SBJ/June 30-July 6, 2014/Labor and Agents

NFLPA memo to agents part of rules review, not the result

The NFL Players Association sent a memo to all NFL agents asking for information on any side agreements they have with players, including marketing guarantees and loans, but it is just one step in a review of the overall regulations governing contract advisers, said NFLPA President Eric Winston last week.

The memo, sent to NFLPA-certified agents June 9, also informed agents that the union would double any discipline handed down for violations of the agent regulations, effective immediately. Additionally, the NFLPA said contract advisers must first advise player clients to consult with an NFLPA attorney before recommending to the player that he seek outside counsel.

Winston, who was elected NFLPA president in March, told SportsBusiness Journal in April that the union would undertake a review of all the agent regulations. Last week, Winston said the memo was not the result of the review but rather part of the process.

“This is kind of Step A,” Winston said.

There has been no decision on whether to change the regulations, and there is no timetable to make a decision, Winston said last week. But he noted that the NFLPA has about half a year before agents start signing the next class of rookies, prospects for the 2015 draft. (Agents typically start signing rookies in late December and early January.)

Winston has said that players are concerned about the quality of representation in the agent community. Last week, he said the purpose of increasing discipline — both suspensions and fines will be doubled — is that players want to do all they can to prevent agents from breaking the rules while the review of the regulations continues.

The NFLPA asked agents to report any “other agreements” because the union wants to get a handle on what is really going on with marketing guarantees, loans and other money that agents are giving to players and prospects.

Agents have complained that the amount of money that agents are offering to prospective clients is increasing. Some say it is a financial inducement to sign the player. Inducements are prohibited under the regulations.

NFLPA player leaders have heard the stories. “We haven’t made any determination on the validity of those issues,” Winston said. “This the first step in gathering all the information we can so we know what is going on, so that we can make some educated decisions.”

The NFLPA already has a regulation requiring agents to send such agreements to the union. But in practice, many agents have not been diligent in their reporting, Winston said. 

That has changed since the NFLPA sent the memo out to agents earlier this month. “It’s been great,” said Winston. “All the agents have been sending everything they have in.”

The third point in the memo, in which agents are asked to recommend that their player speak to an NFLPA attorney before the player hires an outside attorney, is a matter of advocating for and serving players’ interests, Winston said. That includes advising them of the cost and benefits of hiring outside counsel.

Any decision on a change in regulations would be voted on by the NFLPA’s Committee on Agent Regulation and Discipline. The new members of the CARD committee are Bengals guard Andrew Whitworth, Redskins safety Ryan Clark, Saints tight end Ben Watson, Packers wide receiver Jordy Nelson and Cowboys tight end Jason Witten.

> EXPLORING OPTIONS: Rookie New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Chicago Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson had been represented by Morgan Advisory Group, but as of last week, both were being represented solely by agent Zeke Sandhu, whose employment contract with Morgan Advisory Group expired.

In early June, both Beckham, a first-round pick, and Ferguson, a second-round pick, terminated their contracts with Sandhu and Ryan Morgan, president and founder of Morgan Advisory Group. The two players then re-signed with Sandhu, whose three-year deal with Morgan Advisory Group expired in June. 

Morgan said he was in talks with Sandhu and was hopeful the agent and the two players would rejoin the firm. Morgan noted that he and Sandhu both negotiated rookie deals for Beckham and Ferguson in May.

Sandhu said in a text, “My contract has expired and I am considering the best options that will enable me to continue providing the best service to my clients and grow my business with the philosophies and principles I believe in and with the commitment to representing the players the right way.” He did not say what those options might be, but he said he represents about a dozen other NFL players.

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

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