Hundreds of NFL Players Association certified Contract Advisors come from all areas of the United States to Indianapolis on an annual basis for the NFL Combine. They are in town primarily to support their clients, communicate with NFL personnel and attend an NFLPA meeting to satisfy their certification requirements under the union’s regulations.
But this year included another event that is not typical for agents to attend. They came together in a convention center room, not large enough to host everyone who wanted to join, to discuss how they, typically competing against each other with vigor, could possibly band together to lobby the NFLPA in changing the way that they are regulated.
They talked about taking initiatives to limit their costs in recruiting and servicing players, improving their fees by reverting back to a standard 3% on team contracts (as opposed to the 1.5% established in 2016) and transparency among the unit of agents. Peter Schaffer, the veteran NFL agent who ran the meeting, referenced a study conducted looking at players selected in the 2015 NFL Draft, which determined that agents are merely earning an average of $5,493 per player, per year.
He said that it is not a sustainable business model, and that “nobody’s making money.” If an agent is spending $20,000 to train a player and providing a stipend, then it makes it incredibly hard for many in the business to survive.
The two key issues that were highlighted by Schaffer, and purportedly put in front of NFLPA executives earlier in the day, were standardizing the addendums that can be attached to the Standard Representation Agreements (SRAs) that agents sign with their player clients, as well as providing transparency so that the agent community has access to everybody’s SRAs.
Schaffer suggested a standard addendum similar to how the SRA is standardized. A type of check-the-box agreement with a cap on what an agent can spend to train a client. The SRAs would not be made available for the general public, but instead provided to certified Contract Advisors on the NFLPA’s online portal. It was discussed that if an agent files an SRA that claims a 3% fee, yet charges a client less than that amount, the agent would be subject to discipline.
Under the guidance of Schaffer, agents have been communicating via phone and email on an agenda for this loosely organized “agent association,” which included a lengthy discussion in August 2018. Those communications were expounded upon during yesterday’s meeting, which lasted more than an hour and did not have enough space to accomodate the numerous certified agents who were interested in what Schaffer and others had to say.
Schaffer opened the discussion by indicating that the union, earlier in the day, seemed to indicate their understanding and interest in listening to what agents are concerned about. Pat Dye, Jr. said that the tone of the meeting with the NFLPA was positive.
“The mere fact that we are having this meeting shows the NFLPA that . . . we just can’t be placated anymore. That we are going to be strong. Obviously, we have other resources if they don’t come through with what they promised.”
The big ask from the NFLPA to player representatives earlier in the day was that agents begin to financially prepare their clients in the case of a lockout with the league. Schaffer said that he will ask players to put 10% of their salaries away, as well as 20% of playoff money and 50% of player performance money. He also indicated his belief that agents should be lobbying their free agent clients to sign deals with teams that pay them over fifty-two weeks, which he will discuss more about in an email scheduled to go out to the large group of agents on March 4. That suggestion received some rare applause from the audience.
Schaffer also invited lawyer Peter Ginsberg on stage to speak to the group of agents about what he believes agents can do, from a legal perspective, should the NFLPA refuse to listen to the lobbying efforts of the agents. It appears that this is the leverage that many agents will rely upon in future discussions with the NFLPA.
“The union has taken over your industry . . . the union owes to you a fiduciary obligation,” said Ginsberg. He added, “do you litiagte with the union if you feel like you are being cut out of the process? Do you force a judicial ruling on the union’s obligations to you as a fiduciary? Do you force the union to stand up and defend whether it has in fact engaged with you in good faith and fair dealing?”
He told the group of agents that, at some point in time they will need to decide whether they should cause the NFLPA to answer to a tribunal for what he says is the union excluding agents from the collective bargaining agreement and disciplinary proceedings, as well as undermining agents’ ability to be financially successful. He rhetorically asked, “why isn’t that a breach of its duties to you,” in reference to the concept that the union could unilaterally affect what agents are being paid.
What started as an optimistic discussion about the NFLPA listening to what Schaffer and other agents were pitching earlier in the day turned into a conversation with those in the room discussing the formation of an agent association, with a membership fee, and an interest in preparing to potentially take legal action against the union. It appears that Ginsberg has been tapped as the lawyer who will represent that association against the NFLPA in the case that the NFLPA does not cave to this association’s demands.
Schaffer asked the audience whether anyone in the room opposed the group beginning to pay dues. Not a single person voiced his or her opposition.