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Do NFL Rookies Still Need Agents?

Topics: Negotiation

Since the NFL and its players agreed to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) in 2011, the landscape of rookie salaries has shifted dramatically, causing some to wonder if rookies even need agents anymore.

What is commonly referred to as the “rookie wage scale” has soothed away many of the player-signing headaches and left very little to negotiate. As the new CBA was being finalized, former NFL General Manager Ted Sundquist was one questioning the value of agents during these career-starting contract talks.

The idea that agents may not be necessary is one I’m sure he and every other GM has pondered at some point – likely as they squabbled via cell phone with the representative of a soon-to-be multi-millionaire draftee – but the question has merit, especially now.

Do NFL rookies need agents?

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Per the agreement, teams have an assigned amount of cap space to spend on their rookie haul and a standard four-year contract length to work with. Their pool of cap dollars can be divvied up how they wish, but gone are the days of ceiling-less negotiations and astronomical deals for unproven stars.

Sam Bradford was the last top pick under the old CBA. Comparing his rookie deal to that of 2011’s No. 1 choice, Cam Newton, illustrates the drastic change. Bradford’s contract: six years, $78 million. Newton? Four-years, $22 million.

Sundquist says, “The new CBA has in effect given clubs no room for “wiggle” and agents “no words for the wise”.” Benchmarks for draft-pick deals have been established and slotted in order and with percentage gains from the previous draft calculated, the terms for the player taken fourth overall fall in ahead of those for the fifth, which, in turn, settle in above the sixth player’s numbers and so on.

The only remaining wiggle is in regards to the specifics of the player’s signing bonus and performance incentives, but even then there’s not much to hammer out and agents find their prized negotiating skills left in their pockets.

Sure, agents will comfort rookies through the draft prep process and hold their hands and say the right things and build relationships until the time comes for them to dig in and work to secure a second contract, but is a 2% slice of that first deal worth it from the player’s perspective? With rookie salaries largely predetermined, might we see players begin entering the league without representation?

Tell Us What You Think

What direction do you see things going for NFL rookie representation? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Rick Drummond
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