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Thursday, February 18, 2010

Free Agency: If You Don't Play The Game Right You May Become "Free" From Your Client

As the commencement of the NFL free agency signing period approaches, I thought it may be wise to remind the reader of several issues that the astute Contract Advisor is cognizant of when he and his unrestricted free agent client are "shopping the market":

Free Agency Time Table. Even though I have not researched the actual numbers, it seems that a substantial number of the higher value free agent deals are done in the first 7 to 10 days of the free agency period – during this time teams tend to overpay a player rather than lose him to another team (whether the interest of competitors in the same player is real or not). After the initial 10 days, teams tend to adopt a “wait and see” approach and try to get players at a cheap price (you start to hear things like "your client really isn't very good so why doesn't he sign for the veteran minimum" while at the same time the clubs tells you Mr. Minimum can start for them).

Determining the Interest of a Team in Your Free Agent. For a player in demand, it is best to discuss preliminary contract figures with the club before your client visits. Otherwise, the client could waste an entire day at the team’s facility and in return you receive a $1 million a year offer rather than the $3 million a year you (and he) are expecting (and which would have been gladly paid by the other team that you stiffed that has now signed someone else for the position). It should be noted, however, that some teams will use “team speak” (“yeah, we can work with those numbers”) to induce your client to visit and then try to pressure your client to sign a lower deal while he is at the team facility. Forms of pressure include the free agent’s flight to another team being supposedly mysteriously cancelled ("they said something about meteor showers so you better go ahead and sign with us because it may be days before that clears up”) and the ever popular “you have 5 minutes to accept this offer – after that we’ll pull it off the table” (they almost never do).

Media. Constant media attention goes with a client who is a sought-after free agent. The media can be helpful in not only providing you information concerning management’s interest in your client (i.e., potential contract numbers) but the media also can be your mouthpiece to signal to a particular team that your client has interest from other NFL clubs (“Print it -- my client has been contacted by every professional football club in the world -- and a few from that new league on Pluto”).

Personnel Matters. Lack of knowledge regarding a potential team’s intentions on how your client fits into their scheme (i.e., starter/reserve, DE or DT, etc.) not only precludes the Contract Adviser from determining the actual interest of the team in his player but also could result in the player signing with a team that is a wrong fit -- and probably causing your client to believe you no longer fit as his agent ("you guys still have Jim Brown playing running back here, don't you?").

Judging the Market. All clients want to be paid “market value.” Obtaining contract information from the NFL Players Association as to other free agent offers for players at the same position (in terms of signing bonus, total monies paid, length of deal, incentives, etc.), and utilizing contacts you have from various teams who are competitors with the team that is pursuing your client are some of the areas that are essential to competent representation. Determining how many strip clubs, car detail joints and/or Sushi bars that are located in the city of the club that is interested in your client is not.

Contract Matters. Review the contracts of other players who play the same position as your client -- items such as signing bonus language, incentives, and deferral of money should all be known before your negotiations begin. Your guy will know what the other guys who play his position make -- and if he thinks you are doing a bad deal he'll make sure he gets the cell numbers of the agents of the other guys.

Bluffing. The interest of other teams in your client can be communicated -- but the worst scenario is for your bluff to be called by the team and you have no alternative plans. Always remember an employee for one club has a friend/contact at other clubs. Statements like "my guy is going to the Hall of Fame" or “Signing bonus?! – I thought that was his away game per diem” are not considered good negotiating techniques.

Know Your Client. If your client is not a risk taker don't try to make him one – even though it is your job to get the best possible deal for the player, you still must leave the final decision to him. During this process the opinions of a player’s wife, parents or other trusted confidants may come into play if the player wants them to be involved. Note, however, that the opinions of the player’s pet monkey Billy, former third grade class buddy Tommy or uncle Two Ton Tony should not be listened to.

You Are Only as Good as Your Client. The better the client, the more leverage the agent has. If your player is a “street” free agent (recently released with little previous playing time), haggling over a $2,000 greater signing bonus will most likely result in the potential new team saying “next.” Also note that an expected big 'payday' for your client can be influenced in a chilling manner by his off the field activities (arguing that Player X was, at the time of the accident, actually training for a public service spot titled "If I Really Drink A Lot and Drive Into A Tree I Will Promote The No Drinking and Driving Rule" is not recommended to increase his market value).