SBJ/Dec. 6-12, 2010/Labor & Agents

NFLPA to agents: Prepare clients for lockout or face discipline

Liz Mullen
NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sent out a strongly worded letter to all NFL agents last month warning them to make sure their clients have a financial plan for a potential NFL lockout or face the possibility of discipline from the union.

“Despite the NFLPA’s continued efforts to negotiate with the NFL over a CBA which fairly addresses the concerns of both the NFL and the players, it is becoming more apparent that an agreement will not be reached before the end of the current CBA,” Smith began the letter, a copy of which was obtained by SportsBusiness Journal. “It is also abundantly clear that the NFL is planning to lock out the players in an effort to force them to capitulate to a one-sided agreement that calls for an 18 percent salary cap reduction, without financial justification, coupled with a demand to extend the regular season schedule to 18 games.”

The collective-bargaining agreement expires March 3, and if players are locked out they will not receive paychecks.

The union has told players during team meetings in 2009 and ’10 that it wants them to save 25 percent of their salaries to prepare for a lockout. In this latest letter, sent to agents Nov. 18, Smith noted that he told agents a year ago in another letter that their help in making sure their players were financially prepared for a lockout was “required” by the NFLPA.

“During the last six weeks, we have visited every team in the National Football League to advise them of the continued negotiations and of the necessity to prepare,” Smith wrote. “The response from the players about the advice they have received from their Contract Advisors and Financial Advisors has been overwhelmingly positive.

“However, a few players continued to report that they had not yet received lockout advice and discussed a savings plan. Those advisors who appeared to have failed to discuss the lockout with their clients will be turned over to the CARD Committee and contacted by our office in the near future.”

CARD is the Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline, which can issue discipline to NFL agents ranging from a letter of reprimand to revoking the agent’s certification to negotiate player contracts with NFL clubs.

The NFLPA declined to comment on Smith’s letter to agents.

It is not clear whether this is the first time a union has threatened agents with discipline if they do not adequately prepare their players, but it is not unusual for unions to tell players and agents to get ready financially for a lockout. National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter also has told NBA players to save their money; the NBA’s CBA expires June 30, and the NBA, like the NFL, is seeking significant concessions from its players.

The last major lockout in North American sports was the 2004-05 NHL lockout. The NHL Players’ Association encouraged players for three to four years before the CBA’s expiration to save their money in anticipation of not receiving paychecks, said Ian Pulver, an NHL agent and former associate counsel to the NHLPA.

“The players should be talking to their agents to make sure the agents are properly prepared for a lockout and understand they may not get paid for a year or as long as it takes,” Pulver said. “Speaking from experience, the players and the NFLPA should not only make sure the players are prepared but the NFL agents are prepared.”

SPORTS CORP. SIGNS HODGSON: The Sports Corp., an Edmonton-based NHL player rep firm owned by veteran agent Ritch Winter, has signed Cody Hodgson, a promising prospect for the Vancouver Canucks who is now playing center for the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League.

Hodgson was formerly represented by Donnie Meehan and Newport Sports.

Hodgson was drafted No. 10 overall in 2008 after winning numerous awards during his junior career, but he has suffered several injuries, which Winter said he is now recovering from.

“He is a young player,” Winter said. “If he plays at the level he was playing a year ago, I would suspect he will become one of the better players in the NHL.”

ROSENHAUS SIGNS BELL: Drew Rosenhaus has signed Cleveland Browns running back Mike Bell. Bell was formerly represented by Josh Luchs, who was decertified by the NFLPA after admitting to paying players while they were in college, among other things, in a tell-all article in Sports Illustrated.

OCTAGON SIGNS CESAIRE: Octagon Football has signed San Diego Chargers starting defensive end Jacques Cesaire. Andy Ross and Mike Sullivan will lead Cesaire’s management team. He was previously represented by Joe Linta.

MERRIMAN RE-HIRES CAA: Former Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was recently placed on injured reserve by the Buffalo Bills, has terminated agent David Dunn of Athletes First and signed with Tom Condon and Ben Dogra of CAA Football.

Merriman had fired Condon and Dogra in May to sign with Dunn.

Merriman, formerly with the San Diego Chargers, was one of the highest-profile NFL players who would have been an unrestricted free agent but instead was a restricted free agent because of the rules in the NFL CBA in the last year of the labor deal. He held out for two weeks of training camp before signing the Chargers’ tender offer, but the Chargers waived him in early November.

Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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