Abraham Lincoln famously said, “He who represents himself, has a fool for a client.” In most cases, Honest Abe’s motto holds true, but perhaps 2019 National Football League MVP and Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is living proof that self-representation can be profitable.
Jackson’s Compensation So Far
Thus far, Jackson is entering the fifth year of his rookie contract. As a first-round draft pick, his contract allocated four years and gave the Ravens the choice to exercise his fifth-year option. Through his tenure in the NFL, Jackson’s yearly earnings have been as follows: 2018 - $5,448,471, 2019 - $1,002,510, 2020 – $1,535,980, 2021 - $1,771,588. While this is well below the compensation of players in Jackson’s caliber, Jackson is fully guaranteed $23,000,000 for the 2022 season. This means that during the 2022 season, Jackson will make nearly $1.28 million per week, which is nearly the amount he made during his standout 2019 MVP season. Jackson has been vocal about his intentions: he wants to get paid, and paid well. While on LeBron James’ show “The Shop,” Jackson declared that he wants to become a billionaire. Jackson has his goals set high, and reasonably so, he’s shown nothing but improvement and is revolutionizing the way in which the most important position is played in the world’s most profitable sports league. Notwithstanding all of the stardom, talent, and craftiness that Jackson embodies, heading into a contract negotiation against a professional football team that has a seemingly daunting surfeit of skilled legal minds remains an exceedingly daunting task.
Consequences for Lawyers in Contract Negotiations
Entering contract negotiations for multi-year contracts that can reach up to hundreds of millions of dollars without extensive experience in negotiating is seemingly a foolish venture. Lawyers are prideful of their ability to drive hard bargains and reach their client’s desired outcome. Consequently, someone who lacks a college degree being successful in contract negotiations poses a major threat to the cozy position lawyers feel they have as legal representation during contract negotiations for athletes. Will Jackson’s success in negotiating his fifth-year option serve as a template for future star athletes to cut out their legal representation altogether, or is Jackson an outlier in his refusal to employ legal representation in his negotiations?
History of Self-Represented Success
Jackson is far from the only player to negotiate his own lucrative contract in the NFL. Some fan favorite players, like Deandre Hopkins and Richard Sherman, have negotiated their own contracts. Hopkins even locked down a salary that made him the third-highest paid wide-receiver in the NFL. Even Laremy Tunsil, who experienced difficulty in the draft for off-field issues that surfaced which scared some organizations away from drafting the highly talented offensive tackle. Tunsil then proceeded to agree to $66 million over three years with the Houston Texans.
Players have shown that not only can they succeed in contract negotiations without legal representation, but they can triumph against adversity and reputation issues that could prevent an agent or representative from securing the same contract as the self-represented athlete. Additional advantages held by the athlete in negotiations are the inherent fact that the athlete is bargaining with the team that likely relies on him for success, they will have to be treated with respect because they will continue to be with this team, and an athlete is not bound by the typical decorum usually exhibited in these negotiations. These differences and nuances between the self-represented player and the agent represented player manifest in both benefits and shortcomings for both types of athletes.
As it stands, Jackson will be a free agent in the 2023 NFL season, and he is looking to negotiate a contract for his future as one of the faces of the NFL. As Jackson goes through the process of acquiring his next profitable, multi-year contract, the legal field will keep their eyes fixed on his success as a self-represented athlete.
Jacob Ehrlich is a rising 2L at New York Law School with a great passion for all sports and sports law. Jacob is interested in all areas of Sports Law, but especially athlete representation, intellectual property rights, and collective bargaining.