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NFL Agents Discuss Creation Of Agent Association And Changes To NFLPA Rules

Earlier today, roughly 300 NFL agents joined a conference call to discuss the state of being a representative for professional football players. The conversation began with one agent stating, “I wish I had two more hands to give the NFL Players Association four thumbs down” and ended with the call leader, NFL agent Peter Schaffer, indicating that he had already received roughly sixty emails from agents interested in formally creating an Agent Association separate from the NFLPA, which is truly a body representing the players and not any agent’s interests.

Before the call, Schaffer circulated an email to NFL agents with an agenda that contained four “essential” items:

  1. Agent representation at Executive Committee and Player Rep meetings;
  2. Changing the Standard Representation Agreement default fee language back to 3%;
  3. A Standard Representation Agreement addendum designed to curb inducements when signing rookie or veteran players; and
  4. The Contract Advisor “Test”.

The tone of the call was very negative toward the NFLPA, and the agents agreed that there was no need to keep their disdain private. In fact, a few agents even considered using the media to a greater extent to voice their concerns about where the union is headed and how it could negatively affect players.

Many on the call seemed to be very concerned about the leadership of NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, noting that he is a savvy, experienced litigator, but doubting his ability to effectively negotiate a strong collective bargaining agreement. They viewed the NFLPA’s decision in 2016 to alter the standard agent commission from 3% to 1.5% as an effort to appease players who were upset with the results of the most recently negotiated collective bargaining agreement, which goes through the 2020 season.

NFL defensive back Richard Sherman’s name was also mentioned quite a bit during the call. Agents suggested that he signed a terrible deal on his own behalf and that he has been a leading charge against the use of agents, which also allegedly influenced the NFLPA’s decision to drop the standard commission rate to 1.5%

One agent noted; however, that despite the standard commission on Standard Representation Agreements (SRAs) being reduced to 1.5%, approximately 67% of SRAs are still at the maximum 3% commission. Yet, that includes SRAs with unsigned players, and it is well known that agents will drop their fees to sign the players projected to be top draft picks.

It was agreed that if the NFL agents get one thing from the NFLPA, they want it to be earning a seat at the table at Executive Committee and Players Rep meetings. While it was clear that agents were disgusted that they are required to take a “continuing education” test to maintain certification and would like to place stronger limits on inducements to players (particularly rookies), having that seat at the meetings is a top priority.

As for inducements, Schaffer shared a proposed addendum to SRAs prior to the call. That addendum would, among other things, preclude agents from providing any player a bonus of any amount for signing with them, providing any player an advance or guarantee of any amount of future marketing income and providing loans in the aggregate of more than a total of $50,000 to a rookie player, with any loans given to a rookie player being required to be paid back within nine months of such loans. Further, such loans would not be allowed to be forgivable.

Veteran agent Harold Lewis suggested, near the tail end of the call, that the newly organized Agent Association (if they actually do form such an Association, which seems likely at this point) should push to add a fourth day to the NFL Draft and increase the number of rounds. This did not get much attention during the call, and one agent I spoke with afterwards said that if there should be any change to the draft, the number of rounds should be decreased instead of increased.

Another agent wanted to discuss the new helmet rule, expressing concern about a record number of fines that were handed out over the first two weeks of the NFL preseason. There was a general agreement among the agents of a need to fight these fines and to ensure that players are not coming out of pocket without cause.

Overall, it was interesting to find agents from big and small agencies seeming to be interested in joining together for a common goal of winning back some of the powers that the NFLPA appears to have been gradually taking away from them. Long-time agent Leigh Steinberg even gave praise to Schaffer for setting up the call and putting forth a true effort to cause adversaries to come together to ensure that their mutual interests are heard.

“As it is stands, we have no rights and no power to effectuate change within the NFLPA under the current rules and regulations,” wrote Schaffer in his email to NFL agents prior to the call. “However, together through unification with the idea of working with the NFLPA on behalf of our clients we will be in a better position to do so for the betterment to of the players, the union, and our profession.”

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.