the marketplace. Before a client hits the free agent market it’s vitally important for agents to do their research for 10 months leading up to the beginning of free agency. It’s important to establish a value for your client and his position based on what the market will bare. Talking with GMs, pro personnel directors, the NFLPA research department and team salary cap managers can accomplish this. They are all great resources for gathering intel about your client.
I usually start with teams that may not need my client, as they will give me an unbiased valuation. (BTW, is it tampering? Kind of! But it’s an acceptable practice between front office men and agents.) By the conclusion of the Combine in late February, an agent should have an approximate expectation/value for his client. At minimum he/she should know how many teams might be bidding on his services and have a contract floor established.
When his current team, the Bengals, offered my client, Guard Eric Steinbach, $25 million over 5 years ($10 million guaranteed) prior to his last contract year, I knew that would be my floor going into free agency because several non pro bowl guards were also getting that same deal, or more. I had several teams tell me that season they would be interested between $5 and 6 million per year and $10 to 12 million guaranteed range. By the conclusion of the Combine I had 5 teams lined up bidding for Eric’s services. I even compared notes with the agent representing another top rated guard who was also going to be a free agent. When the opening of free agency rolled around I got Eric a deal worth $50 million dollars, a $7.1 million per year with $17 million in guarantees. He made $23 million in his first 3 years. On this deal, everything went better than expected.
It doesn’t always work that way though. Had I passed on that deal in hopes of even more, or waited just one more hour to pull the trigger, it would have evaporated and the Browns would have moved on to another guard. My next offer was with Tampa at about $5 to 5.5 million per year, who were going to move him to left tackle. At about 3pm on the first day of free agency my instincts said pull the trigger with the Browns. And it’s good I did because the other teams in the hunt for guards signed someone and moved on.
In my younger days as an agent I was probably guilty of overpricing a client but I learned my lesson quickly. Having a background in investment, I was programmed to listen to what the marketplace was telling me.
This year was an interesting year in free agency because the two prior years (non-capped year included) were complete anomalies. They didn’t provide us with the best of comps going into this year. Additionally, there was only a modest increase in the cap, which was practically flat. With the addition of ten new GM’s over the last two years (who historically don’t make huge free agency signings), and cheaper draft choices under the new CBA, it was a perfect recipe for a soft free agent market in 2013 (as I predicted here).
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