Examining pitfalls of negotiating NFL contracts without an agent

By Jesse Reed

There is a growing school of thought amongst some NFL players that sports agents are expendable, but there are some potential problems with that argument.

Russell Okung of the Seattle Seahawks is one such player. He recently wrote an article on Derek Jeter’s The Player’s Tribune detailing why he has decided to head into free agency on his own, rather than relying on an agent to be his intermediary.

Okung believes that he can represent himself just as well as any agent without having to pay the agents fee.

“…because I know I’m more than adequate without representation I’m betting on myself. I’ve done my research, I’ve educated myself and I question the answers I’ve been given.”

Okung went on to say that when it comes to a contract he will simply hire a lawyer or sports attorney who can help him “understand the dynamic of football contracts.”

That way he pays a simple one-time fee rather than share the profits as a percentage with an agent.

It should be noted that Okung is reportedly consulting with agents and may hire one to help him with his contract for a flat fee, according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

Regardless of how he goes about it, Okung continues to believe in himself as it relates to negotiating a fair contract. Any agent involvement at this point appears to be simply to examine the contract rather than as a negotiator.

It will be interesting to follow this story because many experts disagree with Okung.

Rand Getlin of NFL Network is one of them. In addition to his work as an NFL reporter Getlin is also a lawyer and has some understanding of how these things work. He believes it’s to a player’s detriment to attempt negotiating a contract without an agent, because the folks on the other end of the talks are so much more experienced:

“Dream scenario in a negotiation? Having decades of wisdom, experience and knowledge on my side, and going against an amateur on the other,” Getlin wrote on Twitter.

He also related a story that may enlighten some regarding just how valuable an agent could potentially be when getting a new contract hammered out:

“I sat with a player at dinner two weeks ago who told me he would’ve accepted $1.5M less per (on a 5-yr deal), were it not for his agent. The agent made himself an extra $225K for getting the team up. The player? He came out $7.275M ahead of where he would’ve been by himself.”

Jason Cole of Bleacher Report agrees that entering contract negotiations without an agent is akin to trying to travel up a creek without a paddle. He named two big problems from his perspective that would be big points against the player in this scenario:

“They will never get good outside assessments in advance of free agency and GMs will rarely give them the unfettered truth about evaluations,” Cole wrote.

Agents can approach contracts with zero personal attachment, much in the same way an NFL player can withstand blow after blow on the field without taking the physical punishment personally.

Not so for players when it comes to battling for a new contract.

They are negotiating for their financial futures, meaning emotions are almost certainly going to enter into the equation.

Agents, therefore, act as a buffer for players to keep the emotions out of the negotiations. Furthermore, since they are mediators, rather than two sides of the same coin, they will likely receive more honesty from teams than a player will about how the franchise views said player.

Entering into the business side of the NFL is certainly not impossible for players, but it appears to come with many potential pitfalls. Any player who successfully pulls it off must be applauded, but just because one can do it doesn’t mean it’s for everybody else.

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports