This time of year I hear a lot of charges that Agency X ‘pays players.’ In fact, a couple years back, one of my better friends in the business told me he had lost all respect for a rival firm because he found out they ‘paid players.’ This surprised me until I realized what my friend meant.

It’s common to believe that all top NFL draft prospects are being paid under the table, Josh Luchs style. This is way off, of course, though I’d estimate that probably a third of the players slated to go in the first three rounds this spring are getting some form of illegal inducements. Thing is, all inducements are not created equal.

Here’s what’s illegal: any form of cash, money order, check, or promise of same to a player or his immediate family. Also, any gifts that have a cash value. Any cash value. I always tell the parents of players that I work with (usually about a dozen for each draft class) not to accept so much as a bottle of water or a car ride from an agent. Both have an assigned value. They probably won’t get a player in hot water, but it’s not worth the risk.

Here’s where things get tricky, and where agents are charged with ‘paying’ a player when they really aren’t. Paid training (which is standard for any worthy prospect), especially at one of the top combine prep firms. A monthly stipend. A signing bonus. A marketing guarantee of any kind. Any form of residential housing during training. In essence, when an agent charges another agent with ‘paying’ a player, he’s really saying the other guy was willing to invest more in the client than he was. There’s nothing wrong with this as long as the player is already done with his college career. In the overwhelming majority of cases, all payments take place then.

Here’s another sticky example. Today I was told by an agent that one top prospect’s parents are in bad health, and living on a monthly government stipend. He insinuated that the player’s parents had been taken care of by his agent months before any signed deal took place. Again, this would be illegal only because it was initiated before his career ended. If an agent was willing to do this after the player finished his college career, more power to him. But I’m sure rival firms would still make an accusation that the player was “paid.”

Anyway, if you get into this business, one thing you’ll often hear is that someone got paid off. Take this with a grain of salt.