Times are changing in the world of player agents and rookies.
In the 1990s then-Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay decided to get out from under all the back-end incentives in rookie deals, and many of us in the business followed suit. It wasn't a big moment in NFL contract history, but it was an attempt to get at least part of rookie contracts under control.
Since then CBA negotiations have gotten rookie deals under control. The CBA now in force is restrictive on rookies, so it was only a matter of time before players would start looking a little differently at the value of an agent at their entry point into the NFL.
What may be next in player-agent relationships could be more players not hiring agents until they get to their second contract. That could have a big effect on underclassmen who have agents hanging around campuses trying to convince players to come out early and sign with them.
Matt Elam, the Florida safety drafted in the first round by the Ravens, decided to do his own rookie deal, which isn't a new concept but it could be the tip of an iceberg. Andre Johnson, the great Houston wide receiver had his uncle and an attorney friend do his own deal 11 years ago but that was in an era of big money and major fluctuations in deals.
Today the slotting system is working for the most part. Elam got the same deal without an agent that he would have received with an agent except he pockets the agent fee.
The only big argument left in rookie deals is "offset" language that could return some money to the club if a first-round player in a rookie contract is released and subsequently signed by another team. I don't think the offset issue is going to be big enough for some future rookies to retain the services of an agent because most first-round rookies play out their rookie deals or get traded, and the original contract moves with the player.
Many players believe they need an agent to set them up in an offseason workout program or to borrow money to get through the time period from when they leave school until they sign their rookie contract (about six months).
I remember Johnson telling me he wasn't leaving school to work out and that the program at the University of Miami was good enough. That's probably true at most big-school programs. I have interviewed a lot of veteran players on this subject and from what I have been told they could make their own call to the high-profile training centers and get admitted into a program.
As for paying for the draft preparation I would be surprised if most reputable program directors wouldn't bill high profile players with payment after the rookie deals are signed.
As for loans players accept from their agents, too many players borrow more money than they really need. The good agents preach a conservative approach to the pre-draft experience and they present a very solid opportunity for players.
Don't be surprised if next year there are six to eight first-round athletes following the Elam model of doing business.
I suspect in years to come the Elam factor will grow. When a player is closing in on his second contract in an open market with no rookie restrictions, that's the time to select reputable player agents with a history of getting quality deals done. The players will be older, hopefully more mature, and not be in need of loans and workout programs to hire an agent.