With the labor talks at a standoff, let’s take a look from another perspective – the agent’s point of view. A high percentage of the player representatives are lawyers, with the rest having not taken a single college level law course. While the agents work closely with the general managers or contract negotiators for each and every NFL club, they are certified and governed through the NFLPA. They receive no more than three percent of all dollars that are negotiated.
While the agents play a very important role in the total process of managing the player after they are drafted and maintaining a solid business module, several of the top and well-respected agents are included in the process within the labor talks as a third party; outside looking in.
Several months ago the NFLPA put together and submitted a “Rookie Wage Scale” proposal to the NFL owners. Their proposal hit on several points starting with MCL, “Maximum Contract Length.” The players selected on the first day (round 1), and the draftees selected in the second and third rounds (day two) would receive a maximum four-year contract.
For those drafted in rounds four through seven, the proposed contractual years was three. The current maximum length is six years for draftees selected in the first round one through 16, up to five years for players selected in slots 17 through 32 and up to four-year contracts for all the remaining rounds.
The proposed savings in rookie compensation is $200 million, which would be divided into three areas: 1. Veteran compensation; 2. Rookie compensation; 3. Increased pensions for pre-1993 retired players. A solid and very understandable section of the proposal was injury guarantees. Protecting the players with full coverage in case of career-ending injury is of the utmost importance.
They want the 2011 rookie pool set at the same level as the 2009 rookie pool, the last year of the salary cap. Also included was a cap on incentives and escalators in rookie contracts. This piece gives the owners cost certainty and protects against “exploding escalators” or “climbing incentives” with language in the contracts of the top 15 players. But in today’s system, escalators and most incentives have minimal impact.
As for the owners, their proposal is a wage scale with a slotting system, pretty much the same as the NBA. For example, if a player gets drafted in slot No. 14 in 2011, he receives a pre-determined amount of money, whicbh would stay the same in succeeding years. The owners want a non-negotiation format that is easily detailed. As several agents pointed out to me, “The NBA only has this in place for the first-round draftee.” Of course, the NBA only has two rounds in its draft.
Their proposal for mandatory length of contracts is five years for all players drafted in the first round. For the draftees in the remaining rounds, the mandatory length would be four years. In today’s system, the length of the contracts are negotiable; the league’s proposal is non-negotiable.
The owners also feel that incentives and escalators should be tied to performance at levels of All-Pro, All-Conference and Pro Bowl. This will be based on a positional breakdown. Draft positions or slots would have pre-defined bonuses and salaries.
Several agents feel the NFL owners want to remove them from the equation, eliminating the need for agent’s representation for the players. This is where the agents and the union work together, making sure that all rookies and veterans both have contract negotiators that are a third party for the players throughout the process, guaranteeing them a fair deal, or a deal they feel good about signing.
The owners are unified on not allowing the renegotiation or to provide an extension of the rookie’s original contract until the completion of the third year. The present rule states that renegotiations or extensions can take place after the completion of the second year of the rookie contract, locking them into the original contract regardless of performance, with no guarantees of any kind (skill-injury) in any rookie contract.
One of the main sticking points for the owners in the rookie wage discussions was that the signing bonus for all rookies should be payable in prorated segments and subject to recovery by the teams. This was a major part of the last CBA that was left out, leaving the owners no action in the recovery of funds after a player received a DUI, was arrested for (whatever the reason), displayed consistent bad behavior and insubordination. The first name that pops in my head is Michael Vick going to prison for killing dogs, and Arthur Blank struggled to recoup his signing bonus that was pre-paid.
For the agent, several issues are on the table, but free agency and the draft really affect their part in this turnstile of massive moving parts, that includes more than just nuts and bolts.