2019 NFL Agent Exam: Why Come Back For More?

If you read this blog regularly, you know we talk a lot about the challenges and difficulties of being an NFLPA-licensed contract advisor these days. I talk to agents every day who lament the issues they face on a daily basis, and they often wonder if it’s all a waste of time.

That’s why I was really surprised to learn that at least four people — Andrew Brandt, Alexis Cobb, J.I. Halsell and Adam O’Neil — had gotten re-certified after previously spending time representing players. Given the difficulties in the business and the balkanization of the agent class, I wanted to find out what brought them back, so I reached out to them. The following is a brief overview of their experience in the industry and why they chose to return.

  • Phoenix-based Halsell surprised me when he told me he was leaving Priority Sports in 2014 and getting out of the game. He had enjoyed success, having worked for the league office in the early ’00s, followed by two years with the Redskins in their cap department and a good run with Priority, one of the better agencies. Then again, he didn’t leave the business entirely: he maintained his own salary cap website, did media appearances, and of course worked with Chargers OT Russell Okung as a consultant on two contracts. For that reason, it’s true when he says “I didn’t really completely leave the agent business. In addition to working with Okung, I consulted several certified contract advisors on contract negotiations during this time. Given that experience and the connections i’ve made during that time, it made sense for me to get recertified and use my skill set on my terms.” 
  • Pittsburgh-based Cobb dropped her certification in 2014, but like J.I., she didn’t really leave the business, instead focusing solely on coaches. She has since built up her firm, ASC Executive Group, to represent several rising college coaches, and she said she’s smarter and more established this time. “I decided to represent athletes again because I felt my coaches division . . . was strong and I didn’t need to devote all my time to it. Therefore, I could really refocus my energies on athlete representation.” Furthermore, she has “learned lessons that I can avoid when I was a young agent. Now, I can work smarter for my guys with much more understanding rather than being inexperienced.” 
  • Orlando-area attorney O’Neil got certified in 2013, but dumped his certification three years later. He said that, since then, he got a chance to strengthen his law practice, but the itch to represent NFL players never left, so he’s back. “I spent a couple years off and worked on my firm and infrastructure to put myself in a much better position . . . I never truly wanted to leave, but with the extra challenges added, I (knew I) wouldn’t stay afloat for long,” he said. “I’ve put myself in a much better position to be able to not only chase my own dream but to make sure players can continue chasing theirs.”

Want even more thoughts on the business, its shortcomings, and how to succeed in it, regardless of what role you’d like to play? Start off by registering for the Friday Wrap. You can do that here. It’s free, and you’ll be among 5,000 people across the business who receive it every week.


2019 NFL Agent Exam: Advice for New Contract Advisors

On Wednesday, I first started getting texts and emails from the people who’d used our practice exams and study guides before taking the 2019 NFL Agent Exam, and they were excited — they’d passed the test.

“I couldn’t have made it without ITL! I’m forever grateful,” said one. “Without your guide and newsletters, I would have been lost entering the seminars,” said another. “I could not have done it on the first try without you and ITL,” said a third. There were plenty more, which is one reason why the day results come out is such a special time for us here at ITL.

Of course, after a few days, the euphoria wears off and the reality of actually signing and working with NFL players begins to become a worry, and maybe even a concern. That’s natural, but no less daunting.

Having worked with new agents since ’02, we get it. For those members of the ’19 agent class who are wondering what’s next, here are a few words of wisdom.

  • Take time to celebrate: We’ve been told it took 48 correct answers (out of 60) to pass this year. At 80 percent, that means either the test was a little easier than usual or test-takers just did better than in previous classes. We prefer to believe the latter. Either way, you’ve accomplished something that most people don’t, so give yourself some credit.
  • Swing for the fences: You’ve done a bold thing by pursuing certification. Don’t stop now. For many, the temptation is to play it cool; many new agents don’t even recruit in their first year certified, which is insane given that you only get three years to land someone on an NFL roster. I encourage you to go for it.
  • Don’t seek salvation: For many agents, the goal is to find a mega-agency willing to hire you. While this seems tempting, the reality is that no firm is interested in looking at you unless you have proven yourself. If you’re a new agent, no matter how hard-working or earnest you are, the big agencies are not going to look at you.
  • Study the business: The temptation when you get certified is to lean heavily on the contacts and network you already have. Remember: there’s more information out there today than there ever has been, about which players get an NFL chance, about the backgrounds of people in NFL scouting and administration, about the players in the most recent draft, who represented them and who trained them. This is your rookie year; learn not just by doing, but by studying. It will serve you well in Year 2.
  • Understand that you’ll pay a price: Like anything else worth accomplishing, you will have to use resources to experience even a modicum of success. Maybe that’s money. Maybe that’s time. Maybe that’s your pride. Chances are, it will be all three. You have to be careful about making sacrifices, but you’ll have to do it, even if you have dozens of friends in the business. Accept that.

One other piece of advice I’d recommend is that you join us at Inside the League. Maybe you used our exam prep materials to get you through the test; maybe you’ve read our book about the NFL Draft process; maybe you’ve only heard of us on Twitter; or maybe you’ve read our blog for a while now. If any of those apply to you, it will be worth it for you to have access to our site. Even more than that, however, we’ll be starting our annual series, the ITL Rising Contract Advisor Newsletter, in November. If you’re part of ITL, you’ll get our Monday-through-Thursday emails that serve as a sort of tutorial on the business. You can only get that if you’re an ITL client.

Then again, maybe you need to learn more first. To do that, we recommend subscribing to our weekly newsletter, the Friday Wrap. You can register for it here. You can check out last week’s episode here.

Ask the Scouts: Does Luck’s Decision Change the Evaluation Equation?

By now, you know all about former Colts QB Andrew Luck’s decision to retire two weeks before the start of the season after just seven years in the league, and you may or may not have a strong opinion on it.

However, we wanted to get away from the fan reaction or the applause on social media and focus more on how, or if, Luck’s move might affect scouting and evaluation. Our question to some of our friends in the scouting community was this: With money exploding and head injury concerns already creating doubts among players about long careers, do you think scouts will start wondering if players with excellent academic credentials (like Luck) will have shorter careers and/or leave prematurely?

Here are a few of their reactions.

  • “It comes down to the love of the game and if a player really needs ball I guess…. everyone is wired differently, though. The guys who are overly analytical could raise questions moving forward. Mental toughness is definitely high on the scale, regardless of position.”
  • “With the Luck decision, no, I don’t think I would question what could potentially happen to a player down the road in their career. Luck’s mentality and attitude was second to none. He laid (it) on the line, probably to a fault. He’s a total winner as a person. You can’t ask for any more. Each player’s path is different, as well, with health and injuries. (Former Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is) very similar. The players today are just more informed and educated about training, health, and safety, along with quality of life. The older generation of players had no choice, other than to exhaust their careers, and the young guys see the consequences.”
  • “I don’t think it will be something that comes into play too much.  This isn’t a common occurrence.  If and when it does, then it could become a piece of the puzzle that would require some more thought. It wasn’t like he retired after 2-3 seasons. Most players don’t play for as long as he did, regardless. If you get seven years out of a player, you’d be fairly happy. It stinks because he played at a high level last year, but his body just couldn’t sustain it. (Still,) the timing is awful.  Go on (injured reserve) and then retire. They’re going to let him keep the money, so they could’ve worked something out. That part is rough.”
  • “I think scouts will only ask that question on extremely elite players. I could see it coming up with (Oregon QB Justin) Herbert, for sure. I do not see it becoming a widespread thing though. Luck is just one in a million that’s insanely talented and insanely intelligent – he thinks on different wavelengths than 99% of players and probably 95% of humanity.
  • “We are concerned with all players thinking that way regardless of the academic credentials. But we don’t know if it was his mind that hurt more than the body? He fought through a lot to get to this point, and obviously felt satisfied with what he accomplished in his career. Satisfied players don’t press on; they drop out. I want the ones that want to play to make money and take care of their families, but also want to win a championship! Most are happy with money and taking care of the family.”

We’ve got more reaction in today’s Friday Wrap, plus plenty of other good stuff for fans of scouting, representing, coaching or parenting players. It goes out to about 5,000 people across the industry every week, and it comes out later today. You can register for it here.

A Snapshot of the NFLPA Agent Community since ’12

Today, if last year is any comparison, the people who took the NFL agent exam in July will find out if they passed or failed. While almost half of those who took the exam will get good news, many others won’t. Still, given the odds of achieving real success in the business, maybe those who don’t make the cut are the real winners.

Consider the following grid. We went back to the first contract advisor class certified by the NFLPA under the new CBA, negotiated in 2011. What we found is that those who aspire to be the next Rosenhaus, Segal or Condon have a pretty tall mountain to climb.

’12 ’13 ’14 ’15 ’16 ’17 ’18
Original total certified 133 182 176 75 99 109 91
Still certified (Aug. ’19) 50 68 73 32 64 91 86
Percent still certified (Aug. ’19) 37.5 37.4 41.5 42.7 64.6 83.5 94.5
Min. 10 active clients (Aug. ’19) 4 13 10 5 1 0 1
Percent w/10 active (Aug. ’19) 3 7.1 5.7 6.7 1 0 1.1

It should be noted that the agent exam became sharply harder in 2015, which explains how the number of contract advisors certified dropped from 176 in 2014 to just 75, at least by our totals, in 2015. It’s also worth noting that the three-year rule (which is explained in the body of this article) apparently cuts class size by about 20 percent if the 22-point drop between 2016 (which has not yet faced the three-year cutdown) and 2015 (which has) is any indication.

This grid caps a week of surveying the industry, looking at who’s having success and who isn’t, and considering the challenges that face the business. In the last seven days, on our flagship site, we posted a list of every contract advisor with at least 10 active clients as of this month (and included each agent’s firm and certification year, for the first time); took a look at all 12 players who made agent changes in the June-to-July time frame (including one player who’s been represented by three firms though he’s only played 28 games since being drafted in 2015); and also listed the 21 who made changes during the July-to-August term. Apparently, they were the procrastinators who wanted to put off hard business until immediately before camps started.

We’ll be making observations and digging into these numbers (and much more) in today’s Friday Wrap. As you know, it’s a weekly overview of the football business that goes out to about 5,000 people across the industry every week, and of course, it’s free. Here’s a look at last week’s edition.

If you’d like to register for the Wrap, do it here.

2019 MLB Agent Exam: A Few Thoughts

At Inside the League, we solely focus on the business of football. Still, the Major League Baseball Players Association will have its agent exam next week, and we have a practice exam for those people headed to New York City Tuesday and Wednesday. If you’d like more details about it, here’s a piece I wrote two years ago when we launched it.

In the meantime, here are a few odd thoughts about baseball, agents, exams, and whatever else I can think of.

  • We often get asked why we’ve never branched into baseball before, other than the practice exam, of course. There are a few reasons — I like baseball plenty, so it’s nothing personal — but the main reason is because the gestation period from signing someone to being paid can be so lengthy on the diamond. I mean, by the time you sign a kid, he gets drafted, winds his way through the minors, makes a 40-man roster, makes an active roster, then gets to arbitration, it could be 5-6 years. In football, it’s closer to 5-6 months, if all goes well.
  • At the same time, baseball seems to be a lot less volatile, and it will be interesting to see how the MLB’s certification process develops (it was just introduced a couple years ago). A lot of football agents are also certified in baseball, and they say it’s a good news/bad news proposition. On one hand, there’s a lot of hand-holding that can last years with no recompense. On the other hand, the players seem to be more appreciative and even-keeled. I guess it’s a reflection of the game’s more relaxed pace vs. the action-packed combat that makes up football.
  • Whether it’s because the exam intimidates agent prospects, or whether it’s because baseball is less popular than football, only about a fourth as many people took the MLB exam last year as regularly take the NFL exam. My theory (and I’m only half-joking): the biggest movie about being an NFL agent was pretty good, while movies about the business of baseball, except maybe Moneyball, are mostly about scouts and mostly stink.

Whether you’re into sports business generally, or you’re mostly focused on the off-the-field game related to the NFL, don’t forget to register for our weekly Friday Wrap. It comes out every Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. CT, and it’s read by about 5,000 movers and shakers in the game. You can register for it here, and you can check out last week’s edition here. And if you’re taking the MLB exam next week, good luck!

2019 Personnel Symposium: Takeaways and Thoughts from Year 2

This week, my team and I presented our thoughts on how to get a job as an NFL scout at the second annual Personnel Symposium at the J.W. Marriott in Nashville. Jason Montanez of Catapult Leadership and Blake Beddingfield, former Director of College Scouting for the Titans, joined me as we took turns during ITL’s 30-minute segment.

Of course, though we were happy to share our knowledge at the request of CAA’s Ed Marynowitz, the founder of the event, I came away with new information of my own. Here are three of my personal takeaways from the two-day seminar in the Music City.

  • Don’t forget about the power of media, and specifically, social media: The NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah told the story of his introduction to social media shortly after being let go by the Browns. It was a lot of fun to hear in person, but here it is from a story in The Athletic:(ESPN’s Chris) Mortensen had told him to sign up for Twitter so he did. Jeremiah remembers being on an Alaskan cruise with his family and stopping by the internet cafe to check his email. He had 1,100 new messages.“I go, ‘What the heck?’ It was because I got a new email every time I got a new follower,” he remembers. “I could not figure this out. So I kept scrolling down, finally saw an email from Mort. ‘Hey, I just encouraged people to follow you on Twitter … you might want to tweet something.’ Because I hadn’t even tweeted anything.”
  • Persistence, done right, can be effective: Blake told the story of how he landed with Tennessee, but there’s a twist: it came due to his efforts trying to get a job with a different team. Shortly after graduating from Alabama, he was told by a friend of a vacancy with an NFL team, as well as who would be hiring to fill that vacancy. Blake decided to call that official once weekly, on a Thursday, at precisely 9 a.m., speaking for only one minute. After a time, the official began picking up with the greeting, “Hey, Blake.” Though he didn’t get the job, when the Titans were looking to hire, the official called and strongly endorsed Blake, who was subsequently hired.
  • Network or die: Michigan State Executive Director of Player Personnel and Recruiting Sheldon White was part of an excellent panel Tuesday that focused on hiring and getting a job. Sheldon, who has been in football for more than 30 years as a player, coach and executive on the NFL and college level, said he never interviewed for a job before taking his present position. That’s because he always focused on meeting people and building relationships that he could draw on when it became time to turn the page. He applauded the Inside the League presentation Monday night in which I encouraged everyone in attendance to leave with no fewer than five business cards from new friends/colleagues before returning home. If you went to Nashville, and you didn’t make several new associates in the business, you weren’t trying.

I asked a couple friends what they got out of the conference. Here’s what they told me:

  • “I think Ed Marynowitz and his staff did a very nice job of considering everyone’s feedback from last year’s event.  They listened intently and used the information to produce an even better version of the symposium this go-around. Obviously the panels are a main feature.  I particularly enjoyed hearing some of the more introspective answers from certain speakers – responses that emphasized the need to be adaptive and ever-evolving in this line of work.  We can all bring different talents and skills and ideas to our jobs, but above all, we are stewards of the Head Coach’s vision.  I thought it was great to hear some of those guys really hammer on the need to stay flexible and adapt to the changing landscape.” — Matt Doherty, former Director of Player Personnel at Miami (Fla.)
  • “My biggest takeaway from the speakers at the symposium: having one strong champion is better than having multiple people who know your name but don’t know you. If you can learn, you’ll be fine. People want to know about your character. And the same thing applies to recruiting. The character/off the field traits tend to play a bigger role in determining if you will be successful. Another thing as it relates to recruiting, while ranking guys 1-5 might be good, don’t pass up the number 2 or 3 guy if the top guy is slightly better. Lastly, the biggest thing that was reinforced to me was to trust my eyes when scouting.” — Andrew Liacopoulos, player personnel specialist at Boston College
If you were there this week, you probably have thoughts of your own on what you gained from this event. If you weren’t, and you work in college football (or care about scouting, evaluation and recruiting), we’ll be rounding up and reviewing the event in today’s Friday Wrap, which comes out this evening. It’s free, and you can read last week’s issue here. Sign up for it here.

2019 Personnel Symposium: Listening to the Hires

As we head toward the 2019 Personnel Symposium in Nashville Monday and Tuesday, we’ve already told you about the people who’ll be on stage Monday afternoon and we’ve given you a profile of the people who got hired as NFL scouting assistants this year. Next up, it probably makes sense to talk to some of the young scouts already in the game to get their insights.

We spoke to about a half-dozen young people who are area scouts or seasoned scouting assistants over the past week, and their responses were excellent. Obviously, they talked about the value of hard work, of proving yourself to the right people, and of how their passion gave them a persistence others didn’t possess. However, some made points I hadn’t thought of, and these are the ones I wanted to focus on today. Here are a few selected quotes.

  • “Always be available. I was given opportunities early on simple because I was always around and always in the building. I was able to build a rapport with my bosses quicker than my counterparts.” The importance of being a ‘gym rat’ kinda gets lost sometimes, and I feel there’s a temptation to exhale once you get to a certain level. For those people who are willing to make their job their hobby, as well, there are certain rewards.
  • “It is vitally important to have mentors and champions in the field.  It could be a GM, a director, or an area scout and most likely it will be a combination of all the above. Being able to trust and bounce things off people is vitally important to keep you moving forward!” The idea of having a mentor is something that seems old-school, almost passe’, to a lot of people these days, but I still think it’s essential. At ITL, we have been humbled to serve in a semi-mentor capacity with plenty of people in the game. I’ve also benefited from being a mentee, which I’ve discussed in this space. It’s a valuable relationship.
  • “You’d be surprised stories you hear about people that say they desperately want to get in, and have had chances, but then when their name gets brought up you hear that they’re lazy or they didn’t put in the extra work to stand out when they got their shot.” In such an intensely competitive environment where everyone is watching, you’d expect that there would be few people slacking off, but it happens. So many in this game think they’ve made it when they secure a college personnel job, an internship or a scouting assistant position, but that’s not true. You can never take your foot off the gas in this game.

There’s a lot more to tell, and a lot more to talk about. We’ll have more details about Monday and Tuesday in Nashville in our Friday Wrap, which comes out tomorrow afternoon (you can register for it here). We’ll also have final details about our post-presentation plans Monday night; we’re still working everything out and nailing down a few final details. Stay tuned!

2019 Personnel Symposium: Who Do NFL Teams Want?

On Monday, the ITL team will be speaking to hundreds of college football personnel professionals at the 2019 Personnel Symposium. We’ll be talking about how to climb the ladder in the football personnel business, and specifically, how to get a scouting job in the NFL, for a half-hour, starting at 4:45 p.m. CT.

On Tuesday in this space, we wrote about the experts we’ll bring to the J.W. Marriott. I’m confident they’ll make points, tell stories and bring experiences that any aspiring NFL scout will find beneficial. Still, before a person begins seeking out a new job, it’s important to know what people are getting those jobs. That’s why we looked at the nine scouting assistants who were hired by NFL teams this summer, pulled from our list of all the scouting changes this spring and summer, to get a sense of what and who teams are seeking. Here’s what we found.

Do teams want former NFL players?: Not necessarily, or at least, it’s not a deal-breaker if a candidate hasn’t been a pro player. We counted four of the nine that had played NFL football, and most of them were strictly camp invitees. Based on our research, NFL playing experience was strictly a bonus.

Do teams want former college players?: The answer sure does appear to be ‘yes.’ Eight out of nine scouting assistants hired this term played in college, though it’s certainly not mandatory that it be at the Power 5 level. I’d estimate that at least half of those who played came out of FCS football or lower.

Do teams want people with college personnel experience?: Surprisingly, the answer is no. Though the growing college personnel departments seem like the perfect “farm team” for hires, two-thirds of this year’s hires had never worked in personnel at either the college or pro level. Maybe that’s just a one-year blip, maybe it’s a trend.

Do teams want people with NFL personnel experience?: Again, the answer is no. Six of the nine hires has never worked for an NFL team before.

Based on what we found out, it seems like who a candidate knows is more valuable than what he’s done in his career. Though that might not make much sense to the casual observer, it jibes with what we’ve always believed, and it’s one reason that we’ll talk about networking, relationship-building, and turning an acquaintance into a contact Monday night in Nashville.

I hope you can join us and hear our speakers. You can register here. However, if you can’t, maybe you can join us afterward for a drink. More details on that Thursday.



2019 Personnel Symposium: Meet Our Speakers

Next week in Nashville, I’ll be joining two friends to speak at the second annual Personnel Symposium at the J.W. Marriott Aug. 5-6. I’m honored to be part of this year’s festivities, and flattered that Ed Marynowitz, the former college (Alabama) and pro (Eagles) administrator and scout, asked me to contribute. My team and I are looking forward to meeting the 200-or-so scouting professionals who’ll be in attendance.

This week, in this space, I’ll be talking about our presentation in the Music City. That means I’m going to presume that, if you’re reading, it’s your desire to become an NFL scout someday. Over the next four days, we’ll talk about who will be speaking for us; what people who hire NFL scouting assistants are looking for; who’s getting hired, i.e., what are the characteristics of the people who are becoming scouting assistants; and what qualities young scouts say were important reasons why they got hired. In other words, we’re going to look at all sides of what it takes to get a job in the NFL.

Let’s start by talking about the two men who’ll share the floor with me for 30 minutes, all told, next week. They’re both good friends, but more than that, they’ve got a lot to say about the subject we’ll be discussing.

Jason Montanez of Catapult Leadership: Jason was a fullback in the early ’00s at Buffalo after spending his high school days playing in a suburb of New York City. Though Jason is still a young man, he’s quickly gained respect as a leadership guru and sales expert who’s in demand by corporations and business leaders. He’s also authored two books, I’ve Got 99 Things to Quit and Giving Up Is One and Lead, Sell, Care as Easy as 1, 2, 3. Jason’s energy level is infectious, and he’s as knowledgeable as he is convicting. Everyone who knows Jason gets a boost from his attitude, his delivery and his style, but you won’t like Jason (solely) because of his personality. He’s got a lot to say about how to get ahead in business. Especially the football business. You can follow Jason on Twitter here.

Blake Beddingfield, former Director of College Scouting, Titans: Blake is no stranger to any of last year’s attendees, as he represented ITL at the 2018 symposium. Blake spent almost three decades with the Titans and did almost everything in their scouting department, so he’s the voice of experience. What makes Blake so valuable is not only that he has had a front-row seat for the hiring process and development of most members of Tennessee’s scouting staff, but he also was around for the career of the late C.O. Brocato, one of the true “warriors” of the scouting profession. Blake not only knows today’s hiring trends, but he knows what creates longevity in a career. He’s also funny and engaging, a really great guy who’s willing to help others. You can follow him on Twitter here.

We’ll talk about what young scouts say about why they got the job tomorrow.

2019 NFL Agent Exam: The Wrap-up

As promised, we’re back to share a few last thoughts after a whirlwind week in Washington, D.C. Based on conversations and comments from dozens of test-takers — many of which were shared in last week’s Friday Wrap — here’s what we learned.

The General Licensing Agreement question was tricky: Here’s how one agent hopeful framed it: “The GLA question was absurdly construed the way it was asked. I understood everything having to do with the GLAs, but that question was the hardest for me to answer just because of how it was worded.” If you are one of those people taking the exam next year (or possibly re-taking it), watch out for that question.

We’re pretty sure former NFL great Marshall Faulk took the exam: More than one test-taker claimed he saw the former Rams rusher in the exam room. “I did see Marshall Faulk about five minutes before the test was about to begin and still had second thoughts as to whether it was him or not. Very interested to see what his plans are; glad that other people saw him, too.”

Don’t rely too much on the pre-test seminar: This is something we constantly preach. Very often, test-takers roll into D.C. thinking they can learn everything the day before the test, but this is risky at best. “The NFLPA seminar was really good and informative,” said one. “However, prospective agents should not rely on the seminar to provide them with the data they will need to pass the test (it doesn’t take the place of rigorous studying).”

Our prep materials will give anyone taking the exam an edge: At the risk of sounding arrogant, we feel really good about the services we offer, and we’re confident that no one else can match what we provide. “Neil, I just wanted to drop a quick note and let you know that I would not have been able to navigate studying for the exam without your notes and outline,” said one very kind client. “A tremendous help.”

For now, we’re playing the waiting game with the numerous people we worked with over the last several weeks. We’re expecting results in a month to six weeks. In the meantime, consider signing up for our Friday Wrap. Thousands of people across the industry use it for a regular review of the business, and we think you should, too.