SBJ/August 29-September 4, 2011/Labor and Agents

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  • Coaches group may consider becoming a union if NFL won't discuss restoring benefits

    Now that the NFL has a new 10-year labor deal with the players, the head of the NFL Coaches Association wants to sit down with team owners and talk about restoring benefits coaches have lost over the last several years.

    Larry Kennan, executive director of the NFL Coaches Association, said the organization may consider becoming a union if the NFL does not wish to begin discussing the improvement of benefits, including restoring pensions and the leaguewide health plans for coaches that some clubs took away the last few years. The coaches association was formed in 1996 as a trade association.

    “We believe the owners will address our issues this fall now that the CBA is done,” Kennan said. “We really feel confident that they will do so. But if they don’t, we have to explore our options,” acknowledging that one of those options is forming as a union.

    The NFL declined requests for an interview for this story and declined to answer whether league officials would be willing to meet with the coaches association.

    Kennan said last week that he is not sure all coaches would support the idea of forming a union. One coach told him all 18 assistant coaches on his team would be in favor of it, while another told him only two or three of the coaches on his club would support it.

    A majority of assistant coaches would have to vote in favor for a union to be formed. While there is some legal debate as to whether the coaches could form a union, because coaches are sometimes viewed as management, some legal experts believe a coaches union could be formed so long as it were to exclude head coaches. Head coaches would likely fall under the legal definition of supervisors and would be excluded from being union members.

    Kennan drew public criticism earlier this year when coaches around the league said they had no knowledge of and did not support an amicus brief the association filed in support of the players in the Brady v. NFL antitrust case. Coaching staffs at clubs including Washington, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Jacksonville released statements saying they opposed the filing.

    “We were not supporting anyone,” Kennan said of the filing. “We were saying we didn’t want a lockout because that would negatively affect coaches.”

    NFL owners in 2009 voted to allow teams to opt out of the league-run pension, retirement and 401(k) plans for club employees and coaches. A number of clubs subsequently took action, canceling pensions as well as a leaguewide standard health insurance plan.

    Kennan said he met with team presidents and general managers in the last year and told them coaches would like to talk about reinstating certain benefits.

    Kennan said he did not ask these club officials to make the changes last fall as parties were in negotiations for the new CBA and were bracing for the lockout.

    “They told us that about two or three months after the CBA gets settled, then we would like the coaches issues to be addressed,” Kennan said.

    A decision to reinstate benefits would have to be made by NFL owners, Kennan said. “But the general managers and the head coaches have a lot of influence with the owners,” he said.

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  • ‘Madden NFL 12’ cover star Hillis makes another agent change

    Liz Mullen
    Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis made headlines in the spring when NFL fans voted him over better-known stars Michael Vick, Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers to be the cover athlete on EA Sports’ “Madden NFL 12.”

    Now, the subject of who represents Hillis — and whether that agent will be able to get him a long-term deal worthy of his recent on-field performance — has become a much-discussed contest. Hillis, a late seventh-round pick in the 2008 draft, is scheduled to make $600,000 this year, sources said.

    Hillis was voted by fans to be the “Madden” cover athlete after rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns and catching 61 passes for 477 yards and two more TDs in 2010. The totals made him a star among fantasy football players and, among agents, fueled talk of a need for a pay increase.

    GETTY IMAGES
    Peyton Hillis’ numbers last year have fueled talk that he will look for a pay raise.
    “Take the ‘Madden’ cover out of it,” said one prominent NFL agent. “I don’t care if he’s on the ‘Madden’ cover or president of the United States: For his production last year alone, there needs to be an adjustment; a significant adjustment.”

    Hillis originally was represented by veteran agent Jimmy Sexton, but he fired him sometime after this year’s draft and “Madden” announcement and hired Kelli Masters, who was registered to represent NFL players starting in 2005. She co-represents Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy with CAA Football co-head Ben Dogra.

    Around the time training camp started, Hillis fired Masters and hired Kennard McGuire, sources said. McGuire and Masters did not return phone calls for comment. Masters did tell SportsAgentBlog.com that she no longer was representing Hillis.

    Multiple sources said Hillis is seeking a new long-term contract.

    Because the “Madden” cover was determined by a vote of fans and not through a negotiation, the value of the deal was said to be predetermined, and sources said the value is somewhere in the low six figures. The bigger value of that deal for Hillis, some marketing experts said, is in raising his profile.

    Hillis’ brother Kyle Hillis, who agents said has been acting as his business manager, oversaw the “Madden” deal, sources said. Kyle Hillis did not return a call to his cell phone. EA Sports officials would not comment.

    Peyton Hillis, through the Browns, also declined comment for this story, and Browns general manager Tom Heckert was not available for an interview last week.

    If Hillis is unable to negotiate a long-term extension with the Browns, he could be an unrestricted free agent next year.

    GOAL SIGNS REED, NIKE DEAL: Goal Marketing, a New York-based golf representation firm, has signed Patrick Reed, a two-time All-American who recently turned professional, and negotiated for him a three-year equipment and apparel deal with Nike.

    Reed will wear the Nike swoosh on the front of his cap. In addition to the Nike deal, Goal negotiated a deal with TaxSlayer.com that gives the online tax service a primary position on Reed’s golf bag.

    “We are extremely excited to sign him,” said Goal agent Kevin Canning, who will serve as Reed’s primary agent. “He is probably the longest kid that came out this year; driving a golf ball is a major strong point of his game. He is the total package.”

    ALL PRO SIGNS BURNETT: All Pro Sports & Entertainment has signed linebacker Kevin Burnett for representation and negotiated for him a four-year, $21 million deal with the Miami Dolphins.

    All Pro agents John Rickert and Peter Schaffer represent him. He was formerly represented by agent Ricky Lefft.

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

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