SBJ/March 5-11, 2012/Labor and Agents

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  • Combine times help speedy receiver climb NFL draft boards

    Liz Mullen
    Sportstars, an NFL representation firm that doesn’t generally represent a lot of high-profile draft picks, is watching one of the 20 players in its 2012 draft class, Georgia Tech wide receiver Stephen Hill, move up draft boards.

    Hill, 20, a true junior, caught only 28 passes last fall at Georgia Tech in the Yellow Jackets’ run-based offense, but he amassed more than 800 yards on those receptions. He announced his availability for this year’s draft even though the NFL draft advisory board told him he likely would not be drafted in the first three rounds if he came out this year, said Jared Fox, one of Hill’s three agents at Sportstars. Agency founder Alan Herman and agent Lester Archambeau also represent Hill.

    Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill ran the fastest 40-yard time of any wide receiver at the combine and is repped by Sportstars.
    Photo by: AP IMAGES
    Last week, however, Hill ran the fastest 40-yard time at the NFL combine of any wide receiver — timed as fast as a 4.27 and as slow as a 4.36.

    Hill now will “absolutely” be moving up on draft boards, said Rob Rang, senior draft analyst for NFLDraftScout.com. Before the combine, the site had Hill listed as the No. 61 overall prospect. He’d moved up to No. 30 in Rang’s mock draft as of Wednesday.

    Sportstars’ 2012 draft prospects, in addition to Hill, include South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Connecticut defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, Coastal Carolina cornerback Josh Norman and Illinois wide receiver A.J. Jenkins. In addition to Herman, Fox and Archambeau, the agents representing the players are Brian Mackler, Jason Chayut, Jim Ivler, Dave Butz, Bill Heck and Jon Perzley.

    “We are really happy,” Herman said of his agency’s 2012 class. “I think most of the guys are going to get drafted.”
     
    Steiner
    STEINER MOVING ON FROM AGENT BIZ:
    Veteran NFL agent Jim Steiner, who represented hall of famer Jerry Rice among a host of NFL greats, has retired from the agent business after 35 years, the last six of them with CAA Sports. He is not, however, retiring from the sports business and is open to new opportunities, including having a job with an NFL club.

    “That is something I would consider,” Steiner said when asked if he would take a job on the other side of the table, something a number of prominent player agents have done across sports over the years.

    Steiner and his partner Ben Dogra joined CAA Sports in the summer of 2006, a few months after their former rivals, NFL agents Tom Condon and Ken Kremer, joined CAA as the entertainment firm launched its sports division. Steiner and Dogra signed a six-year deal in 2006, and although Dogra, a younger agent who has become increasingly powerful in the industry in recent years, signed a long-term extension last year, Steiner did not.

    “When we signed six years ago, I knew that would take me to age 61 and that would be my exit,” Steiner said. “There are not any 63- or 64- or 65-year-old agents. It is, as you know, a young man’s game.”

    In addition to Rice, Steiner’s clients through the years included William “Refrigerator” Perry, Mike Alstott, Dan Hampton, Justin Smith, Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer.

    Steiner said he is happy to see Dogra, someone he hired as an intern in 1992, become what he called “a massive star.” He added that it is one of the few instances in which a younger agent who worked for an older agent became very successful, yet the two agents stayed together.

    “I have a special affinity for Ben since we started together,” Steiner said. “He started as an intern for us and now he has become what I feel is the best in business. His talent combined with that of Tom Condon — together, they make an extraordinary combination.”

    Said Dogra, “Jim is one of the pioneer sports agents in the business and he operated with the highest form of class and integrity. It was truly a pleasure and honor working with Jim.”

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

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  • NFLers to get more despite possible flat cap

    NFL team executives were working late last week to prepare for a new league year that, according to multiple football sources, could bring a salary cap that’s flat or less than last year but where the total amount of money the clubs pay to players still increases from 2011.

    That increase would come from non-salary items like workers’ compensation payouts, pensions and performance pay, something that was not in effect in 2011, the first year of the new 10-year collective-bargaining agreement.

    The league and NFL Players Association were negotiating last week over the size of the cap. Both parties declined to comment, though league officials as of Thursday said a decision on the cap appeared imminent.

    The talks, in addition to setting up teams’ business decisions for 2012, come as the union is preparing for its annual meeting later this month. DeMaurice Smith’s three-year contract as NFLPA executive director expires March 14, according to the NFLPA’s annual report filed with the Department of Labor, and while it is widely presumed that Smith is running for a second term, he has not publicly acknowledged that he will do so. The NFLPA did not reply for comment on this point.

    Derrick Brooks would consider a bid for the NFLPA’s top spot, sources said, if he were nominated by the players.
    ICON SMI
    No candidate has publicly emerged to run against Smith, but sources said retired 11-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Brooks would seriously consider running if player leadership made clear that competition for the job was welcome.

    “Derrick is not openly campaigning, but if his name was nominated by the players, he would take a long, hard look at this opportunity,” one source said.

    Brooks, though his agent, Peter Miller, declined to comment. Brooks is currently the president of the AFL Tampa Bay Storm. He was an NFLPA player representative in 2009 when Smith was elected and oversees a host of charitable endeavors in Tampa.

    NFLPA player leaders are expected to elect new members of the group’s executive committee, which is the core player-leadership group, when they meet in Florida later this month. A vote for executive director could be taken at that time, as well.

    The 32 team player representatives vote for the executive committee and also the executive director. Whether the level of the cap will be an issue at that meeting is unknown.

    As for the cap and its possible decline from $120 million per club last year, one reason for a potential decline is that performance pay for players with low salaries who perform well on the field may return in 2012 after disappearing in year one of the CBA. That deletion came in the context of negotiating the new labor deal. In the past, under the old CBA, performance pay averaged about $4 million per club. This money, distinct from incentive pay that is worked into contracts, is paid to players with below-average salaries after a season for performing beyond expectations. Those dollars do not count toward the salary cap, so the league may be negotiating to lower the cap in part to account for performance pay. Also, according to team sources, human-resource benefits were rising faster than revenue, and workers’ compensation payouts have been high (see related story).

    These non-salary items count toward total player compensation and often total about $20 million annually per club, though they were somewhat less in 2011 because of the absence of performance pay.

    If these non-salary items are rising, then the league, sources said, wants to take some of that out of the cap.
    Another factor contributing to a potential cap decline is that overall player compensation is based on a percentage of revenue. The league, however, has a number of revenue deductions that it can take in the CBA, and setting the cap requires projecting local revenue, which one source described as soft in 2012 in part because of flattening ticket prices.

    If the projection proves in error, the cap is then adjusted to account for the difference the following year.

    Flat caps and soft local revenue may seem contrary to the news of sky-high TV ratings and the league’s massive new media deals, but those contracts do not kick in until 2014. Under terms of the new CBA, which divided revenue into different categories, players will get 55 percent of media revenue.

    Starting in 2013, teams are required to spend to at least 89 percent of the cap, and in cash. Currently, the league must average 99 percent in cash, but there is no team requirement. That means a bonus that is paid this year may be amortized over the life of the contract for cap purposes and fully count toward this year’s league-spend requirement.

    Some of these apparent issues in the CBA for players were raised prior to the Super Bowl by David Cornwell, one of three candidates in 2009 whom Smith defeated for his position. Cornwell, a player lawyer, sent a memo to agents criticizing the executive director over the new CBA. His criticisms included that players were getting less than they were led to believe.  

    Cornwell last month was named executive director of the NFL Coaches Association.

    Asked about Cornwell’s memo at the Super Bowl, Smith replied that critics are entitled to their opinion but not their own “facts,” and outgoing NFLPA player President Kevin Mawae slammed Cornwell as well, stating that he ran for executive director in 2009 without the blessing of the executive committee. Cornwell had the support of three player representatives, which was the minimum needed to run under the union’s rules.

    That distinction speaks to Brooks’ standing, wanting to see if union leadership wants the CBA and Smith’s tenure open to debate from a rival for the job.

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  • NFLPA drops workers’ comp jurisdiction appeal

    The NFL Players Association last week dropped its appeals court case seeking to overturn a lower court decision requiring that three former Chicago Bears players file workers’ compensation claims in Illinois rather than California.

    The filing in the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave no reason, and the NFLPA did not reply for comment. The union had been due to file a response to the NFL’s argument that the case should be dismissed. Instead, it ended the appeal.

    The new NFL collective-bargaining agreement left unresolved where players can file workers’ compensation claims, and there are at least two other federal cases on the issue. Many players want to file in worker-friendly California, and the NFLPA contends that the state’s workers’ compensation law disallows employers from preventing the employees who have done business there from filing in the Golden State.

    Many teams write into player contracts stipulations that workers’ comp claims be filed in the home state of the team. Clubs have watched the cost of these claims rise in recent years, and the expense has been cited by team sources as a reason why non-salary costs rose quicker than revenue in 2011.

    John Goldman, a labor and sports attorney with Herrick Feinstein, said given that the issue is being tried in multiple jurisdictions, the NFLPA’s move in the 7th Circuit suggests a deal between the league and union could be in the works.

    “It appears there is probably a settlement of a broader range of issues,” he said.
    The NFL declined to comment.

    There have been no similar filings in two other federal cases, which are quite similar to the now-terminated Haynes v. Chicago Bears case.

    A Louisiana federal court last week set May 16 for oral arguments in the lawsuit brought by the NFL against the union to enforce an arbitrator’s decision that several former New Orleans Saints players cannot file claims in California. A case also is pending before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals from former Tennessee Titans player Bruce Matthews. He is appealing a California district court decision that while he could file a claim in the Golden State, his award claim would have to be decided under Tennessee law.

    Shortly after Matthews filed the appeal last September, the NFLPA dropped out as a co-plaintiff. Matthews’ counsel is Dewey & LeBoeuf, the NFLPA’s outside counsel.

    Also last week, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Kansas City Chiefs that 16 former players could not file claims in California.

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