Two Paths to Becoming an NFL Agent

Anyone looking to work in sports — whether as an agent, a salary cap manager or a front office executive — must first decide how they’re going to get there.

I’m going to tell you the two most important things you will need to have a career as an agent or in professional sports. But first, let me tell you how I got there.

The question I’m most frequently asked about my career is, “How did you become an agent?” The assumption is that I started with law school. I didn’t. Grad school? Nope. Did I major in sports management? Negative.

I simply called up the NFL Players Association, got a certification form, filled it out and sent it back with a check. Two weeks later, my certificate arrived and I was a certified NFL agent. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to negotiate a contract or get clients, and there was no one to learn from.

I was, however, 23 years old, hungry, competitive, employed by an investment banking firm and heavily credentialed with all my investment licenses. I even had real estate and insurance licenses. I saw myself as a “one-stop shop” for all pro athletes’ professional needs. I also played football at a small but powerful football school, Texas A&I University (now Texas A&M-Kingsville), which produced a steady stream of NFL prospects, including the late Gene Upshaw.

For a young guy, I was making decent money, had a brand new car and owned three suits. At the very least, I looked the part. I called my agency the Horizon Sports Group and got some business cards and stationary to promote my venture.

My initial motivation in becoming an agent was to enhance my investment business. I got tired of reading about pro athletes going broke and getting scammed out of their hard-earned money. I set out with a goal of negotiating players’ contracts for free, thus saving them money, and giving them proper guidance on the financial side. That was my plan.

I remained close to the A&I football program. I asked a few seniors if I could represent them, and eventually a few said yes. The first three clients I had all got cut and never made it. The fourth, Mike Dyal, a tight end with the Raiders, not only made it but became a starter in his second year. That same year, he referred me to Derrick Gainer, a sixth-round running back who didn’t have an agent. It took me two years, but I finally had two real clients. Business was up and running.

I eventually started charging my clients because I didn’t want them to feel compelled to invest with me. I also weaned myself from the financial business and committed to becoming a full-time agent. I did it with little guidance or outside help. I just pulled out a machete and cut my way through the agent jungle and built my business into one of the largest independent boutique agencies in the industry.

I did it without law school, without grad school, without an internship and without working for another agent. I just went for it and leveraged my skill set and my training with E.F. Hutton, including the credentials I obtained while working there. Actually, my time in the investment business prepared me extremely well for the agent business.

So the question is: “What’s the best route to becoming an agent, a front office executive or a salary cap manager?” The truth is that you can get there several ways.

Law school

There’s no doubt that law school is a plus if you want to become an agent or land a job in sports. I scanned the bios of the top 10 agents and found that eight had attended law school. However, to my knowledge, only one has actually practiced law, and it was for a very brief time.

I also found several agents with clienteles larger than mine who never attended law school. In addition, there are many agents who work for agencies in which at least one other agent in the firm has a law degree.

When I’m asked by a prospective client if I’m a lawyer, I proudly say no. I tell him that I have an attorney on retainer and the Players Association has a team of lawyers in place to support us. Additionally, NFL contracts are pretty much standardized, and many of the GMs I deal with are not attorneys either. There’s very little in the way of actual contract writing with the exception of endorsement deals. Believe it or not, the skill set, language and terms in NFL contracts and negotiations are unique to our business. The same can be said for MLB, the NBA and the NHL.

I do think the advantage of going to law school or being an attorney is that you may develop a trained eye to catch small but important contract details that might not be in the best interests of your client.

Back in the early ‘90s, a Chargers first-round pick hired an attorney to do his deal. The attorney, who had never negotiated an NFL deal before, took the standard NFL contract and tried to rewrite it to his own specifications. Bobby Beathard, the GM at the time, didn’t even read it and told the attorney that they would never agree to anything but the standard NFL contract. The seasoned attorney held his ground through the start of camp and insisted on using his modified version of the contract. Bobby refused to budge, and eventually the standard contract was used.

There aren’t many law schools that have professors who have actually negotiated pro sports contracts. Those that do are the ones you may want to consider. Actually, several agents, both active and retired, are currently teaching at a handful of law schools around the country.

I strongly believe that every pro athlete should have a practicing transactional attorney in their corner to handle property sales and purchases, investment oversight, formulation of trust, wills and LLCs, prenuptials and other needs that high-income earners may have.

The irony of the attorney-agent is that agents who have gone to law school rarely provide these services. They usually farm them out for an additional fee to the client. I know of a few agents with fewer than six clients who currently practice law and provide these services. However, if their agency businesses grow, they won’t have time to continue.

If you want to become an agent, law school is not a must but will definitely help your cause and give you some credibility with players and their families. For me, I emphasize that my business degree and experience as a well-trained and seasoned investment advisor will be more of an asset to the long term financial well being of my clients. It works for me.

In part two, I’ll discuss another option to becoming a sports agent: grad school and sports management programs.

Breaking down Jennings' deal

Inside the Jennings’ deal

The contract that Greg Jennings completed with the Packers last week is an interesting study of the dynamics of negotiations and valuations of contracts in ways that include more than simple dollars and cents. As an admitted fan and friend of Greg, I strongly believe he deserves the money he received, and I give kudos to the Packers and agent Eugene Parker for ensuring that the two core players of their offense – Jennings and quarterback Aaron Rodgers – are now locked up through 2012. Looking closer at the deal brings out some attention-grabbing numbers.

As to the total deal, it can range from $26-30 million for four years. For discussion purposes, let’s say the deal is worth $28M, an average of roughly $7M per year, putting Greg’s average per year near to the top tier of wide receivers, a group that includes Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss at $10M per year and Lee Evans, Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Roy Williams below them. That, however, is too simplistic a way to look at the contract.

Jennings had one year remaining on his rookie contract, which would have paid him $535,000. Thus, his “new money” in the deal will pay him $27.5M over three years, giving him a “new money” average of over $9M, inching him closer to the top.

The other complicating factor in looking at this deal is that – as we sit here today without a salary cap for next year – Jennings would have become a restricted free agent next year. Assuming the Packers would have placed a first-round tender on him (the tender was $2.2M this year) combined with the $535,000 he would have made this year, they would have Jennings’ rights for 2009 and 2010 for approximately $3M. This would make the “new money” in Jennings’ deal $25M over two years, an average of $12.5M, putting him at the very top of the receiver market.

Will there be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement next year, meaning the value of this contract is more in the three-year “new money” category rather than the two-year look? Time will tell, but the uncertainty of the labor future in the league shows the tricky nature of valuing contracts at this point in time.AP

The other fascinating factor about the Jennings deal, as well as the Fitzgerald deal last year, both done by Eugene Parker, is the length. Jennings, who is 25, will have another bite at the free-agency apple (and the leverage associated with that) in four years, still at the tender age of 29. For a blue-chip player like Fitzgerald or Jennings to have two opportunities for free-agent riches following their rookie contracts is as important as anything else. Parker is someone who truly understands the concept of value in NFL contracts (even though I would not let him get away with a short deal when we worked on Jason Peters’ contract in April). Listening to Greg’s appreciation for Eugene after the deal indicated that he understood the value as well. …

Dolphins add more ownership

The new owner of the Miami Dolphins, Stephen Ross, appears to be trying to leverage the use of celebrity in marketing his product. First, he partnered with singer – and entrepreneur – Jimmy Buffett in a short-term naming-rights opportunity for Land Shark Lager as the name for the stadium. Although the inventory for Land Shark does not include the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl, both of which will be played at that facility this season, it did and does include concerts and appearances by Buffett in bringing more awareness to the team from casual fans.

Continuing that theme, Ross has brought on Emilio and Gloria Estefan as minority owners of the franchise. It’s not know what role, if any, the Estefans will have beyond a small piece of ownership, but they’re another step in the building of brand awareness for a franchise on the upswing after a magical season a year ago. …

And in the “Master of the Obvious” headline of the week:

“Cowboys are charging fans for tours of new stadium.”

Uh, ya think?

Of course they are. They’re not going to let fans into their new $1.15-billion edifice and its sanctums, including the locker room and field, for free.

In Green Bay, my office looked out on the gathering area for tours, which were always full this time of year. Admission in Green Bay is $11 for adults and $8 for children. Cowboys Stadium charges $15 for adults and $12 for children.

At Lambeau Field, these tours sold out regularly; the Packers could certainly charge more. At Dallas, I would suspect it’s the same, at least for the short-term honeymoon of the new building. Having said this, we must remember that these are two of the most recognizable brands in football. They are not typical.

Michael Vick's waiting game

I believe Michael Vick deserves a second chance because he’s paid his debt to society. But as a dog owner and dog lover, I think his past involvement in dogfighting is nothing short of disgusting and savage. I have little respect for him, but I still believe he deserves a right to work.

I’m hoping he realizes there’s no excuse for his actions. I understand that dogfighting is a socially and culturally acceptable activity where he grew up. It was something he was introduced to at a very young age. As a matter of fact, one of my clients who grew up in the same area as Vick told me that he attended a dogfight when he was 13. He never went back, but he said it was commonplace to see guys in his ‘hood breed dogs for fighting and money.My guess is that Commissioner Roger Goodell is going to take his time deciding this matter. He’ll speak to Michael and his representatives after July 20, the date Vick is released from home confinement and federal custody. He will personally check on Vick because Roger is a hands-on guy.

The real reason he may be patient is to give Michael time to adjust and to watch the path he makes for himself. He’ll want to know who his friends are, what lifestyle he chooses and how he conducts himself minus fame and fortune. My assumptions are that Roger will wait and observe Michael’s behavior for nine months to a year. If he conducts himself in a squeaky clean manner, I bet he’ll be reinstated by next summer. But if Vick so much as gets a speeding ticket, it will push back his reinstatement.

There’s definitely a sticky balance to this situation. If the commissioner acts too quickly, he could be seen as a little soft and may also get some flak from animal-rights groups. If he waits too long, he might have Vick supporters, picketing his New York offices.

Whatever he decides, you can bet he’ll put the image and interests of the game before Vick’s wishes.
I want to hear from you, the fans and consumers of the game. Should Vick be reinstated? If so, when?

If not, why not? Your voice matters.

The differences in rookie contracts

First, rest in peace, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. Those of us who were children of the ‘70s lost a part of our legacy yesterday.

We’re at a time of year when there is (pardon the pun) quite a draft. The drafts for three of the four major team sports – Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association – all have occurred in the past two weeks. The NBA draft was Thursday night, the NHL draft is tonight and the MLB draft was June 9-10. And although the NFL Draft occurred in late April, it is still very much front and center as the matter of signing the draft picks is upon us.

Having just negotiated six of these draft picks for the Eagles, I know that the system in the NFL has its pluses and minuses. With that in mind, I thought I’d take a look at the negotiation and cap/scale issues facing the three major sports (sorry, hockey fans, I can’t speak with any remote intelligence on that subject). Let’s consider the big three:

Major League Baseball

There is no overall salary cap in baseball, nor is there any kind of rookie cap limiting how much teams can pay their draft choices. Thus, unlike the NBA and NFL, MLB has – in theory — the truest free-market application to its selection process, giving players at the top leverage (whether real or perceived) to negotiate without any of the parameters imposed by the caps of the other sports.

The most interesting part of the negotiation of draft choice contracts in baseball is a concept that MLB has instituted called “recommendations” for signing bonus amounts for each slot in each round. Clubs are obviously not bound to come in under or at the “recommended” slot, but the mere meaning of the word indicates that the home office is watching (and somewhere, antitrust lawyers are cringing).

Now, according to the Sports Business Journal, those recommendations are getting smaller. MLB is “suggesting” a 10-percent reduction in recommended bonuses for the first rounds of the recent draft and a 15-percent reduction of those recommended bonuses for the fifth round and below. According to agents who were presented with this sobering news, the economy was given as the reason for the drop, and teams are hiding behind the league office in their negotiations. Again, it’s not compulsory that clubs follow these slots, and there may be some who don’t. As for the 10-percent drop, MLB did the same in 2007 but brought it back up 10 percent last year.

All of the above is well and good, but there’s one force out there who treats these recommendations as a pebble in his shoe to be easily discarded. That force is agent Scott Boras. Known for his scorched-earth negotiating style and comprehensive books presenting the best possible view of his clients, Boras uses every bit of leverage he can in negotiations.

And Boras has the biggest fish in the pond this year. Stephen Strasburg is being hailed as a once-in-a-generation talent, the no-brainer first pick of the downtrodden Washington Nationals. I admit it, that’s my team, ever since they were the downtrodden Washington Senators with Frank Howard, Del Unser and the gang. I cried when they moved out of Washington, even though they were the worst team in the league. As the great sportswriter Shirley Povich said about having the Senators in town as opposed to not having them, “Halitosis is better than no breath at all!”

Boras has the perfect storm with Strasburg – the player of a lifetime who can turn around a franchise in the nation’s capitol that’s been the losingest club in the league, a franchise that’s been playing to crowds featuring several thousand fans at best, that has a beautiful new ballpark whose honeymoon period died after one year and whose fan base is dying for a savior. This is not a setup for the Nationals to look to MLB for “recommendations.”

The highest bonus given to a draft choice to this point has been $10.5 million to Mark Prior. Strasburg will easily eclipse that, as Boras has strategically floated the $50-million number out there, raising the expectations of the public for that to happen.

So MLB’s draft choices – without a cap or pool – begin negotiations with the league providing its recommendations. We’ll check back in a couple weeks to see if those numbers have been heeded by the clubs.


For the most part, the players drafted last night already know what they’re going to make. The NBA has a rookie salary scale, which – more than any other major sport – provides almost exactly what each player will receive, depending on where he is drafted. These are appropriately called “rookie scale contracts.”

Each rookie scale contract of a first-round pick is for two years with a team option for the player’s third and fourth seasons followed by, if the options have been exercised and the player has not signed a long-term extension, a restricted free agent number. Eighty percent of the compensation for the rookie scale contract is already negotiated for the player, with the agent responsible for completing the other 20 percent. The contract is fully guaranteed for the first two seasons and the first option year, leading some clubs to try and trade out of the first round to avoid such guarantees.

For example, the top pick of the 2008 NBA draft, Derrick Rose, received the following contract, achieved through little to no bargaining:

2008/09: $4,822,800
2009/10: $5,184,480
2010/11: $5,546,160 (team option)
2011/12: $6,993,707 (team option II)
2012/13: $9,091,819 (restricted free agent)

The second pick in the draft was Michael Beasley, who received the following contract:

2008/09: $4,314,960
2009/10: $4,638,600
2010/11: $4,962,240 (team option)
2011/12: $6,262,347 (team option II)
2012/13: $8,172,362 (restricted free agent)

And so it goes in the first round, stair-stepping down the round. The money is certainly strong, but not to the level of top picks in the NFL as far as guarantees, and earned on a year-by-year basis.

The important distinctions in the signing of NBA draft selections are: (1) there is little to no negotiation on these picks, ensuring no holdouts (in fact, the players drafted last night will sign before the NFL first-rounders drafted two months ago); (2) teams must guarantee the first three years, but the amounts are palatable, with the highest pick in the draft only receiving $15M or so of guarantees, as opposed to almost three times that sum for the top pick in the NFL Draft; and (3) the money is paid on an annual basis, as opposed to an upfront signing bonus in which the player has the money in the bank before playing.

There are those who believe the NFL should go to a system similar as opposed to…


Although many have failed to report this, the NFL does have a rookie salary cap. It’s called the “entering player pool” in which a number is given to each team after the draft depending on the location of its draft selections. So in a way, the rookie cap is a sort of defined “recommendation” on what each team should pay its draft choices similar to Major League Baseball, with the added kicker of a cap.

The rookie cap – a subset of each team’s overall cap – is not a large number in the NFL. The average rookie cap is around four percent of the team’s overall cap, a miniscule amount of cap tied up in all the drafted and undrafted rookies on the roster. Thus, the problem with the system in the NFL is certainly not the allocation of rookie contracts to the cap.

The problem is cash, not cap, especially at the top. Due to the increasing leverage of play
ers at the top of the draft, the cash outlays to top picks have become a source of consternation to league officials and veteran players every year. This year, we’ve seen guaranteed amounts of over $41M to Matthew Stafford, the highest guarantee in the history of the NFL, and $28M to Mark Sanchez. Having said this, the problem is limited to a handful of players every year, but it’s those players who get the attention of the media. No one writes about players on their rookie contracts making less than $500,000 in their third year in the league.

Due to the operation of the rookie pool, there are a myriad of rules and regulations that have to be navigated in every contract to avoid pool charges yet provide the player the amount set by the marketplace. As a result, these contracts end up being up to 60 pages long, most of which is simply language to keep money out of the rookie cap. For example, Sanchez will not receive a signing bonus in 2009, simply around $2.5M of salary, which will be his cap number to squeeze into the rookie pool. However, he will reportedly receive more than $30M over the next three seasons. That’s the weird dichotomy between cap and cash with these rookie contracts.

NFL teams do have to squeeze their picks into a cap, and the functional reality is that 50-55 percent of each team’s rookie cap — and a much higher percentage of cash –ends up going to the top pick. There is much debate about the players at the top, but the vast majority of rookies represent fixed and reasonable costs for their teams.

Having summarized these rookie contract issues, here’s the bottom line on players entering any of these leagues: The goal is to get to the second contract. Except for a few aberrations – bonus babies such as the “S” boys, Stafford, Sanchez and Strasburg – the real money will be on the next contract, not this one. Although there’s a lot of attention paid to what these rookies make coming into the league having not played a minute of professional sports, these contracts pale in comparison to veteran contracts, especially the lucky few who reach the mother lode of free agency.

Enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday whys: Jennings was a priority

Why did the Packers reward Greg Jennings but are in a standoff on a contract extension with Nick Collins?

These are interesting times for the Packers and a couple of former second-round picks, Jennings and Collins. I negotiated their rookie contracts in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and am admittedly biased as a fan of both and a friend of Jennings.

The deal with Greg had to get done. Like Aaron Rodgers a year ago, the Packers made it a top priority to lock in the centerpiece of their future — and they paid dearly to do so. Jennings was going to break the bank; the only question was when.

Jennings has long been a priority for the Packers, dating to last season. In my biased opinion, he’s been the most underrated receiver in the NFL, due in part to his mild-mannered, high character ways in a position filled with selfish divas. He’s been a quiet and classy team player in Green Bay and a favorite of the two people who matter most to his career, GM Ted Thompson and Rodgers.

Jennings and agent Eugene Parker waited patiently for the right deal. Earlier this spring, when I worked with Eugene on Jason Peters’ contract with the Eagles, Eugene kept asking if I could go up to Green Bay for a few hours and help Greg’s deal get done. I told him that Greg would get top dollar; the Packers would not let him enter his final year without a deal. They did not. More on the particulars of the deal in a future column.

Collins is a bit of a different story. Having played four years on a rookie contract, he expected to be re-upped by now. The last year we were allowed to negotiate five-year deals in the second round was 2005, and although it was met with a lot of resistance by agents, we were able to procure that length for both Nick and our other second-rounder, Terrence Murphy (Murphy played in only a handful of games before having to retire because of a neck issue discovered after an injury on a kickoff return).

Although Collins’ 2009 pay has been escalated to more than $3 million, it’s merely a pittance compared to what he’s seeking long-term. Moreover, Collins’ representative – Sportstars – is the same group that represented Ryan Grant last year in his dispute with the team.

Grant was rewarded as early as the Packers have ever rewarded a player in terms of years of service, and he owes part of that money to a former Packer named Brett Favre. The messy Favre divorce was front and center throughout the summer, and with the Packers needing something positive coming out of their offices, they did something very out of character and extended the contract of Grant, an exclusive rights player with no free agency leverage for years to come. Timing is everything in life; just ask Ryan Grant.

Now the Packers have shown their hand as to who was first priority this year. Collins has waited longer than Jennings and far longer than Grant and made a Pro Bowl only, in his mind, to be stuck on a five-year rookie contract that isn’t even allowed anymore.

Never a dull moment in Titletown, speaking of which….

Why are there reports that Brett Favre has already agreed to a contract with the Vikings?

Brett has been on national television referring to the Vikings as “we,” and no one from the Vikings has ever denied that there’s mutual interest in this happening. As mentioned here many times, Brett wants to play – as he did last year – and the Vikings want him to play for them, as they did last year. It’s d

Pros & cons of an 18-game season

Last week, I asked one of my clients how he felt about playing an 18-game regular season. The answer he gave me was more than a simple yes or no. My client, who’s been with me for seven years, gave me a laundry list of things he would want before agreeing. It got me thinking about the ripple effect and wholesale changes that would come with playing 18 games.

Before forming my own opinion, I asked more players, coaches, GMs and even the commissioner for their thoughts. The more I delved into the subject, the more questions I found that needed answering. Moving to a longer season would have a serious impact on the current infrastructure, including offseason workouts, OTAs (organized team activities), mini-camps, player evaluations(particularly rookies), player compensation, scheduling, practice schedules, roster sizes, practice squad size, injured reserved terms and even training methods.

The assumption is that we would lose two preseason games and get the regular season started two weeks earlier. Of course, as an agent, my concern is for the players, but I wanted to hear from everyone who would be affected by the change. Here’s what I learned:


I spoke to 10 veteran players and one rookie. My veteran clients had similar responses, including this one: ”As long as we’re paid for the games, I’m OK with it.” Along with additional compensation, players want to be assured that there will be less wear and tear on their bodies during camp. By the 12th game of the regular season, everyone is beat up and nursing some type of lingering injury. So the prospect of adding two games and taxing the NFL body that much definitely have some risk. However, if camp is two weeks shorter, the consensus was that players will welcome the change.

On the specifics of compensation, it was unanimous that players would look to be additionally compensated for the games at a proration of their contracts. For example, if a player is making a base salary of $1.6 million ($100,000 per game) for a 16-game season, with one off week, he would expect to make $1.8 million for an 18-game season with one off week. One player felt he should be compensated 110-120 percent of his weekly game check for the two additional games. Four players brought up the idea of having an additional off week.

If the players are compensated and given a shorter, less physical camp, and their bodies are managed with more consideration to the longer season, I believe they will sign off on the proposal.

General Managers

The first AFC West general manager I called had a strong opinion. He said, “Jack, I hate the f—–g idea! We would have to go back to the drawing board and redesign everything we do. Player evaluations will be more challenging, we’ll have more injuries, and the quality of the product will suffer in the first few weeks of the season.” He also said, “We’re holding our breath as it is that we can get out of a camp with healthy players and reach the playoffs with a healthy team.” There’s a very fine balance in getting players repped, calloused and rested for the start of the season. Losing two preseason games would put a strain on players’ bodies and their ability to learn. He added that a team is lucky when it can get to the postseason healthy. The two extra games could have a huge impact on postseason play.

Of the four GMs I spoke to, three hated the idea and brought up many similar concerns. The biggest change for GMs would be the way they evaluate younger players in the preseason. They would have to depend on their coaches to get their teams ready while simultaneously playing rookies more in the preseason. One GM said he would consider more weekly scrimmages with other teams.

More specifics from GMs: Expand game-day rosters and practice squads. Shorten the time players can go on the IR list with an opportunity to get them back during the season. Currently, when a player is placed on IR, he is prohibited from playing the rest of that season. One GM suggested it should be about nine weeks long. Another GM wanted more mini-camps to increase his ability to evaluate and prepare players.

One AFC Central GM was more subjective. He said the change would simply give more value to the fans, and we should embrace the change if it happens and make the necessary adjustments.

Head Coaches

Of the three head coaches I spoke to, two were adamantly against the idea and one said it didn’t make much difference. However, all agreed that a change to an 18-game season would affect them the most. They would have to start over how they prepare for a season, how they work with their young players and how they get their teams ready with a shorter preseason.

One AFC West coach welcomed the idea and said it would be a good reason to cut back on a lot of unnecessary things they do. He thinks OTAs should be trimmed from 14 to 11 days. He doesn’t play vets much anyway and would cut back on their preseason game reps and give the No. 2s and 3s more playing time. He, like the other coaches, also wanted expanded rosters (53 on game days, 58 total), bigger practice squads (about 10) and more flexible IR terms. The problem with this, I’ve heard, is that owners don’t want bigger rosters.

The Commish

I decided to get Roger Goodell’s quick take on an 18-game season and see if he really has thought through all the components that would need changing or adjusting. I wanted to see if this was a passing subject or an inevitable change. He told me that he’s been evaluating and exploring the idea for about a year and realizes he and the NFL would need sufficient time to prepare for modifications to the current system. They’ve been talking with coaches and GMs about this for a while now, and he’s also interested in the players’ perspective. He’s keeping an open mind and seems to be in the exploratory phase of this matter. However, I don’t know if he and new union chief DeMaurice Smith have tabled the subject for serious discussion.

Goodell also made it clear to me that the preseason game “stinks” as a product for fans and partners of the NFL. He’s interested in giving fans more value for their money. My sense is that he wants to see an 18-game season, eliminate two preseason games and also use the change to improve certain components of the system.

I’ve known Roger for many years, and an observation I can share is that he consistently looks at the game and all its elements through the eyes of the fans. He’s a fan’s commissioner.


I’m all for an 18=game season as long as:

Players are fairly compensated.

Fans get a clean exchange for their current two preseason games.

Players’ bodies are better managed on the front end of camp and during the season.

There are expanded rosters and practice squads.

There are more flexible injured reserve rules.

The start of voluntary offseason training is pushed back until April 15 or later.

OTAs are cut back.

Rookies are allowed to report to camp one week earlier than vets.

As an agent, I’m in tune with the strain that playing in the NFL puts on my clients’ bodies. These guys are hurting pretty bad down the stretch, and two more games can push their bodies beyond their limits. Unless, of course, more restrictions can be put in place on how their bodies are managed in the offseason and during camp. Most NFL coaches do a good job during the season managing players’ health. However, some players never fully recover from a tough camp.

I worry about LaDainian Tomlinson and other running backs getting 30 to 50 more pounding carries, QBs taking 10 extra hits over the last two games and linebackers having 20 more violent collisions. Two more games will have
an impact on player health if the management of the preseason isn’t handled with extra care.

I also worry about the late rounders and undrafted free agents who may not get the reps they need in the preseason to get fairly evaluated or even scouted by other clubs.

I have a concern that clubs with new GMs and new head coaches will be at a big disadvantage putting in new systems and evaluating new faces. As a result, bad teams may stay bad even longer without proper preparation time in the preseason. This could be a negative for those teams’ fans and first-year head coaches – and a plus for teams like the Steelers and Patriots that have successful systems in place.

One GM I spoke to who absolutely hated the idea said, “The 18-game season is inevitable. We will all toe the company line and make the necessary changes to adjust.” And I agree. It’s coming.

I want to hear from fans. What are your thoughts on an 18-game season?

Opening the books

As the person responsible for the players’ purse strings in Green Bay for nine years, I always dreaded this day on the calendar – the Monday following the weekend news stories about the Packers’ operating profit the previous year. As the NFL’s only public company, the team’s annual report is an open book for the world to see the profits and losses of a professional football franchise. Right there in the news were our revenues balanced against our expenses. Even when I spoke to NFL managers at the annual program at Stanford in June, our statement was right there on the PowerPoint for everyone to pick apart.

The majority of my time there, the profit margin ended at around $20 million. For the fiscal year that ended in March, the Packers show $248M in total revenue against $228M in expenses, an impressive accounting in the midst of this economic crisis, but a profit margin of only $4M, down $19M from a year ago.

The reason I dreaded the day is that a steady stream of calls would come in from player agents suggesting ways we could put all that profit to use. It was especially difficult when I was in the middle of a negotiation arguing over hundreds – or even tens — of thousands of dollars with headlines about our $20M-plus in profits with no debt to retire. I usually ended up thanking everyone for offering ways to burn through that profit and reminded them that there were plans for that money (plans that were divulged on a need-to-know basis).

Another person who was always keenly interested in the news of our annual report was the late Gene Upshaw. He and the NFL Players Association would use the operating profit margins from – by far – the smallest market in the league to show the owners that even tiny little Green Bay could be in the black by over $20M. Now, with that profit margin down 80 percent from a year ago, the new union leader, DeMaurice Smith, may not be able to crow as much as Upshaw about tiny Green Bay and its profits.

What Upshaw certainly knew — and Smith knows as well — is that the Green Bay Packers are a truly unique brand, one that is not replicated in any fan base in the country. Believe me, I lived it. Packer nation is unlike any other. With 81,000 people on a season-ticket waiting list, with half the population on any given day wearing Packers gear, with Fanfest in March selling out in minutes, with practice squad players recognized wherever they go, the Packers are a brand that the NFLPA would have to admit is not typical.

The books are open and the Packers are making money, although far less than in recent years. This story will be spun in different ways in the coming months. …

The New York Giants’ deal with Timex, announced last week, represents a win-win for both parties and a true sign of the times.

The Giants’ and Jets’ new stadium opens a year from now, a jewel of a sponsorship opportunity with twice as many games as every other NFL stadium. There has been no news on the naming rights since the failed attempt from Allianz this past fall, a deal scuttled by the company’s ties – however real or perceived — to the Nazi regime. Similarly, the Cowboys’ new stadium, a magnificent palace featuring the highest profile team in the NFL, is unveiling this season without a naming-rights sponsor.

On the naming-rights front, we’re left with just one deal this year in the NFL, a short-term branding opportunity for Land Shark Lager, a joint creation of Anheuser-Busch and Jimmy Buffett. Land Shark will be the naming-rights sponsor for Dolphins games this year, although the inventory does not include the marquee events in that facility in early 2010, the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl.

The lack of big-time, big-money, long-term naming-rights deals is not a surprise in the meltdown/downturn/recession we’re in. The market adjusts, adapts and reconfigures toward deals like Land Shark and the Giants’ agreement with Timex.

Timex will be the name sponsor not for the new Giants stadium, but for the team’s new practice facility, a state-of-the-art complex that will be named the Timex Performance Center. Perhaps more importantly, Timex will have its name on Giants players’ practice jerseys this summer at training camp, a piece of inventory the NFL opened up this year – along with liquor and lotteries – to provide clubs with more potential revenue streams.

This is a sensible and shrewd deal for the Giants. They now have a reported $35M from a partner with strong name brand and credibility, and they preserve the most important inventory, naming rights for their new stadium.

And a brilliant play by Timex. On every evening newscast, in every morning newspaper and online sports section, in every report about the New York Giants this summer — all in the country’s largest market — there will be a picture from that day’s practice with a player wearing a practice jersey adorned with Timex. Similarly, once the new stadium opens in 2010, there will be strategically placed Timex clocks counting down to kickoff, reminding thousands what company is providing that countdown. Now, if Timex could only get the players to wear its watches during the games. …

The report of Bernie Kosar filing for bankruptcy protection is a surprising and serious cautionary tale for all athletes of any income level. As I say so often when I speak to players, whether as an agent or working with a team, professional football allows players a head start on the rest of their lives. That’s all. With careers being so short and the earning potential so fleeting, the number of athletes who can realistically claim long-term financial security from careers in professional football is smaller than most believe.

Kosar is not someone you’d think would be financially unstable. He graduated in three years from the University of Miami and enjoyed a long and successful career with – for the time he played – top-of-market earnings at the highest-paid position in the game. In addition, he appeared to be doing well following his playing career and was even touted as someone who was as successful in business as he was on the playing field.

Not so. Kosar has listed assets of $1-10M and liabilities of $10-50M. He owes almost $1.5 million in unsecured debt to the Browns, for whom he played from 1985-1993. He also owes his ex-wife $3M and owes the owner of the Cleveland Gladiators of the Arena League $725,000. And he owes a bank more than $9M for bad real estate deals.

Kosar made tens of millions playing in the NFL and appeared to possess some business savvy in his post-career business and financial dealings. Now it appears he’s fallen victim to those dealings.

Michael Vick – forgetting everything else swirling around him – was the highest-paid player in football not long ago. He, too, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

The toughest job for agents, managers, friends, family, wives and girlfriends of professional athletes is very simple: curb the enthusiasm for spending. I realize it’s difficult for athletes who haven’t had much in their lives to delay gratification, but I’ve seen too many end up broke. If there’s one mantra every athlete should remember about getting paid in pro sports, it’s this: It’s not what you make that counts, it’s what you keep.

Welcome to summer. In the east coast, we’ve been building arks.

Follow me on Twitter: adbrandt.

Something seems amiss in Stallworth case

An exceedingly unfortunate series of events occurred in the early hours of Saturday, March 14 in Miami. A 59 year-old construction crane operator named Mario Reyes was rushing to catch a bus after finishing his overnight shift. Miles away, Browns receiver Donte’ Stallworth was spending the night partying at the bar of Miami Beach’s elegant Fountainebleau hotel. Stallworth was likely celebrating his $4.5-million roster bonus payment from the Browns, negotiated as part of a “second signing bonus” in his $35-million contract with $10 million guaranteed in March of 2008.

Stallworth and Reyes, two people who otherwise would never have come into contact, met in a truly tragic manner. On the way home from his celebratory night, Stallworth’s Bentley struck and killed Reyes, who allegedly was not in the crosswalk at the time. Stallworth had a blood-alcohol level of .126 after the crash, well above Florida’s .08 limit. In the blink of an eye, the lives of Stallworth and – much more tragically – the Reyes family (including Mario Reyes’ 15-year-old daughter) were irrevocably changed. Stallworth was charged with DUI manslaughter, which carries a possible maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.

The plea bargain – one month in jail followed by two years of house arrest, eight years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service – hardly seems to fit the crime. Indeed, I’ve heard many cries of selective justice suggesting that an ordinary person – not a professional athlete with considerable resources – would not have been able to secure that deal.

Those cries are, well, accurate. Resources and fame do buy some favorable treatment in the judicial system; we would be na

Cracking the agent business

There are approximately 750 agents registered with the NFL Players Association. Fewer than 100 agents have five or more active clients. About 400 of them will have no clients on an NFL active roster after the last cut of the 2009 season. They will have no income either, but lots of expenses in marketing themselves and their clients.

From the recruiting stories I hear from the guys I’m lucky enough to sign, it’s difficult not to be entertained by some of the efforts and gimmicks people use to sign players.

My motivation in writing about these agents is not to make fun of them or belittle their efforts. It’s to help them out a little because I really do feel sorry for them — just a little.

Since I started writing this column, I’ve been contacted by more than 100 individuals looking to get sports internships, particularly in football or with my firm, JB Sports. I actually appreciate the effort of this mostly young and ambitious group. This is the best way to break into the sports agency business. Stay persistent and it will pay off (as an aside, I once interviewed and hired an intern after he sent me a hand-written letter every day for 26 consecutive days; his name was Joe Fortenbaugh).

I also have been contacted by several people seeking my help in launching their agent careers. Some of these aspiring agents are already registered but have no clients. Others are just finishing up law school and/or want to change professions because, they say, they “always dreamed of working in sports.” I get emails with questions that go something like this:

Hi Jack,

First of all, I really enjoy your articles. As someone who's been intrigued with the agent biz for 10+ years, it's very insightful. I plan on getting my NFL certification next year and am curious about a few things.

1. Do all/most players get pre-draft training paid for by their agents? (to the best of my knowledge, it seems the agent would actually lose money on any player drafted 3rd round or later)

2. Approx how many agents recruit the late round/undrafted free agent types? (Just curious to know how much comp I’m gonna be up against)

3. Like you, I'm only wanting to rep low maintenance/good character guys. Who might I get 'character references' from on players I'm interested in? Compliance directors? Coaches? Other?

That's it for now. I greatly appreciate your help and advice!</p>

Or this:

Mr. Bechta,

Hi! My name is — and I am an aspiring NFL agent. I love every aspect of sports, especially pro football and have recently become a certified NFL agent.

I have contacted many potential draftees over the past two years and I seem to get off on the right foot with them. However, once the more experienced agents or firms get a hold of them, my potential client seems to vaporize. Therefore, as the established agent that you are, can you please share some guidance as to how I can get over the hump and get my first client? I would greatly appreciate your help in getting my career off the ground. I know that with your help I can land my first few clients and be on my way to being a top NFL sports agent.

I look forward to hearing from you. I enjoy reading your articles.

Believe it or not, I usually answer a lot of these inquiries. I’m not in the business of helping aspiring agents become competitors, but I have no problem sharing my experiences and answering some questions.

Here are my answers to the first email: 1) Yes! Yes! 2) A lot! 3) Regional scouts and coaches.

The second email: “Although I don’t have the time to launch your career, I would advise you to keep at it and maybe focus on undrafted rated players at first. There have been many players that have given agents like yourself a chance at representing them. Keep banging away.”

Personally, I’m all for competition and don’t care how many registered agents there are. I know there are some very competent individuals in this industry who are in for the right reasons and do great jobs for their clients. I also know there are some real egomaniacs who are in it for the wrong reasons and make a living telling their clients what they want to hear and not what they need to hear. The bottom line is, there’s room for smart, hard-working professionals who want to work for the best interests of their clients.

A large portion of new agents are simply na

Wednesday Whys: Plaxico Burress

Why are teams considering talking to Plaxico Burress about playing this year after his criminal incident in New York?

The wheels of justice sometimes do not rotate quickly. Burress may be the beneficiary of delays in the court system that have postponed his trial – according to his lawyer – until at least early 2010. Thus, an alleged crime that even brought the attention of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — who remarked that Burress should be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law” for otherwise there could be “a sham, a mockery of the law” — will go unpunished for the time being, a convenient delay for teams interested in the receiver (of which there are reportedly several).

In the event Commissioner Roger Goodell is true to the Personal Conduct Policy, however, the NFLwill not delay its discipline. The Burress situation represents a perfect example of the distinct manner of meting out discipline for personal conduct and behavior between the old regime of Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and the present leadership of Goodell. In a case like Burress, Tagliabue would have waited until the case had wended its way through the court system before handing out punishment. As a result, due to the deference given to the judicial process, Tagliabue, an attorney, meted out far fewer discipline penalties than Goodell.

Goodell certainly can act on Burress before training camps begin, and he will not have the benefit of an outcome in court or a plea bargain. He will look at all the facts surrounding the case, with the most important evidence being the police report, and he will probably suspend Burress for a period of time. Teams interested in Burress are certainly in contact with the league trying to get a forecast on discipline, although they will have a tough time trying to get an accurate read.

As to those who believe Goodell usually waits for a judicial outcome, that is not the case. He suspended Pacman Jones for repeated misdeeds, although none of them resulted in a conviction. Indeed, I was with the Packers when we acquired Koren Robinson in 2006 following his release from the Vikings after an alleged DUI incident. Although the case was not to be heard in the Minnesota courts until after the season, Robinson was suspended for a year within two weeks of our acquiring him in the first disciplinary ruling of then-new Commissioner Goodell. There was a new sheriff, and a new Personal Conduct Policy, in town.

Burress had a contract offer from the team he was with, the New York Giants, earlier this spring. The Giants, who signed Burress to an extension a year ago despite knowing his behavior was marginal at times, were willing to keep him around under a reduced and risk-averse contract. Burress, who despite being 31 and a veteran in the league, continued to act as if nothing was wrong and that he deserved better. He turned down their offer. More than his insolence or insubordination, it was Burress’s delusion, fueled by enablers throughout his career, which led to the Giants to part ways with a valuable on-field performer.

Since his $35-million extension in September, Burress was fined repeatedly and suspended twice by the Giants, was continually chased and sued by creditors and was charged with a felony crime. Yet a delay in his case would theoretically allow him to continue to play football this fall, unless and until Roger Goodell has something to say about it.

The Personal Conduct Policy is well intentioned toward its mission of maintaining public confidence and integrity in the game. Its problem is that it continues to be mocked by high-profile offenders such as Jones, Burress, Michael Vick and others.

Why is Brandon Marshall fighting a losing battle in Denver?

Marshall is trying to follow the road map laid out by so many wide receivers in the past few years – Terrell Owens, Chad whatever his name is, Anquan Boldin, Javon Walker, etc. He is saying he wants to be traded, although that’s not really what he wants. What he wants – what all of these players want – is for the Broncos or another team to show him the money. If he can get a new contract from the Broncos, he’s fine in Denver. If he can’t, he’s hoping another team will provide him financial security. Good luck with that.

As my colleague Michael Lombardi insightfully pointed out, Marshall’s behavior has and continues to be an issue. He was suspended a year ago for an incident with a former girlfriend and somehow avoided a similar suspension this year for similar behavior. When Marshall was only punished with a fine this month, I heard comments from front office people and scouts around the league who said they were disappointed he wasn’t disciplined more harshly and that he’s someone to watch in terms of repeat behavior.

As we’ve seen from Burress, Pacman Jones and so many others, behavior doesn’t change with people like Marshall. And a new contract? That’s a certain recipe for disaster. If Marshall was/is a problem without financial security, as sure as the sun will come up tomorrow, he’ll be more of a problem with a new contract.

Marshall may also be trying to take the path of his former quarterback, Jay Cutler, who complained his way out of town after feeling “dissed” by his new coach. Marshall should know that these are not comparable situations. Cutler was made available as one of the rarest trade commodities the NFL has seen – a young, experienced and multitalented quarterback entering the prime of his career with a cannon arm and years left on a reasonable contract.

Teams cannot get a Cutler in this league through trade – all good quarterbacks are locked up for their careers by their teams or under franchise tags. Also, Josh McDaniels wanted a different type of quarterback – as evidenced by his selection of Kyle Orton over Cutler, Jason Campbell and others offered to him – to manage the game rather than take what he felt were needless risks.

Although Marshall’s agent is indicating the Broncos are open to a trade, this would set another precedent in their locker room that there’s a convenient way out the door. The best guess is that the Broncos will continue to put up with Marshall’s petulance in this, the last year of his contract. Following that, in the event of no new Collective Bargaining Agreement, they will continue to hold his rights as a Restricted Free Agent. Or, in the event of the continued cap system, they can place a franchise tag on him if they choose.

With Marshall, as with the vast majority of players and people (and unlike the stock market), past performance does predict future results.

And now, my Wednesday Pet Peeve Why….

Why are there so many discussions of who is the “best player” in a sport like football?

Isn’t it kind of irrelevant to talk about individual performance where every play of every game involves eleven people? These kinds of debates only fuel diva behavior. The “best” players in the NFL play, at most, 50 percent of the game and watch the rest from the sideline. Football is the ultimate team sport.

Coming Friday: another police blotter player, Donte’ Stallworth, and the criminal and civil deals he has made.