Headline NFL Players NFL Teams

Representing The NFL Undrafted Free Agent [Part II]

The following article is a guest contribution from Evan Brennan. Mr. Brennan an NFLPA Certified Contract Advisor and is a current student at Chapman Law School. He holds a Master’s degree in Sports Management from California State University at Long Beach, and a Bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University. He has worked in athlete public relations, marketing, and other areas for various sports professionals and companies for years. Follow him at @brennansports on Twitter.

This second installment (click here for Part I) of understanding the complexities of representing the undrafted NFL player focuses on the need for exposure for a client and the persistence inherent with representing someone in this position.

Beyond those players that are drafted, NFL teams will usually take on a dozen or more undrafted players to compete for a possible roster or practice squad spot. These players may or may not have been on a team’s scouting radar for a significant amount of time, as a scout may have evaluated and been intrigued by them from seeing them in college. However, there are NFL undrafted free agents that will sign contracts that may not have had much interest from teams during their collegiate careers, but rather will generate this interest later, during the all-star games and pro days that were conducted in the spring.

An adept agent will understand that he can at least ensure that NFL teams have a better understanding of his client and what he can and cannot do. In doing so, he will attempt to persuade an NFL team that may not have had interest in a player during his playing career to the point of becoming so interested, that the team signs him after the draft.  This is a big win for an agent, if he is able to do so. This is a very uphill battle and an unlikely one, but it can happen. Agents need to be honest with their clients as to what is within and not within their control, and what they can and cannot do in regards to exposure to teams. That being said, a true fiduciary duty between agent and player, as well as true zealous representation dictates that agents develop a plan to aid teams know more about the players than had the player not been represented.

Teams spend a great deal of money and effort looking into potential NFL players everywhere, with one team even admitting that they have a scout assigned to look at college basketball players. Sending in cutup film of what a player can do, skill by skill, is a common tactic by an agent trying to increase exposure of his client. Sending in transcripts of player interviews that the agent has set up is another. This is done in an attempt show the intelligence and personality of a player. Constant contact with scouts and others in the personnel department of teams allows at least feedback to the client as to where a player may sit, and keeps that player’s name in the ear of the scout. However, it must be noted that dozens of agents are doing this, and scouts learn to somewhat filter what is being fed to them by agents.

Agents and players do have some advantages perhaps over a late round pick, in that they can chose their destination. This advantage is one that in some instances, can allow an agent and player to pick a scheme, staff, depth chart, and location that a player would fit into better than others. But an agent needs also to understand that out of the 47 7th round picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, 26 of them ended up on practice squads. This figure does not include those that even made the 53-man roster. Therefore there is a strong measure of security that at least for a moment, one will secure a paycheck, if drafted.

It is important for the agent that represents NFL undrafted free agents to know that all teams, in terms of keeping signed UDFAs, are not created equally. For instance, in the 2011-2012 post-drafts, the Detroit Lions signed 38 undrafted rookies, and only 21% made either a practice squad or 53-man roster that year. Compare that with the New York Giants that signed 26 undrafted players and had 54% make practice squads or 53-man rosters. That is a significant difference in tendency (not a guarantee) that an agent may monitor closely when choosing to place a player via undrafted free agency.

Agents may also evaluate closely a regime or coaching staff’s ties to certain schools or regions. For instance, half of the 2013 draft picks for the Philadelphia Eagles came out of the Pac 12 Conference, a conference that new Eagles coach, Chip Kelly had just left before coming to Philadelphia. Doing this type of homework and pitching to the correct teams, can pay dividends immediately after the draft with offers from said teams

Many people do not understand the frenzy that undrafted free agency is towards the end and after the draft, and how it is a process that is largely over within hours after the draft is over. Teams will begin to call agents and players of undrafted-players-to-be late in the draft trying to let them know of their interest in the player. They cannot come to terms however until the draft is completed, or they may face possible tampering charge under the CBA.  They will likely say how interested they are, but they just cannot draft the player or how they are going to draft them with one of their last picks, and then claim something happened.  Some teams even send out letters from GMs to players such as this, as a way to build this rapport and loyalty should it come down to said team and another. These are all ways that teams will use to try and entice a player to choose them over other suitors, by showing “sincere” interest in the player.

Once the draft is over, for priority free agents, a flurry of phone calls from team war rooms trying to lock players up will begin going out to agents. The time frame for a decision on the player/agent’s end is minuscule. A well-versed agent will have already sat down and laid out a number of scenarios for the player and they will have made a list of those destinations in which they are more interested in over others. However the draft is very fluid, and the best preparations are often laid to waste. A team that may have a depth problem at running back may have selected two in the 6th and 7th rounds, thereby making that destination less ideal for the  hopes of an agent’s client making that pre-selected team. An agent and his client will have to be able to think quick on their feet, as teams that previously were very interested in the player may not call with an offer, and teams that had previously never said a word will want him instead. Regardless, they will want an answer to their offer very quickly or they will sign the next player on their list. Agents have little leverage in this and can do some haggling for some signing bonus money, but it is tiny compared to what draft picks are getting. Overall the goal here should be to make a team, and not really much else. Putting a player in the best situation possible, when large portions of this are out of control is a great way an agent can segment himself from competition in this process.

Experience, well-versed agents that are aware of these roles, duties, and skills, going into representing an undrafted player stand to achieve better rapport, regardless of the outcome with their client, as well as higher degree of putting them in a position to succeed. In the end, a zealous and well-executed effort to put a client in a position to succeed is all that an agent can do.

By Darren Heitner

Darren Heitner created Sports Agent Blog as a New Year's Resolution on December 31, 2005. Originally titled, "I Want To Be A Sports Agent," the website was founded with the intention of causing Heitner to learn more about the profession that he wanted to join, meet reputable individuals in the space and force himself to stay on top of the latest news and trends.

Heitner now runs Heitner Legal, P.L.L.C., which is a law firm with many practice areas, including sports law and contract law. Heitner has represented numerous athletes and sports agents as legal counsel. He has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Indiana University Bloomington from 2011-2014, where he created and taught a course titled, Sport Agency Management, which included subjects ranging from NCAA regulations to athlete agent certification and the rules governing the profession. Heitner serves as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where he teaches a Sports Law class that includes case law surrounding athlete agents and the NCAA rules.