I asked longtime NFLPA contract advisor Howard Shatsky of Professional Football Management to provide me with his thoughts on how, and when, to tell a player it’s time to ‘pursue his life’s work,’ as legendary Steelers coach Chuck Noll used to tell players he’d cut.
Howard made some excellent points. His thoughts are below:
What’s the best way to handle a player who is projected as a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent? When is too long when it comes to pursuing NFL dreams?
Obviously, many of these players are released before even making an NFL roster, or after a season on the practice squad, or at best a year or two on the 53-man roster. So what’s an agent’s obligation regarding a young man’s non-football future? During my 27 years as an agent, I have had to have this conversation with many players.
Some agents choose the easy way out. They just stop taking the player’s phone calls until they are fired and no longer have to deal with that client. Others will tell the player to keep working hard, that an opportunity is coming. The reality is that if one of these “bottom of the roster” players is released and is not picked up for an entire year, he has very little chance of getting back in the league.
This is not to say it does not happen. I recently represented a player from a small school who went undrafted and sat out the entire year. However while sitting out, he had a job and would work out before and after going to work. Most players do not work during this time, even though it is physically impossible to train for eight hours a day. When asked what they are up to, they often say they are “training to get back in the NFL.” To me, that is a synonym for unemployed. There is no reason a player cannot work while attempting to get back in the league.
Ultimately my client’s hard work paid off. He performed so well at the Regional Combine that 14 NFL teams expressed interest in him. He ultimately signed with a team and was released, then picked up by another NFL club and spent the entire season on their practice roster. The next season he finally made the 53-man roster and will now enter 2016 with one season toward his pension and free agency. But looking at things realistically, if he makes the 53 for the next few seasons, by the time he is an unrestricted free agent — which is when the majority of NFL players “cash in” — he will be 29, so he is playing in hopes of getting that one big contract.
But again, this is the exception, not the rule. Most players who sit out an entire NFL season have very little chance of making it back to the NFL. This is not always because they do not have the ability to play at the NFL level. It’s just that the reality of the business is that most NFL teams would rather take a chance on a player coming out of college than one who has been “on the street” for a year. That is extremely frustrating to both the agent and his client. Some players who have been in training camps feel they have the ability to play in the NFL and in some cases they are correct. Many times I have had a client tell me, “just get me an opportunity and I know I will get it done.” The problem is that often, even though an agent may spend hours calling NFL teams and even trying to call in favors, he is unable to get another opportunity for the player. It is at that point I feel an agent has an obligation to speak with his player and tell him it is time to move on.
More from Howard on Friday, including a recent experience with a client in just this situation.