Lamar Jackson’s bold game: an agentless contract

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NYT > Sports

With every argument, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has had an exceptional career in his first three NFL seasons.

Drafted at the end of the first round in 2018, he quickly became one of the most dynamic players in the league, winning six of his first seven regular season starts in his first year and the Most Valuable Player Award in his second. At 24 he is a face of the league and the undisputed centerpiece of the future of the Ravens.

These are some of the facts that will no doubt come up when the Jackson and Baltimore executives negotiate an extension of his rookie contract, the massive payday that is usually the biggest raise in an NFL player’s career, and the market for other franchise quarterbacks will determine who are nearing the end of their entry-level offers.

His colleagues have already set the table. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott signed a four-year contract extension for $ 160 million (with a total of $ 126 million in guaranteed money) in March. In August, Bill’s quarterback Josh Allen was awarded a six-year contract for $ 258 million (with a total of $ 150 million in guaranteed money).

But while Jackson haggles with his team over the scope and terms of a new deal, what makes him stand out is that he handles the matter alone, one of 17 NFL players not represented by a traditional sports agent. Instead, Jackson hired advisors, including his mother Felicia Jones, to work out the clauses, exceptions and compromises.

They gave little insight into the process. He could follow the trend and ask for a four-year contract to add flexibility, or he could try to get a longer and bigger contract like Patrick Mahomes and Allen of Kansas City did.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment.

By acting without traditional representation, Jackson challenges football orthodoxy, partly promoted by agents, that players are impossible to understand or successfully negotiate complex contracts. At the same time, the Ravens team leaders – who declined to speak for this article – can’t limit their relationship to just talking to Jackson about his work. You also need to tell him what he thinks his work is worth.

“The agents have told the world that the players can’t do anything without them,” said Russell Okung, who was an attacking lineman halfway through his 12-year NFL career. “When Lamar goes out alone, it’s scary in the agent world. If he finds out, others will too. “

The challenges go beyond dollar signs. “He’s a black quarterback too, and people are used to working a certain way,” added Okung. “He fights against a multitude of narratives at once.”

For years, gamers have complained that agents are not doing enough to earn their fees, which can be as high as 3 percent of the contract value. Saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few years has primarily motivated Richard Sherman, Okung, DeAndre Hopkins, and others to negotiate their own deals, some of which have been panned in the news media.

While these players gave up their agents in the middle of their careers, Jackson left without an agent from the start.

In view of the special economy of the league, this is understandable, since the salary scales for beginners are strictly prescribed and leave little room for negotiation. Teams operate under rigid salary caps, and often take the option for the fifth year in star player’s contracts to keep them at a cheaper price for an additional year before becoming free agents, or in the case of the Ravens, with Jackson, around this to take into account more time to negotiate an extension.

Teams can also add a “franchise tag” to players – a year-long designation of the average salary of the top five players in the same position (over the past five seasons), or 120 percent of the player’s previous salary – to refrain from paying what the Market. To stick with their star quarterbacks, whose salaries are growing much faster than those of the players in other positions, teams can also fill the rest of their roster with rookies and free agents willing to play for minimum salaries.

Jackson’s decision to forego traditional representation requires more scrutiny than negotiating with other stars as he awaits a gigantic contract extension that will help define the future market for franchise quarterbacks. Deciphering NFL contracts is complicated as teams can contain a myriad of clauses that, if triggered, could cost the player dearly. An off-field injury could allow a team to withhold payment. This can include arrest, suspension, or an unexcused absence from the club.

A player’s annual salary can be relatively small compared to commitment bonuses, payments for team lineup, payments for appearing in voluntary training camps, and achieving performance goals such as running a statistical category.

Top quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers have prevented their teams from assigning franchise tags to them in recent negotiations. That day would have kept Brady from going to the open market after the 2019 season, his last with the Patriots. The revised contract Rodgers signed in July prevents the Packers from assigning him the franchise tag after the 2022 season if he is eligible to become a free agent.

In 2018, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins ​​negotiated an agent to get a rare contract that was 100 percent guaranteed, like Major League Baseball and the NBA 70 percent, making it easier for teams to cut off Justify players.

Agents argue that part of their role is to keep players away from deals that give the teams too much leverage.

“There are so many different ways you can’t get your money’s worth in the NFL,” said Joby Branion, who heads Vanguard Sports Group, an agency that represents 36 NFL players, including Von Miller of the Denver Broncos and Keenan Allen from the Los Angeles Chargers. “The best agents will understand that the most important part of any negotiation is leverage. Guarantees in the NFL are not guarantees like in other sports. “

Agents also pay for top prospects to train for the combine and discuss their design value with the general managers. Once they join a team, agents help players find marketing opportunities and track their needs throughout the season.

“It’s not just about negotiating the contract and washing the player’s hands,” said Kim Miale, an NFL agent who heads the football division at Roc Nation Sports that represents the Giants, the Saquon Barkley, the Buccaneers Leonard Fournette run back, and represent others.

Still, some players do many of these things themselves. Seahawk’s linebacker Bobby Wagner said he negotiated a three-year extension of $ 54 million in 2019, not just to avoid paying his agent, but to become a smarter businessman. He read the league’s collective agreement, studied other player contracts, and sought advice from corporate bosses, team owners, and even Michael Jordan.

During the trial he was aware of the unusual path he was taking.

“There were a lot of people who felt that players couldn’t negotiate their contracts successfully, so I knew that once I made a commitment, I had to get it right because I knew a lot of eyeballs wanted me was unsuccessful. “, said Wagner.

The union is in no way pushing players to hire agents. But it gives players who represent themselves access to its contract database and checks any proposed contract language, just like it does with agents. Since 2016, the union has required agents to send all contracts that averaged $ 2 million or more per year to the union’s lawyers for review to ensure agents are adequately protecting their customers.

“The union-agent relationship is complicated and sometimes contradicting,” said George Atallah, spokesman for the NFL Players Association. “But when it comes to representing players, we haven’t changed our model of providing services to the agents.”

According to the NFLPA, only 17 players currently represent themselves, but that could change in the years to come as college athletes who are now allowed to make money on their names, pictures and likenesses before they go pro will be better off their worth and how Enlightened others will benefit from it.

“With naming, image and likeness rules, more young people will see their worth,” said Charles Grantham, director of the Center for Sport Management at Seton Hall and former NBA agent and union officer. Agents may be forced to lower their fees to keep players safe, he added. “It will definitely change the economics of the company.”

Over time, Grantham and others said, the younger generation’s awareness could lead them to take the same leap as Jackson.

“A lot of them are players who wake up and realize what power they have and how they can perform when they educate themselves the way they should,” said Wagner. “It’s all part of a bigger picture of players becoming more aware of their potential outside of the sport they play.”

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