In a few months, about 300 aspiring agents will assemble in Washington, D.C., for the 2017 NFLPA Contract Advisors Exam. If the last few years are any indication, at some point, one of the lecturers will ask the class how many expect to sign a player who will be drafted the following year. At least two-thirds of hands will raise, maybe more.
The truth is that, on average, maybe six people should raise their hands, and of those six, five are already employees of major agencies that will represent several draftees. Of those who are truly independent, who arrived with no ties to the big firms, maybe one hand should be raised. On an odd year, two.
There’s a perception that if a draft prospect completes four years in a decent FBS college program, starting a year or two, the natural progression is that he goes to the pros and plays 2-3 years. After all, that’s why the average career is so short, right? Everyone gets their shot, but only the Peyton Mannings and Deion Sanders have really long careers? And worst-case scenario, they go to the CFL, where they play for 6-7 years before moving on, right?
This perception is a big part of the problem, both for prospective agents and the players themselves. The problem is that it’s hard to perceive of the sheer volume of players vying for the 250 draft slots and 300 undrafted free agent contracts every year.
Let’s look at raw numbers. There are 125 FBS programs. Let’s say, on average, each of them has 10 graduating seniors that started a season or two, so that’s a pool of 1,250 players (conservatively). Last year, there were 484 rookies that made rosters (53 or practice squad), so right off the bat, that’s less than half of all draft-eligible seniors the NFL can fit onto its rosters. Now consider that of that 484, probably 100 never made it to their senior seasons. So that’s 384 jobs for 1,250 seniors, and we’re not even looking at the hundreds of FCS, DII and DIII players in the pool. Last year, 76 players made rosters from sub-FBS programs. So now let’s say 300 jobs for FBS players, just to make the math easier.
Of that 300, the vast majority will be signed by firms that have been around for years. Let’s say 250 go to established agencies. That leaves about 50 ‘make it’ kids left for mid-sized, small and rookie agents and agencies to divvy up. There are about 800 agents registered by the NFLPA. About 400 of them have active clients, so we’ll be generous and call them all ‘established.’ That leaves 400 agents vying for those 50 kids that slip through the cracks, yet make a practice squad (more likely) or roster (less likely). Oh, by the way, if your client makes a practice squad, you can’t bill him. So you get zero ROI on your training and recruiting investment. Ouch.
Of course, we’re just talking about making a team, for a game or two. All 32 teams are constantly churning the bottom of their rosters, shuffling players in and out due to injuries or just plain trying to improve their talent level. Making a team for any length of time introduces another reducing variable that we won’t even go into. But I don’t think we need to. You get the point.
Bottom line, if you’re taking the test this summer, or plan to in coming years, good for you, and I salute and congratulate you. But I want you to know what you face, and I want you to take seriously the challenge ahead of you. I’m always here to help, and I hope you’ll let me. Good luck.