As for their role in the business, this was my experience with most all NFL sports agents in the day to day, month to month, season to season cycle of professional football.
In the old days NFL sports agents would lobby close club relationships for input on who to pursue as clients. With the wealth of player information available today, that tends not to be the case much anymore.
Some NFL sports agents would and will develop close ties with a particular club or GM. But stacking your team with players from one specific agent is just bad business, if not bad scouting.
It is entirely rare for a club to draft a player based on who his agent is and how hard he sold the player. The club is more likely to avoid a particular player if he is represented by an NFL sports agent not in good standing. I do think agents have influenced the media (particularly with the top picks in the 1st round) and clubs have succumbed to that pressure. Again, poor scouting.
NFL sports agents will hit the phones (post draft) working to get their undrafted players into a camp. Word spreads fast if you can’t move your clients. In most cases clubs know who they want to pursue and will contact the agents first. There’s a bit of haggling done here for at times literally hundreds of dollars.
New CBA regulations governing rookie contracts have all but locked in draft pick deals. I’m still not sure why agent representation is required for entering talent?
NFL Sports Agents and Free Agency
Rare (I mean extremely rare) is the situation where an NFL sports agent deals directly with ownership (unless he’s the owner and GM – see Dallas Cowboys or Cincinnati Bengals). Budgets are set and authority is passed to General Managers and Personnel Chiefs. The picture painted here by the media and some agents is a distorted one.
Clubs tend to first pursue their interest in a player, and then look to see who the agent is. Not vice versa. Many NFL sports agents will doggedly push their clients through emails, fliers, websites, printed materials, phone calls, texts, tweets and recommendations. Most, if not all of these attempts to garner attention from a club will fall on deaf ears. Scouting directs player acquisition, not agent representation.
Should a club have immediate interest in a player (Practice Squad, Workout, Active Signing) they call the agent first. Nine times out of ten, an in-season acquisition is a one way conversation. “We’d like your player, here’s what we can do”.
The advent of Free Agency opened up the doors for more direct participation from NFL sports agents. Most agents spend the majority of their time at the NFL Combine (after conveniently attending their own annual summit) meeting with club officials prior to the official kick off of free agency. To say that some deals are already finished at that point, well that would be an understatement. Still others are setting up visits and probing interest for potential “future fits” for their clients.
NFL Sports Agents and Contract Negotiation
Perhaps at this point is when most agents truly earn their 3%. In the interest of full disclosure, I have an agent as well. I find it difficult to expound upon the virtues of what I can bring to a club and to negotiate my own salary without someone speaking on my behalf. I just feel a third party can better present the case and debate the outcome.
NFL sports agents are more inclined to have up to date market information that players can’t necessarily get quickly. Also, reading an NFL contract is like reviewing a real estate agreement. You think you understand, right up to the point where you don’t. The majority of NFL sports agents spin out of law practices. It’s certainly not a necessary prerequisite, but lawyers tend to beget agents. Go figure.
Players frequently tell me that lack of communication is the number one issue between themselves and the club. Perhaps that’s why you tend to field a grievance or complaint through the agent first, and then eventually circle back to the player. The built in fear of discussing particular issues with front office management has brought in the “third party” go-between. This is as much the club’s fault as anyone’s.
NFL sports agents can serve as legal consultants in disputes regarding breaches and interpretation of contractual matters. Eventually the League and Union lawyers are left to hash things out, but a player’s agent is normally involved from the start (if not the instigator).
NFL sports agents will request upon the player’s behalf the need for a second medical opinion and ensure proper actions are taken in the event of severe injury jeopardizing a player’s short and long term future. If money is involved, the agent will be too.
That’s about it. Marketing deals have nothing to do with the day to day operations of a football team. I’m sure there’s a myriad of other things NFL sports agents can do for their clients, but most of them are to ensure they remain their clients. I’d personally like to see more development of the whole person, but that’s another post all together.
As for the NFL falling apart without a specific agent or the sports agent industry in general?
I don’t think so.