A tweet from my colleague Darren Heitner today got a lot of traction with people interested in NFL player representation, and I feel it bears some explaining, so I thought I’d use this week’s post to break down how combine prep agreements work for the lion’s share of contract advisors and their clients.

Before we go on, I think it might be helpful if you review the evolution of training options NFL agents have offered (and players have commanded) over the past 20 years. When ITL launched in 2002, there was no combine prep to speak of, but year by year, that’s changed, and today, it’s a critical part of the agent-prospect relationship.

At any rate, the standard representation agreement (SRA) that the NFLPA mandates that all agents sign with their clients makes no mention of combine training. It strictly lays out the fee agreement between a player and his representative, how the agent will bill the player and what he can bill him for, etc. Any contract advisor who’s going to offer training — and I preach this, time and again, to new agents that we work with at Inside the League — MUST set forth everything he’s offering in a separate addendum that he requires the player to sign.

It’s commonplace to think of this addendum as solely related to traditional training — that the agent will pay for 6-8 weeks of combine prep as well as lodging and food at an agreed-upon facility. However, as players’ expectations have grown to include stipends, per diems, signing bonuses, rental cars, mid-training trips back home, more well-appointed apartments, etc., those addenda (commonly called “training riders”) have expanded significantly. If you don’t have one — and if you don’t, you are really playing with fire — it’s tantamount to gambling thousands of dollars. Just ask the nearly 50 agents who’ve already been fired by their clients with a week to go until draft day.

Now, you might think an agent would be crazy to offer such training options to players who have negligible chances to even make a 90-man roster, much less play several years in the league. Well, that’s the dilemma facing every modern player representative. Do you try to hold the line on the soaring cost of simply helping a player through the draft process, knowing you’ll probably only sign players that have no NFL interest? Or do you risk large sums of money, hoping to contain costs along the way and betting that your client beats the odds and makes a roster? These are the things no one tells you as you pursue the exciting and potentially fulfilling life of an NFL agent, just as so many are these days in the months and weeks leading to July’s NFLPA exam. 

It’s easy to criticize those who are in the arena for the decisions they make. What I can tell you is, most people who get into the agent business do it for the right reasons. Often, they only fail because the economics of the game have become so upside-down. Any honest modern NFL agent — there are more than 900 of them certified by the NFLPA — will tell you it’s gotten out of hand, but there’s no easy way to fix things.