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Volume 20 No. 42

Labor and Agents

Liz Mullen
In November 2007, NFL player agent and attorney Adisa Bakari was continuing what had become a weeks-long effort to reach running back Matt Forte, then a senior at Tulane, for a meeting to represent him in the next year’s NFL draft.

“I called and called and called,” Bakari recalled last week. “One day, I called before Thanksgiving, and he mistakenly answered the phone.”

Forte had been screening his calls, having already set up agent interviews. But he listened to Bakari — and ended up signing with him.

Adisa Bakari leads the sports and entertainment division at Dow Lohnes.
Photo by: DOW LOHNES
Earlier this month, Bakari negotiated Forte’s new four-year, $32 million deal ($18.1 million guaranteed) with the Chicago Bears. The deal was completed July 16, a few hours before the deadline for franchised players to sign multiyear deals. Had the deal not gotten done, Forte would have had to play this year for $7.74 million, the franchise-tag price for running backs, had he played at all.

“A holdout,” Bakari said, “was a very real possibility, but we are happy we were able to avert that potential reality.”

Twenty-one clubs used the franchise tag on a player this year. All but three players — Detroit’s Cliff Avril, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe and San Francisco’s Dashon Goldson — ultimately signed either a long-term deal or a one-year tender.

Forte, entering his fifth season in the league and in Chicago, has rushed for 4,233 yards, fifth on the Bears’ all-time list. That, combined with his late-season knee injury last year, led to his contract situation being one of the league’s most-watched offseason negotiations.

“We got tagged the first day of the deadline and we knew were going to get tagged,” Bakari said. “It was no surprise at all. He wasn’t bothered by the tag, if the intent of the tag was to buy us time to get a deal done — and the Bears had every intention of getting a deal done.”

Forte is one of 22 veteran NFL players and eight rookies Bakari represents as a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., office of law firm Dow Lohnes. His other clients include Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea.

Bakari, certified by the NFL Players Association in 2003, became an agent through an unusual route. Hired to represent executives at corporations in employment contract negotiations, he persuaded the partners at Dow Lohnes to let him try to start a sports practice. Today, Bakari is president of that Dow Lohnes sports and entertainment division, which consists of Bakari and nine other lawyers.

AGENT APPLICATIONS DENIED: The NFLPA continues to review a number of applications of NFL agents for recertification but has denied a handful of agents who applied to be recertified, sources said, including Andrew Bondarowicz, who is trying to found a national trade association for sports agents.

One source said about five agents so far have been denied recertification, but those agents were not high-profile agents with large client lists. Attempts to identify all the agents were unsuccessful. Sources asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

As previously reported (SportsBusiness Journal, June 4-10), Bondarowicz has sent emails to about 2,500 agents and other athlete representatives in recent months about his plan to form an agent association. Last year, he owned two indoor football league clubs, something he did not disclose to the union.

The NFLPA prohibits agents from owning football clubs if it creates an actual or appearance of conflict of interest. Bondarowicz, via email, said he had less of a conflict, if any, than other NFL player agents have in representing NFL players. He said that because of his efforts to form the association, he was not expecting to renew his agent certification.
The NFLPA renounced its certification of agents for a few months last year when it decertified as a union during the lockout. Agents were certified on an interim basis after the lockout ended, but most received notice that they were “fully certified” to represent players last month.

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

The MLB Players Association is examining several results from the recent first-year player draft that it deemed “unexpected,” providing yet another level of intrigue to one of the biggest changes in its new five-year collective-bargaining agreement with the league.

The revamped draft system, which assigns bonus pools to teams and levies harsh penalties for even minimal overspending, finished its first run earlier this month with $207.9 million in total bonuses. The sum is down 9 percent from a year ago but is still the second largest batch of signing bonuses in league history.

Stanford pitcher Mark Appel was the only player picked in the first round this year who did not sign a deal.
Photo by: ICON SMI
Among first-round picks this year, 15 signed below league-required slot figures, 10 signed at slot, and five signed above. One player, Stanford pitcher and eighth overall selection Mark Appel, was drafted by Pittsburgh but did not sign.

Union officials declined to elaborate on what precisely they meant by “unexpected” results but indicated that their customary review of the draft has yet to conclusively show that the new draft system worked as intended.

“At first blush, there were some things that were expected, and others that were unexpected,” said Michael Weiner, MLBPA executive director. “MLB gave us a number of objectives they were seeking to meet, and it remains to be seen whether the changes further those objectives.”

The primary outstanding question from this year’s draft is whether the top available talent fully went to the weakest teams, as designed. Agents speaking on the condition of anonymity have suggested for weeks there were numerous instances of clubs and players agreeing to deals before the draft. Similarly, some agents also said they thought the new draft structure’s rigidity served as an obstacle to some deals getting done.

“In the past, all the teams that picked at the top and had the worst record got the players of their choice,” said Scott Boras, Appel’s agent. “In this draft, Pittsburgh wasn’t able to sign the player of its choice.”

Rob Manfred, MLB executive vice president of economics and league affairs, said the league remains pleased with the new system thus far, adding that the Appel non-signing was not necessarily a surprise.

“Every once in a while there will be a player who decides not to sign,” Manfred said. “It happened under the old system and will happen, I think less frequently, under the new system.”

Boras declined to comment specifically on Appel. Manfred also would not comment other than to say, “I am sure that Mr. Appel did what he felt was in his best interests.”

Both the union and the league have shown favor toward the draft’s earlier signing deadline, July 13 this year, as opposed to mid-August in prior years. The earlier deadline is widely seen as helping to get players into minor league clubs sooner, starting their professional development.

Ten of 30 MLB teams overspent their bonus pools, but none hit the 5 percent overage threshold that would trigger the loss of a first-round draft pick next year. Instead, the 10 clubs will pay a 75 percent tax on their respective overages, with those funds going toward revenue sharing.