Interview with an NFLPA Agent About the Priorities of an Agent and Thoughts on the Josh Freeman Saga
By Leo Howell
Oct 27, 2013; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman (12) laughs during the fourth quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Mall of America Field at H.H.H. Metrodome. The Packers defeated the Vikings 44-31. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
- Leo – As I mentioned, agents seem to only get press when negative events are occurring, or when they make a name for themselves by speaking out about the treatment of their clients. In Tampa Bay, we recently had a situation with Josh Freeman where his agent was very vocal about the treatment Freeman was receiving. What do you believe the role of an agent should be in a tough situation such as the one Freeman experienced?
Brandon – First, let me couch my next comments by saying that the role of an agent in these situations must be viewed based on 1) what type of player you have (personality and stature with the team) and 2) what type of organization you are dealing with. Trust between the parties is key. Without trust, moving forward together in a negotiation becomes much more difficult. Next, understand that an agent’s top priority in this or any situation is to protect his player. Period. Agents have a fiduciary (read: legal & ethical) duty to zealously defend their clients’ best interests.
Let’s look at the facts in the Freeman situation: 1) There was no extension going into Freeman’s final year. 2) The organization drafted Mike Glennon in the 3rd round to compete with Freeman for the starting job. 3) Mike Glennon received nearly 50% of the reps in practice and Freeman played the least snaps of all NFL starters in the preseason. At this point, Freeman’s camp had to wonder if Glennon was there to replace Freeman rather than compete with him on an even playing field. From the Bucs perspective, they may have believed that Freeman was the guy and genuinely wanted to get Glennon ready just in case Freeman went down.
What seemed to break the trust between the two parties (and broke the flood gates open on this story) was what happened after Freeman was benched. With the leaks about his off-field activities and the subsequent release of his medical records, I can understand why Freeman’s camp was so outraged. The release of a player’s medical records (including Freeman’s participation in Stage 1 of the Drug Program) is unprecedented in the NFL and deserved an unorthodox response from his camp.
Ultimately, an agent’s job is to use every tool in his toolbox (relationships with player personnel, media, stature in the community, etc.) to create the leverage necessary to maximize his client’s earnings.
- Leo – How much of an impact does player treatment and the atmosphere of a workplace have on your decision-making process with your clients?
Brandon – Generally, player treatment & workplace atmosphere is not a big part of the conversations I have with my guys, but it should be the conversation going forward. The Martin-Incognito situation exposed fans to the ugly side of locker rooms where this type of behavior is allowed to take place. It is part of the culture of locker rooms now but hopefully this incident will lead to educating everybody involved in the NFL how to treat one another. The underlying problem is that players know NFL careers are short (2.5 years on average), hard to come by (only 1700+ jobs in any given year) and hard to keep (non-guaranteed contracts make most players expendable). Until players are properly incentivized to report injuries and bullying, these types of things will continue to happen as they always have.
- Leo – I think we’d both be lying if we said money isn’t a part of both an agent and a player’s focus when negotiating contracts or selecting a new team. But how often do you find that players (and agents) leave money on the table to go to better situations (more likely to win, playing for a better coach, etc.)?
Brandon – It’s rare but leaving money on the table happens, especially when you have a guy who has experienced success with a position coach or within a particular scheme. This is not the NBA or Major League Baseball where you can plug and play. Success in the NFL is predicated on chemistry and choreography. Coaching is an essential element in that equation so that is why we have a book on every coach in the NFL: the schemes he runs, the personnel he likes to use, and the coaches he has coached with. It all goes into the thought process of choosing a new (or staying with a) team.
- Leo – The Buccaneers signed Darrelle Revis to a 16 million dollar per year contract this offseason with no signing bonuses or guarantees beyond roster bonuses. What are your thoughts on this kind of contract, and how would you typically advise your clients to negotiate when it comes to guaranteed money and signing bonuses versus higher per-year totals?
Brandon – From an agent’s perspective, I am not a huge fan. As I am sure you know, guaranteed money is the name of the game in the NFL because you can be released for injury or poor performance at any time. From a fan perspective, it’s great! It ensures that this player is not an albatross around the neck of the organization for years to come. With that said, if I am Revis’ agent, I take that gamble. No other team was willing and able to meet that price especially with Darrelle coming off of an ACL surgery. Further, Revis himself was more concerned with being the highest paid defender in the League rather than having guaranteed money. Ultimately, it is up to the client to determine what kind of contract he wants, not the agent.
- Leo – You’re a multi-sport agent. How are your football clients and their circumstances different from clients in other sports? What are the biggest challenges of working with football clients?
Brandon – Of the three major sports, football players make the least annually and on average. As I alluded to before, NFL careers are the shortest of any of the big three sports. Injuries and non-guaranteed money are the biggest challenges. From a business perspective, it is difficult to plan for years ahead because I have no idea how long my clients careers are going to be.