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Volume 22 No. 49
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NFLPA’s tweaks to rep agreement irk agents

The NFL Players Association is close to formalizing a new representation agreement that some agents fear will result in lower fees.

The new standard representation agreement would set a default fee for agents of 1.5 percent of the contract’s value, one of the lowest rates that agents can now charge players. Players could still pay a maximum of 3 percent, but agents are concerned that players will insist on the default selection.

NFLPA President Eric Winston said the new version of the SRA forms will go out this fall.
The new version of the forms, known in the business as SRAs, will be sent to the agents in the fall, NFLPA President Eric Winston said.

Agents have been at odds with the union over the potential threat of a fee reduction for about a year now, and the 1.5 percent default fee confirms something they had been talking about privately, and with some trepidation, for months.

Winston said the intent in changing the form is to let players, especially new players coming into the league, know that they have alternatives to paying an agent 3 percent. But some agents see the new default language as the union pushing to cut their income in half.

“They can say what they want, but at the end of the day, it’s implicit that the union believes the fee should be 1.5 percent,” one veteran NFL agent said.

On the new SRA being finalized, the maximum fee that agents could charge players would remain at 3 percent, but players and agents would have to check a box to choose that rate.

“The ‘new’ form will change in this way: it will have some wording that will say that, unless agreed upon, the default language will be 1.5 percent,” Winston said in an email. “So basically the agent and player will both have to sign off on any fee change from the 1.5 percent. The new form will still have the boxes the old form had. The new form will just make it specific to each SRA that the fee has to be agreed upon.”

The old SRA had six boxes that players and agents could check: 1 percent, 1.5 percent, 2 percent, 2.5 percent, 3 percent and “Other.”

NFLPA player representatives voted on the changes to the SRA at the union’s annual meeting in Maui in March. The vote came after players considered, but did not vote on, lowering the maximum fee that agents could charge from 3 percent to 2 percent, Winston said.

Winston said that the SRA change and other changes to agent regulations and business were being reviewed by labor attorneys before being distributed to agents.

The new SRA form had not been sent to NFLPA-certified agents as of midweek last week.

Agents willing to voice concerns about the potential change requested anonymity because of not wanting to speak publicly about union business or fearing reprisals for speaking out.

“If they say the default fee is 1.5 percent, then the player will say, ‘Why should I pay more?’” a second agent said.

Another was more optimistic, though, saying: “As long as we don’t have to lower the fees, what you put on the SRA. … I don’t have a lot of anxiety over that. If that is the compromise for them not to lower the fees, then, I’m happy about it.”

Agents also didn’t want to be quoted talking about the 1.5 percent rate when they all intend to continue charging 3 percent.

The threat of a fee reduction has been hanging over NFL agents for years, but the relationship between many agents and the union has been especially tense for months after the NFLPA invited 15 agents to its Washington, D.C., headquarters to talk about it last November. The idea of a fee cut caused agents and union officials to raise their voices with each other during the annual NFLPA agent meeting at the NFL combine earlier this year.

Many agents at NFL representation agencies who had talked about the rumor to SportsBusiness Journal since March expressed concern that the new SRA would make it even more difficult to charge 3 percent and would hurt their livelihood.

Agents point to the fact that the maximum NFL agent fees are already the lowest in sports and that contracts are not fully guaranteed.

The maximum fee in the NBA is 4 percent, and the NHL and MLB do not limit the fees agents can charge, but the norm is 4 percent to 5 percent.

Some agents have said they will try to hold the line at 3 percent, but others worry what will happen to their business if 1.5 percent becomes the norm.

“If that becomes the standard, what agent in his right mind would choose football to represent, instead of baseball, which has totally guaranteed contracts where you can charge 5 percent, or basketball, with guaranteed contracts where you could charge 4 percent?” an agent asked.

Players could end up getting hurt, too, agents said. Agents typically pay for players’ NFL combine training, a bill that can run from $15,000 to $30,000. Agents are not going to pay that bill if the standard fee becomes 1.5 percent, multiple agents said.

Winston stressed that the maximum fee will remain at 3 percent and that the new SRA should not change the business model for current and future agents.

“I don’t want to run good people out of the business,” he said. “I don’t want to … have people not getting into the business who would have been great agents because they don’t feel they could make a living at it.”