As you know, there was a major announcement Monday that FBS schools will designate up to five underclassmen that NFL teams can scout essentially a full year before they can become eligible.
Presumably, this means a number of redshirt freshmen and true sophomores will become eligible for NFL evaluation this spring in anticipation of these players potentially entering the ’18 draft. Perhaps this means players already three years out of high school will be designated as ‘underclassmen.’ It’s also unclear if it will be made public which teams receive these designations.
Setting aside the questions that remain regarding the new policy, here are a few thoughts on how it might change the business of football.
- My guess is that it will become harder for fringe players to get recognized as legitimate NFL prospects. Why? Increasingly, NFL teams see draft picks after the fourth round as disposable, and this is because they only see the top 100 or so draftees as real difference-makers. These are the guys that win ballgames for you, and in an era where coaches only get two, maybe three years to prove themselves, it’s a win-now world.
- The players designated as underclassmen to watch will automatically be seen as sexier and more desirable to NFL teams. Obviously, that makes a lot of sense for the players from Florida State, Alabama and the like, but there will be other ‘middle class’ teams that designate their own players, and I expect those athletes to get more acclaim, even by scouts. It’s human nature.
- As the agent middle class starts to dissolve (given the tighter margins dictated by the NFLPA), you’re going to see a polarization of the draft. The top 30 or so agencies will strictly recruit the underclassmen designates and the very best seniors, while the other 60 percent of the agent world will try to pick up the scraps. That’s not a lot different from how things work today, but I see it hardening and becoming even more cut and dried. The big firms that have overhead and who are willing to make the investment that recruiting players entails will just have no choice.
- Maybe I’m looking at this as a glass that’s half-full, but this could be an opportunity for those smaller agents and agencies. Younger, less-established contract advisors will have to work harder to find these off-the-grid players, and will have to promote them more aggressively, but there’s a higher ceiling for these players now, I think. So maybe, just maybe, this can be a good thing for players trying to break into the biz.
At this point, we’ve covered the ramifications of the recently confirmed SRA that the NFLPA has published for the 2017 draft class. As you know, the default agent fee will be 1.5 percent v. the previous rate of 3 percent, which was already lower than all major sports.
We still don’t know how this will impact the agent business, though we know it won’t be good. With a week until the NFLPA’s deadline for paying 2016-17 dues, there’s a great chance several good contract advisors will opt to get out of the business.
However, problems for some could be opportunities for others. In the last week, I’ve had a handful of financial advisors ask me how I saw the new agent fee affecting their part of the business. Would it be a negative or a positive? Maybe, just maybe, this could be an opportunity for financial advisors. Here’s why.
- Good agents will leave the business due to this move. There’s no two ways about it. What’s more, eventually, the news of this move will trickle down to the young, motivated people who annually register to take the agent exam. This means it’s possible draft prospects could find a lack of good advisors that know the ropes.
- Financial advisors, many of whom (though new to the game) have an intense desire to help young players make smart decisions about their money, could fill the gap.
- The lion’s share of the financial advisors who can capitalize on this are younger and more patient though probably less accomplished. Elite financial advisors rarely want do the day-to-day hand-holding that the business requires; after all, they’re superstars in their own right.
As I mentioned, financial advisors are already starting to think along these lines. This year, we’ve matched up four former NFL scouts with agencies to work with them in the run-up to the draft. I had a financial advisor ask me last week if I thought this might work in his business. I told him I’d get back to him, and I haven’t yet, but I think maybe this is an idea with traction.
The rule of thumb in this business is that about every three years there is a major new development that hits the football business like a tidal wave, requiring agents, financial advisors, trainers and the like to adapt. Obviously, the less agile can’t, don’t or won’t adapt, but those who can identify these trends early can often turn them into opportunities. One previous such wave was the rise of combine training. Another big one was the shift from low-interest loans and letters of credit to marketing advances or outright signing bonuses to entice draft prospects.
We’re about to see how many people across the football world can benefit from this, and how many will get pulled under. Just maybe there are those in the money world who can make this an advantage.
If you read this blog regularly, you’re a fan of what happens in football behind the scenes as well as on the field. That’s one reason shows like ‘Undrafted,’ which debuted Tuesday in its third season on The NFL Network, have become so popular.
I made sure to tune in Tuesday after my former ITL intern, Murphy McGuire (and probably the rookie agent of the year as the only independent first-year contract advisor with a draftee this year) tweeted that the show was kicking off this week. It was then that I remembered that another ITL client, Samantha Stephenson, had a client on the show. I was especially excited to find out that she was the only agent that got airtime Tuesday night.
With that in mind, I reached out to her about the show and her experiences. Samantha, who’s one of the most approachable people in the business anyway, said she’s already getting attention from other players (mostly true long shots from previous draft classes). I advised her to politely decline them, of course.
Here are a few thoughts from Sam that I found interesting. They run a little long, but I found Sam pretty insightful and I thought you might, too.
“They had done their own kind of keeping an eye on players throughout the season, and they were looking for players this year that were really close to the cusp of being drafted or undrafted. Not only good football players but a good story to tell, things that make them more unique, than just the average football player you see on the field. But you’ll find so many of these guys have stories to tell, and have overcome adversity in one form or another. LaQuan had gotten quite a bit of press going into the season after the 2015 Cotton Bowl when he scored the 18-yard touchdown catch. After that, people started to notice him as a 400-pound tight end. And he had done Sports Illustrated (and other media), and there was press out there about him playing the position he did at the size he was. (The producers) reached out to Baylor, and they gave (the producers) my contact info, and I thought it would be a great opportunity.
“LaQuan is also very different form the typical football player, very quiet and to himself, and very protective of his story. To some degree, at Baylor, he probably felt like he couldn’t say no (to the media), so at one point he said, ‘I’ve already told my story to all these journalists, and there’s nothing else for me to tell.’ I definitely had to show him the upside, and I think during the filming process, we experienced that as well. He’s more of a ‘to himself’ guy, so having cameras and microphones follow him around was pretty exhausting for him.”
On the risk of Samantha looking bad on the show:
“I mean, of course, players are always looking for the agent that will land them as a first-round draft pick, and they were with us all day long on draft day, and we know the story (LaQuan goes undrafted). It was a hard day, a very emotionally hard day, and viewers will see me texting teams and making calls that go unanswered, and I’m sure some will attribute that to my agent abilities. So there was definitely that risk that I knew I was taking, and it’s still very very possible (he wouldn’t be) drafted, and it will all be on TV for everyone to see that he didn’t get drafted and people will attribute that to his agent. So I knew that going in, but it wasn’t until they were already filming when they asked me to be a part of it (and be on camera). I had planned to go to Baylor for pro day, but he wanted me there (for the first day of filming) to kind of filter and help him feel more comfortable with it, so I went down. On the first day, I’m sure the producer was saying, ‘this agent, she’s a lawyer, what a nuisance!’ It wasn’t until Day 2 (of filming) that they miked me up and heard more of my story and how I’m connected to LaQuan, and became an agent after my first year of law school, and that night the executive producer called me and said, ‘hey, we really want you to be a part of it. This is more of a story than just LaQuan’s story.’ It wasn’t until then that they wanted me to be a part of the process, too, so in that moment, I had to decide, is this about me or LaQuan? I thought, if this is a good look for LaQuan, and it reflects poorly on me, it’s OK because this was good for him.”
On the risk of LaQuan looking bad:
“Honestly, I can’t think of a time (when we had to discourage them from filming something or the direction they wanted to go). I’m not sure for the other guys, but for the filming for LaQuan, it was the same director, same camera guy and same (microphone) guy, so eventually LaQuan warmed up to them, and they started to warm up to him and understand what they could get and what they couldn’t.”
On LaQuan’s uphill battle:
“I can’t get on a whiteboard and draw up the best play in X’s and O’s, but the thing that I say is that, I know the business of football. Those of us that know the business of football knew LaQuan was a long shot. Even at the combine, when we were having the happy hour after the (ITL seminar), and (other agents) know of LaQuan, but he’s 400 (pounds) so that’s gonna be tough (to get him in an NFL camp). Everyone else thinks, ‘I‘ve got strength and I’m bigger and can run the 40, why isn’t that great? And they don’t understand that there’s this distinct mold you have to fit in to make the NFL, and 400 pounds is not that mold. It was Year 3 as an agent for me, and I knew what I was taking on, and I knew he had to lose weight to have a chance, but it was the other outside voices that made it hard. Like ‘you killed pro day,‘ and he had coaches that made him feel he was good, and dealing with those outside voices is what made it the hardest.”
On walking through the entire process with him:
“I was with him (on his pro day). It was my idea originally (to be there), and they ended up liking it, but I had already planned to do it. I was the only agent around my player for his pro day, and I guess that’s not the norm, but I couldn’t imagine sending my guy out for the biggest interview of his life by himself. That’s not the agent I want to be. Just preparing him for the interviews, going over questions, helping keep his nerves calm, getting the right nutrition in him the day before. Draft day was the same. I just couldn’t imagine not being with him. And it was even harder because we had to deal with the cameras and mikes in our face. It was very hard, and they interviewed me for the wrap-up interview a week and a half ago. It was a really hard night. LaQuan had to handle it, and I flew my best friend in and I wanted her there for emotional and technical support. I had 60-70 numbers I was monitoring, and I had her sending texts so I could be with LaQuan. I told the film crew, and I’m sure it will be on the last episode or two of the show, but I had to go to dinner with my friend and let the emotions out, and then film again the next day. I couldn’t have imagined not being with him. As much as he didn’t understand to a degree, I can’t imagine going through that alone. If you want to be an agent, you have to be able to face those hard situations. His family was hurting, but I couldn’t, being able to see him again on Sunday and talk to him one on one, it was hard, but let’s pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and keep moving forward.”
The national media has been abuzz with the fact that No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff has not cracked backup duties for the Rams and was, in fact, a healthy scratch for Monday night’s 28-0 loss to the 49ers Monday night.
Obviously, there’s a long way to go before anyone can make any judgments on Goff’s NFL future, but the optics are bad. Still, I wondered if scouts felt the same way. Was Goff a guy that teams felt was a near-certain future star? Do his early struggles make sense to people in the business?
Based on their responses, the jury is still way, way out. We got a lot of comments that were on the fence, like these:
- “Too soon to judge, IMO.”
- “(We thought he was pretty much NFL-ready but) if you’re not a very good team you don’t want to throw him out there either. Many more showings like (Monday) night and they won’t have a choice.”
- “I saw him preseason and thought he would play this year after a few games. (Backup QB Sean) Mannion is better than (Monday) night’s (performance).”
- “He wasn’t my guy so I don’t remember much of the read on him, but I remember him being talented with good traits.”
However, I also had a conversation with one scout that I thought encapsulated things best. He said scouts were all over the place on Goff, with some liking his upside, and others seeing him as comparable to Memphis’ Paxton Lynch and even Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott. These scouts preferred North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz. Despite Wentz’s small-school pedigree, they liked his intangibles and the multiple national titles he was part of at NDSU.
These scouts also had concerns that Goff had gone from nowhere as a sophomore to a possible No. 1 overall as a junior. They just didn’t feel his total body of work justified the investment.
“That’s a concern when you’re taking a guy first overall, with a lot of (varied) grades,” my friend said.
I’d agree. Teams have to make the best decision based on the information they have, and obviously, opinions vary. However, if Goff turns out to be a guy who doesn’t live up to expectations, it could be because the Rams felt they had to have a quarterback, and he looked like their best option. The one resounding message I get back from scouts is that the surest way to miss on a pick is to draft based on need, and not purely on the best player available.
Once again, there’s still plenty of time for Goff to turn into Aaron Rodgers, another player who spent a lot of time on the bench initially. No one knows what the future holds. That’s what makes the draft so intriguing.
I was having a conversation recently with some friends — some agents, some in the scouting community — and the subject of ‘sleepers’ came up. During the conversation, it became necessary to actually define the term. That’s because agents and scouts usually define the term very differently.
This is a generalization, but my experience has been that scouts see most NFL draft prospects as fitting into two categories. Either the prospect is a top-100 guy, an immediate difference-maker and an instant starter, or he’s not. Almost anyone that doesn’t fit into that top 100 could be a sleeper to some or most teams.
Here’s another way scouts define sleepers. If a kid goes to a small school, or a school that’s not Power 5 (the MAC, let’s say, or the Sun Belt, or the Mountain West), he could be a sleeper. It’s a very loose term, obviously, but the players in the latter rounds could almost all be considered sleepers. Just look at how many got cut last weekend. These are players that teams don’t expect to be stars, and if they do, they ‘awoke’ and became game-changers.
This is very different from how agents look at things.
Players that are legitimate fourth- and fifth-round prospects are a long ways from being sleepers. Shoot, guys that everyone agrees will be drafted aren’t sleepers. Not for agents, at least. Why?
Because these days, once a kid gets identified as a legit draft prospect, word gets out quickly. Sooner or later, word gets back to the player himself. Maybe he already saw himself that way, but either way, once he gets that stamp of legitimacy, he expects training. That means an agent can expect to spend $10,000, minimum, getting him ready for his pro day.
Once several agents offer to pay for training, a player’s price and expectation level take off. He might still be a guy that many teams have their doubts about, but agents have to make a significant investment to sign them at that point.
Finding sleepers in the draft is hard for NFL teams, but easier than ever due to the Internet and a number of other factors. But for agents, it’s quite a challenge.
Yes, the agent business is very hard. Yes, we are pretty brutal in our honesty about the way this business runs, and the long odds faced by those who pursue NFLPA certification. I often wonder if I’m a little too direct, and it’s always tough balancing the bad news with the good.
Well, today is a day to balance out the bad. Typically, the players association doesn’t release the results of the exam until mid to late September. However, this year, the news came out Sept. 1. The celebratory tweets started rolling out Thursday afternoon, and soon after, the texts and emails started coming in from the 70-odd people who used our practice exam and/or study guide to prepare.
Obviously, it’s incredibly exciting to help someone achieve a lifetime goal. For me, it’s similar to the high a new agent gets when his first client signs a contract with an NFL team or gets the call that he was drafted. Here’s a sampling.
- “Thanks a bunch! Your stuff definitely helped! Now will probably need to get the list you offer. If you need to use someone or two for promotion, let us know.”
- “I appreciate all of your help. Wouldn’t have passed without the exam and study guide. I’ll be sure to recommend them to anyone in future. Don’t know what I would have done without you.”
- “Hey Neil, I passed. Thank you for your help! The practice test paid off a lot!”
“Thanks for the help. That test helped big time. Helped understand how the structure of the test was going to be. Can’t thank you enough!
- “Thanks man. Totally excited beyond words. Now it just comes down to grinding, making connections, and moving with God’s will.”
“I just want to let you know that….I passed the exam! Appreciate all your assistance along the way.”
- “Passed the test… I have a few weeks to make decision on certification which is nice. Test wasn’t difficult at all, felt very confident afterwards and thought I only got 1 question wrong. Seems like the NFLPA did a much better job with the seminar this year than last. A lot of the really difficult test questions were mentioned in the seminar word for word, so if somebody didn’t get them right they just weren’t paying attention. Thanks for the help and the practice test which was very helpful. Appreciate you being a valuable resource for upcoming and current agents who have been getting very little to no support, especially in this SRA dilemma.”
Naturally, the news wasn’t all good. Though it’s early, it looks like results will be a bit better than last year, though not significantly. Based on the first 21 people I’ve spoken to, our success rate is just over 70 percent, right about where we are every year.
For those who came up short, the pain is unbearable, and I share their disappointment. But for today, let’s focus on those who’ll be sinking their teeth into the football business this year.
If you’re an NFL fan, you’re well aware of the situation surrounding 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick. And I think even if we can’t all agree on his stand, we can agree that it’s an emotionally charged issue that could potentially divide the locker room and create ramifications that coaches and team officials don’t want to face.
I wondered if there’s any way such a situation could have been avoided in the scouting process. In other words, could scouts find out, with any degree of certainty, if a player — though honest, high in character, and far away from anything criminal — is prone to sparking this kind of situation? I asked several of my friends in scouting and I got these responses.
- “Yes, you can get this information. I believe most scouts are lazy. There’s a lot of different ways you can (get this information), and (scouts are) in a power position with an NFL shield on their chests and a logo that everyone’s like, ‘wow.’ The more you go (to a school) and talk to people (and you) make it a whole day trip, you learn about how they handle scouts and how you can get info from teams. If you give them good info (about the NFL and how evaluation works), next thing you know, (teams and their coaches are) gonna think you walk on water, and pretty soon, they’re telling you, ‘he’s really a (jerk).’ And you got that extra piece of info that all it took was a couple extra hours to get. Does it take time? 100 percent! From Year 1 to Year 2, as a scout, I figured it out, but it just takes time.”
- “Definitely you could and would find those guys. There are numerous guys through the years that you would learn of because they were different. I never (scouted) Colin, but it seems to me he had some different things in his character profile.”
- “Well, I think it’s a different circumstance (with Kaepernick), but with a lot of other players you scout, it comes up from sources at the school(, for example,) that he has “gang affiliations” but there’s been no bad behavior on his part at the school, but you know there’s a small chance something bad could happen down the road. With Kaepernick, I think he’s shifted his personality so drastically the last year or so that it would have been very tough to tell he would do something like this coming out of college. A lot of times, though, scouts may ask, ‘Is this guy a locker room lawyer?,’ or they try to find out if he’s ever been a divisive force in the building.”
There’s been a good bit of hand-wringing in this space over the NFLPA’s new policy setting 1.5 percent as the default agent fee (though savvy contract advisors may still seek a maximum of 3 percent from their clients). Here and here and here are some examples of agents’ concerns, and here and here and here are thoughts from combine trainers, who’ll probably have to make a few concessions, as well.
However, after a few conversations with members of big firms, there may be good news for small and mid-sized firms that may see the new SRA as a doomsday scenario.
In the past, big firms spent the spring and summer recruiting players (juniors and seniors) projected as Top-100 picks in the coming draft. As the season unfolded, they’d either lose interest in some of their recruits, or be rejected, or some other scenario that might lead them to look for other prospects. At this point, they’d reach out to scouting contacts, who would in turn update them on the players who’d improved their status. The big firms would then barge in and soak up these players, usually pushing out the smallish firms who’d spent spring and summer forging relationships with them. It was really, really bad news for the upstart agencies. The bullies on the block always won.
This year, however, I’ve been told by two agents I highly respect (and who come from Top 10 agencies) that their agencies will cut back this year by reducing the number of players they sign. In the old days, they could pay for training on their long shots with the premiums paid by big players, but now that fewer will pay 3 percent (though both told me their agencies will still fight for 3 percent), there’s less margin.
This still means the guys out there hustling to make names for themselves will have to spend the summer and fall building relationships. However, just maybe, those relationships won’t go for naught as often in the age of the de facto 1.5 percent agent fee. At least, I hope so. There are a lot of good agents out there working hard and who deserve to be rewarded for their efforts.