Since last weekend, when the NFLPA sent out a rather inflammatory memorandum, there’s been some interest (and confusion) regarding issues between contract advisors and the union. While this is about 10,000 miles from most fans’ interest, if you read this blog, it may be something that’s crossed your mind. Here’s a super-brief look at what’s going on so you can speak intelligently about it in your next sports management class.

  • The owners entered the last CBA negotiation in 2011 with really one goal: end the practice of handing out monumental signing bonuses to first-round picks. While we won’t go into how and why it happened, all agree that the owners got a decisive win. The new CBA basically developed a slotting system for all draft picks. Obviously, this reduced the value of a skilled negotiator when it came to rookie contracts.
  • Slowly, agents figured out that the real (only?) money in the agent business was in second deals, which weren’t similarly restricted. This was happening as combine trainers were becoming an established part of the pre-draft process. Slowly, an arms race started as bigger and more extensive training became a key carrot in the recruiting process.
  • Soon, training wasn’t enough. Agencies started handing out no-interest loans and lines of credit. They began writing per diem checks of hundreds of dollars per month; today, agents typically pay players projected in the first 100 picks about $5,000/month, January to April. Then there were marketing guarantees – cash advances paid against an agent’s ability to find a prospect endorsements, signing deals, apparel, etc. – and finally, signing bonuses, which are pretty much self-explanatory. Today, the total package a potential first-round pick gets from an agency can exceed $100,000 before draft day.
  • Depending on who you ask, either the NFLPA tried to regulate things but failed, or the NFLPA sided with the firms that could write the big checks and took a laissez-faire approach. In defense of the NFLPA, trying to referee the agent recruiting market, which is incredibly nuanced and operates in the shadows, is almost a hopeless case.
  • As big firms swallowed up the top prospects, rank-and-file agencies began to fight back. About a year ago, Denver-based agent Peter Schaffer of Authentic Athletix (he was one of the four contract advisors featured in the Esquire Network’s docu-series The Agent in 2015) began rallying all certified player reps (there are exactly 800 as of today). The idea was to develop broad industry standards. This all culminated in a meeting held in Indianapolis at the combine and hosted by Inside the League, TEST Football Academy and the XFL. You can watch the proceedings here.
  • The NFLPA’s reaction to Schaffer’s efforts could be described as schizophrenic. In its meetings with a select group of agents at the 2018 combine, union officials were ambivalent about agent issues (some even described officials as hostile). As Schaffer continued to grow support and took a high-road approach, union officials were much more accepting at the same meeting this year. The NFLPA even invited six agents to a Board of Player Reps meeting on Monday, April 11, at which they were allowed to state their case before 60 players interested in learning more about the issues.
  • This is where things get confusing. The six representative agents attended the meeting with the goal of explaining their value to the game, presenting ideas on how players could sustain themselves during a potential work stoppage, and above all establishing a spirit of collaboration. Unfortunately, that tone was lost as a handful of players took issue with their presentation. The upshot was that the NFLPA sent out a memo last Friday with a sharply negative feel, even taking a swipe at the six agents who took time out of their schedules – amidst pro days, no less – and traveled to the meetings on their own dime.
  • Furthering the contradictory messages from the NFLPA, this week the union asked agents to help them edit and improve a work stoppage guide that was disseminated to players in advance of the 2011 CBA negotiation.

Naturally, this is a very broad, very quick look at the issues as they’ve transpired over the last decade. A more exhaustive look would delve deeper into the haves and have-nots among agencies; the changing attitude of players toward their agents; how the NCAA’s dissolution of its enforcement powers has affected the playing field for agents; the leadership of the NFLPA and its strategy and goals for the next CBA; and dozens of other topics.

As always, we will continue to monitor the industry and hope that peace can be achieved so that America’s favorite game continues without interruption. Fingers crossed.

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