Image via Sports Illustrated
As the NFL season kicked off this past weekend, former MVP Lamar Jackson had more on his mind than just preparing for the Oakland Raiders. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that contract talks between Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens have stalled as the season approaches because Jackson wants to focus on football. Jackson, who is not officially represented by an agent, could be in line to sign a contract extension worth north of $100 million guaranteed.
Since entering the league in 2018, the 24-year-old has been assisted by his mother, who acts as his manager, Felicia Jones. She was reportedly heavily involved in Jackson singing his four-year $9.5 million rookie deal with the Ravens in 2018.
Schefter further reported, “A deal between Jackson and the Ravens could be completed during the season, but that likely will be when the former MVP has the time to focus on the negotiations, according to sources.” It’s unclear when Jackson will carve out the time during a busy NFL season to hammer out a deal that will ensure generational wealth. Many NFL players spend their bye week in Cabo, perhaps Jackson and his mother will spend that time in a boardroom.
Is Jackson’s choice not to hire an agent as he pursues a deal worth seven figures a wise one? Bomani Jones of ESPN certainly doesn’t think so:
But as the always-grounded Kanye West once put so eloquently – “Every agent I know, know I hate agents”. It’s becoming more popular for athletes to subscribe to Kanye’s thinking and question the importance of hiring a sports agent. Those that follow the hip-hop icon’s train of thought believe that self-representation allows an athlete to exert full control over their own career, and more importantly, reap all the benefits.
In this method of self-representation, Jackson (and his mother) control negotiations from the start and will not have to pay an outside party a standard agency fee. Although the player-agent relationship in the NFL is more player-friendly than most other professional sports because rules prohibit NFL agents from taking more than 3% of their player’s contract. But in Jackson’s case, that 3% can still be a large chunk of change.
Trust me when I say I never want to be on the other side of an argument as Mr. Kanye West. But the flip side is that if the sole reason Jackson and the Ravens haven’t yet reached a deal is because Jackson simply doesn’t have the time to negotiate – that should precisely be the reason to hire an agent. Like many other services, you pay an agent to do things that you simply don’t have time to do. Clearly Jackson’s focus is elsewhere besides his contract, and Ravens fans are happy to hear he’s so engulfed with football.
Jackson’s on-field success speaks for itself. The former MVP has quieted every doubter since coming out of college, and he has quickly become one of the faces of the sport. Now it’s time to get paid like it. Every day that goes by without Jackson putting pen to paper places him at injury risk and places that money in jeopardy. Jackson has seen three major season-ending knee injuries to his Baltimore Raven running back teammates just within the past month.
Jackson has actually been quite durable throughout his career. But his scrambling style of play allows opportunities for Jackson to take hits, and all it takes is one bad hit to cause severe financial damage. It may be smart for him to ink this deal as soon as possible because his value can only go down.
Then there’s the cautionary tale of self-representation going wrong due to a lack of experience negotiating these megadeals. Despite what Jerry McGuire made us all think, a sports agent’s job isn’t just proclaiming, “SHOW ME THE MONEY” and getting your athlete paid. NFL contracts are complex with different opt-outs and guaranteed money structures that if utilized properly could benefit the individual player. Due to the violent nature of the sport, it’s important for a player like Jackson to structure his deal in a way that best protects him in the case of injury.
Richard Sherman, a former All-Pro cornerback and Stanford alum, made waves in 2018 when he self-negotiated a contract with the San Francisco 49ers that netted him $9 million per year for three years. In what was initially celebrated as a win for the athlete in the athlete/sports agent budding rivalry Sherman boasted, “I can get all the information I need, so a sports agent is becoming an unnecessary commodity”.
Well as it turns out, the choice to not utilize the unnecessary commodity Sherman was referencing could have cost him millions of dollars. In 2018 after Sherman’s contract was signed, the NFL Players Association decided to intervene on behalf of Sherman and renegotiate the timing of a $2 million roster bonus. Sherman originally agreed that he must pass a physical early in training camp to be eligible for the roster bonus, but the renegotiated term allowed for Sherman to pass the physical up until November to be eligible for the large payday. Those few months of rehab if Sherman was coming off an injury could have been all the difference in pocketing $2 million. The demise of an experienced sports agent may have been premature on Sherman’s part.
Teams take notice when players come into contract talks without representation. Richard Getlin of NFL Network tweeted, “Dream scenario in a negotiation? Having decades of wisdom, experience and knowledge on my side, and going against an amateur on the other.” Make no mistake about it, professional athlete contracts are viewed in terms of winning and losing and teams feel more comfortable when they are dealing with someone who lacks experience with deals of this magnitude.
That’s not to say that players are always in good hands when they hire an agent. Nerlens Noel, a center for the New York Knicks, is currently suing his former agent Rich Paul for costing him $58 million in lost potential salary. Noel claims breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and negligence against Paul and his agency Klutch Sports. The claims arise out of Paul’s advice to Noel to decline a 4-year $70 million deal with the Dallas Mavericks in 2017 in hopes Noel will get offered more money the following year. As it turns out, the next season Noel broke his thumb, and he spent the next two years making the league minimum of $3.7 million combined.
Jackson won’t have to worry about filing a lawsuit against his former agent like Noel, but he also is hoping to avoid the pitfalls of self-representation faced by Sherman. The financial upside in the short term for Jackson is obvious. When he finally signs his name on the dotted line, he won’t dish out a fee to an agent for facilitating the deal. The hope is the decision to self-represent will not cost him money for years to come.
Matthew Netti is a 2021 graduate from Northeastern University School of Law. He currently works as an attorney fellow at the Office of the General Counsel for Northeastern University. You can follow him on twitter and instagram @MattNettiMN.
 Adam Schefter, Sources: Lamar Jackson Immersed in Preparing for the Season instead of Negotiating NFL Deal for Himself, ESPN (last visited Sep. 14, 2021) https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/32201903/sources-lamar-jackson-immersed-preparing-baltimore-ravens-season-negotiating-deal-himself?platform=amp.  Leonard Dozier, The Average Sports Agent’s Commission, Sapling (last visited Sep. 14, 2021) https://www.sapling.com/8386882/average-sports-agents-commission.  Mike Florio, NFLPA Helped Sweeten Richard Sherman’s Self-Negotiated Contract, NBCSports (last visited Sep. 14, 2021) https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/03/24/nflpa-helped-sweeten-richard-shermans-self-negotiated-contract/.  Id.  Jesse Reed, Examining Pitfalls of Negotiating NFL Contracts Without an Agent, SportsNaut (last visited Sep. 14, 2021) https://sportsnaut.com/examining-pitfalls-of-negotiating-nfl-contracts-without-an-agent/.  Brian Windhosrt, New York Knicks’ Nerlens Noel Sues Rich Paul, Klutch Sports; Claims $58M Loss in Potential Salary, ESPN (last visited Sep. 14, 2021) https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/32079344/new-york-knicks-nerlens-noel-sues-rich-paul-klutch-claiming-loss-58m-potential-salary.