NFL

NFL agents face serious problems, NFL power rankings and more

The NFLPA and agents are supposed to be on the same side of the table, but recent developments are causing strife and anger internally.

Being an agent in the NFL is a tough job when everyone is united. These days, it’s an occupation bordering on an impossible task.

With approximately 500 agents representing current NFL players, interests vary. Now, longtime agent Peter Schaffer wants to unionize the group, but it won’t be easy. The basic premise is that representation for players has long netted a three percent fee.

However, with large corporations such as CAA, Athlete’s First and Sportstars gobbling up legions of clients with a seemingly endless supply of money, agent fees have shrunk and in some cases gone to zero for the first contract. It’s an alarming trend for some.

“CAA or Athlete’s First is a Stop and Shop,” one well-known agent told me. “Do you get better prosciutto at a deli, or at a Costco?”

The result for smaller or independent agents is having to compete while charging standard fees. Not surprisingly, college kids would rather pay less, leaving true competition among agents to die.

Essentially, these companies can buy up lotto tickets. This allows for massive, up-front cash to pay for marketing and training, a cost that reaches well into six figures per player. If even a third of those tickets turn into players who receive a second contract, it’s a tidy net profit. For the heavy hitters, the return on investment comes in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth years of a player’s career.

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The NFL Players Association seemingly has no issue with this, according to smaller agents. The agents largely believe the players union has silently taken the position that it would be easier to regulate a few companies housing all the agents.

“The model is broken and the NFLPA refuses to fix it,” said an agent on the condition of anonymity. “The agents are bitching about it, but we continue to play into it, so I don’t blame them.”

During the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, a meeting was held by Schaffer and others, hoping to gain momentum for the union. While hundreds of agents did attend, some of the biggest names in the business were notably absent. Why? Because most with large pools of clients don’t want to see it happen, knowing it would mean more competition for players.

“I think it’s a pipe dream because honestly,” the agent said. “The guys at the top, they created this game. Where else do you pay for your job? We are paying to provide you a service.”

Speaking with agents of varying sizes, the general thought is the same. If fees are continually cut across the board, the little guy will vanish. It’s something that could negatively impact players and help owners craft team-friendly deals, with less attention being paid to individuals and more focus on the larger picture.

“It’s kind of like training,” another agent with more than 25 years in the business told me. “When you train for the Combine you can go to a big place, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you go to a place with five or 10 people, you are going to get individualized training. It’s the same thing with agents.”

However, the NFL also isn’t without blame.

One agent who spoke with me wondered why the league isn’t paying for kids to attend the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, all while the league collects on another week of televised coverage. If that were the case, the cost of training would be reduced, helping to unburden independent agents.

There were also complaints about the tampering period that begins free agency. The belief is that teams can gather information by watching television, learning about a player’s market without having to speak with agents or other teams. It’s looked upon by some as collusion without colluding.

The good news? Multiple sources tell FanSided that it’s unlikely we’ll see a labor stoppage when the CBA runs out following the 2020 season. Those sources believe that there is simply too much money for players and owners to make for either side to walk away.

“Certainly you want everyone on your side of the table to have a united front,” said one of the agents. “But at the end of the day, no matter the acrimony between the agents and player’s association, we all know what a good deal looks like.. .. More money for players means more money for agents. To have a squabble with the union hurt the CBA, that would be counterproductive.”

While the fight rages on between agent and agent, and agent and NFLPA, the battles are worth monitoring. We could be on the precipice of something of a monopoly for large agencies, bordering on antitrust principals.

It’s a potential seismic shift in how business has been done for decades in the NFL, and one that would alter the dynamic between agent and player for the foreseeable future.

Power rankings

Teams that spent the most total money on outside free agents (through Friday)

1. Green Bay Packers – $184.5 million
2. New York Jets – $176 million
3. Oakland Raiders – $161 million
4. Detroit Lions – $155.5 million
5. Buffalo Bills – $145.6 million
6.  Denver Broncos – $105 million
7. Tennessee Titans – $103 million
8. Jacksonville Jaguars – $96 million
9. Washington Redskins – $89 million
10. Kansas City Chiefs – $79.4 million

Quotable

“I think everything’s on the table. When you have that first pick, you’ve gotta turn over every stone and look at every scenario that’s out there, and so we’re definitely doing that.”

– Arizona Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury on the No. 1 overall pick

And the rumors of Kyler Murray to the Cards, and the uncertain future of Josh Rosen, continue…

Podcast

Matt Verderame and Josh Hill bring you a new episode of Stacking The Box each week. Make sure to download the podcast on iTunes to have all the latest conversations downloaded directly to your devices!

Random stat

From 1969-77, the Minnesota Vikings reached five NFC title games and four Super Bowls. The Packers, Lions and Chicago Bears — who also played in the old NFC Central — failed to win a single playoff contest between them.

Since 2011, the New England Patriots have had similar dominance, especially in comparison to the rest of the AFC East. New England has reached all eight AFC Championship Games and played in four Super Bowls. The Miami Dolphins, Bills and Jets have goose eggs across the board.

Utter dominance.

Info learned this week

1. Replay to be discussed at owner’s meetings this week

Expanding replay will be on the table this week at the NFL owner’s meetings in Arizona.

It’s a terrible idea. Everybody rightfully threw a fit when the New Orleans Saints got jobbed in the NFC title game, but the answer isn’t giving the league a greater ability to look at everything in super slow-mo. Judgement calls are exactly that, and should be left to the live decision.

Officials take ample abuse, but they largely do a tremendous job. If the NFL allows for review plays such as pass interference, it’s opening up a Pandora’s box. Imagine a world where your team gets off the field on a huge third down in a playoff game, only to have a pass interference call go against your safety minutes after the fact? It’s chaos.

Sometimes the best answer is nothing. The NFL should be constantly searching to improve training for officials, invest in existing replay by improving technology and so forth. But expanding replay beyond what it already is? Pass. Hard pass.

2. Texans are risking Deshaun Watson’s prime

Deshaun Watson should be hiding under a blanket.

The Houston Texans allowed a league-high 62 sacks last year. In free agency, General Manager Brian Gaine has signed tackle Matt Kalil to a one-year deal but has otherwise done nothing to address his offensive line in free agency. Kalil has been hurt in two of the past three seasons, missing almost all of the 2018 season. He was cut after only two years of a five-year, $55 million he signed with Carolina in 2017. All of this is exposing Watson to more of a pounding.

Houston was unceremoniously dumped out of the playoffs by the Indianapolis Colts a few months ago, largely because the Texans couldn’t score. With the Colts getting better this offseason — Justin Houston and Devin Funchess say hello — Houston has done precious little. The Texans downgraded from Tyrann Mathieu with Tashaun Gipson and basically traded Kareem Jackson for Bradley Roby. It’s hard to see real progress.

With the AFC improving around them, the Texans are treading water. Gaine needs to find answers in the draft, particularly up front. At some point, Watson won’t be dragging himself off the turf after another sack.

3. Rams have to repair trenches after significant losses

Last offseason, the Los Angeles Rams went on a spree of high-profile acquisitions. This year, it’s more about maintaining their level of play despite defections. Especially along the offensive line.

Los Angeles lost veteran guard Rodger Saffold in free agency and surprisingly released center John Sullivan. The shakeup is of concern, considering how important the unit was to the Rams’ success in 2018, leading to an NFC title. However, there’s reason for fans to believe the solution is internal.

My understanding is that the Rams are very confident in second-year guys Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen. The duo was drafted in the third and fourth rounds respectively a year ago, and are primed to step into more prominent roles come the offseason program. With their ascension, Los Angeles is likely to draft for depth along the line, not for immediate starters.

The Rams need to be right about Noteboom and Allen. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers have legitimate pass-rush prowess. The Seahawks showed that last season and the Niners traded for edge rusher Dee Ford and may land defensive end Nick Bosa in April.

4. Bengals are quietly remaking defense with smarts

Nobody is paying attention to the Cincinnati Bengals. Maybe we should be.

The Bengals can be questioned forever about their deals with right tackle Bobbie Hart and tight end C.J. Uzomah, but they’ve made strides defensively. After ranking last in total yards against, Cincinnati has made positive steps by re-signing slot corner Darqueze Dennard and releasing a declining, lazy linebacker in Vontaze Burfict. The Bengals stayed true to themselves by refusing to spend significant money on outside free agents, but they got better by evaluating well internally.

If Cincinnati can take the ninth-overall selection in April’s draft and find another piece, the defense could really turn under new coordinator Lou Anarumo. The secondary already a burgeoning strength with William Jackson III and Dennard at corner, along with Shawn Williams and Jessie Bates at safety.

The changes will take time and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns are all more talented within the AFC North. The linebackers are still sub-par and the front could use another edge rusher. But by changing coaching staffs and evaluating the talent already inside the building, the Bengals are making progress.

5. Chiefs plan involved defense overhaul, long-term goals

Kansas City has a plan defensively, even if it’s hard to see.

The Chiefs were stopped from reaching the Super Bowl in January because the defense was wretched. General Manager Brett Veach has decided to fix that by releasing outside linebacker Justin Houston and safety Eric Berry, while trading edge rusher Dee Ford to the 49ers. Wait, what?

Yes, the jettisoning of three stars was perplexing, but look closer.

Berry has played four regular-season games in two years, and while Houston remains a quality player, paying him $21 million against the cap was a non-starter. Once it became clear he wasn’t taking a pay cut, Houston was gone. Internally, Kansas City believes second-year defensive end Breeland Speaks will thrive in defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme. Along with the signing of Alex Okafor, the Chiefs feel they’ve reloaded up front to a respectable level.

In the secondary, the picture is inarguably improved with a pair of signings. Tyrann Mathieu is an elite safety with versatility, while corner Bashaud Breeland provides an upgrade over the departed Steven Nelson. It’s not the Legion of Boom, but it’s not what Kansas City was trotting out there a season ago, either.

The key for Veach and Co. is the draft. With three picks in the first two rounds, the Chiefs plan to land more defensive help. If Kansas City can identify an edge rusher, the defense stands to improve even though the Q rating will dip.

History lesson

In 1993, the NFL experimented with the schedule by providing each team with two bye weeks. However, the idea was a one-year wonder, with teams preferring to return to their normal schedules in 1994.

Still, the only Week 18 we’ve ever had remains famous. In the NFC East, the Meadowlands was the scene for the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys battling for both the division and home-field advantage. Ultimately, Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith battled through a separated shoulder to rush for 168 yards in a 16-13 overtime victory.

Parting shot

Kudos to Bruce Arians and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Last week, Arians hired the first two full-time female coaches in the NFL, with Lori Locust and Maral Javadifar as assistants. They won’t be the last.

Arians has been at the spear tip of this culture shift for some time. When with the Arizona Cardinals, the Kangol-wearing head coach hired Jen Welter in 2015 as an intern coach in the preseason, the first woman to ever grace the sideline in such a capacity.

With Javadifar and Locust now on board in Tampa, other teams will be emboldened to interview and hire more women. For almost a century of NFL football, there’s been a notion that females out didn’t have the ability to coach as well or better than males. Bunk.

Good for Arians and the Buccaneers, not being afraid to break the mold.

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