Mentioning the term "sports agent" to fans will probably get a negative reaction or response. The prevailing view among sports fans is agents are predatory parasites responsible for breaking up their favorite teams by making outrageous financial demands for clients. Most agents have their clients' best interests at heart and don't fit the negative stereotypes embodied by the most unscrupulous individuals in the profession.
A misconception exists regarding what an agent makes for negotiating contracts. Contrary to popular belief, agents don't receive upwards to 10 percent of their clients' playing contracts. The respective players' associations regulate the fees an agent can charge. The maximum that can be received for negotiating an NFL player contract is 3 percent.
Here's a look at several agents presented in alphabetical order that will have a big role in determining the NFL financial landscape during the offseason. Considerable weight has been given to the magnitude of the player being represented, the number of clients an agent has that will sign new contracts and the actual or anticipated value of those deals.
Chafie Fields (Wasserman Media Group)
Fields has done high-profile deals for defensive end Arik Armstead, wide receiver Amari Cooper, cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. and cornerback Bradley Roby since Monday when the pre-free agency negotiation window opened. Cooper became the NFL's second highest-paid wide receiver by average yearly salary at $20 million per year to remain with the Cowboys.
Curiously, Cooper's deal wasn't structured as player friendly as the five-year, $105 million contract defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence signed with the Cowboys last year as a franchise player. Most notably, Lawrence's third-year salary in 2021 becomes fully guaranteed in a matter days while Cooper's third-year salary in 2022 doesn't become fully guaranteed until the fifth day of that league year. In other words, the third-year guarantee for Lawrence vests a year earlier contractually than Cooper's. It wouldn't matter as much if Cooper had gotten the same $25 million signing bonus as Lawrence because he would be better protected from a potential release in 2022 than with his $10 million signing bonus.
Surprisingly, the market of cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. didn't develop as many anticipated. He signed a two-year, $17 million deal (worth up to $19.5 million through incentives) with the Chargers.
Todd France (Creative Artists Agency Football)
France is driving an extremely hard bargain in his representation of Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott after his client successfully incurred the risk of injury and poor performance while playing out his rookie contract last season. Unable to reach an agreement with the France on a long-term deal, the Cowboys put an exclusive franchise tag on Prescott, which prohibits the solicitation of offer sheets from other teams. The exclusive franchise number will be the average of the top five 2020 quarterback salaries (essentially salary cap numbers) at the end of the restricted free agent signing period on April 17. It was projecting to $31.509 million before the recent renegotiations of Kirk Cousins and Ben Roethlisberger's contracts.
France reportedly intends to make Prescott the NFL's highest-paid quarterback. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson currently holds that distinction at $35 million per year. Rams quarterback Jared Goff has the NFL record for overall guarantees with $110,042,682. Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan's $94.5 million is the benchmark for money fully guaranteed at signing.
France represents two other players given franchise tags, Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree and Broncos safety Justin Simmons. Dupree and Simmons' tag numbers are $15.828 million and $11.441 million, respectively.
France is also wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins' agent. Hopkins is being dealt to the Cardinals and wants his contract addressed, although there are three years remaining. He signed a five-year, $81 million contract extension with $49 million of guarantees in 2017.
David Mulugheta (Athletes First)
Mulugheta almost single-handedly reshaped the safety market last year with deals for Kevin Byard, Landon Collins and Earl Thomas. He will be looking to do the same at cornerback. Mulugheta represents Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who was acquired from the Jaguars in a blockbuster trade last October. Any Ramsey contract will likely dwarf the five-year, $82.5 million deal with $54.375 million in guarantees Byron Jones just received from the Dolphins in free agency.
Mulugheta is also Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson's agent. Watson could be in line for an extension exceeding the four-year, $134 million extension averaging $33.5 million per year and worth as much as $148 million because of incentives and salary escalators Jared Goff received from the Rams last September. Goff's deal contains an NFL record $110,042,682 in guarantees.
Drew Rosenhaus (Rosenhaus Sports Representation)
Rosenhaus has been representing athletes for over 30 years. He landed his first client, cornerback Robert Massey, in 1989 as a law school student at Duke University.
Rosenhaus client Shaquil Barrett is in a line for a big payday after leading the NFL with 19.5 sacks last season. The Buccaneers put a $15.828 million franchise tag on the outside linebacker. Barrett's breakout season should put him in position to at least get a long-term deal comparable to the five-year, $90 million contract ($18 million per year) with $56 million in guarantees Trey Flowers got from the Lions in free agency last March.
Rosenhaus moved the needle for interior defensive linemen who aren't known as pass rushers with Javon Hargrave's deal with the Eagles. Hargrave signed a three-year, $39 million contract containing $26 million fully guaranteed. The Eagles signed cornerback Darius Slay, a Rosenhaus client, to a three-year, $50 million extension in connection with his trade from the Lions.
Rosenhaus benefited from the Titans declining to pick up offensive tackle Jack Conklin's $12.866 million fifth year option on him for the 2020 season. He got the Browns to give Conklin a reported three-year, $42 million deal.
Rosenhaus' other notable free agents include safety Tre Boston (three years, $18 million with Panthers), defensive lineman Shelby Harris, offensive guard Ereck Flowers (three years, $30 million with Dolphins), wide receiver Breshad Perriman and cornerback Jimmy Smith.
Joel Segal (Lagardere Sports)
Segal negotiated his second deal that put a pass rusher into the $20 million per year non-quarterback club. He got defensive tackle DeForest Buckner a four-year, $84 million extension containing $56.378 million in guarantees from the Colts in conjunction with the 49ers trading him. Segal had previously made edge rusher Khalil Mack the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback in 2018 with a six-year, $141 million extension averaging $23.5 million per year, which was a part of a trade from the Raiders to the Bears. Mack's $60 million fully guaranteed at signing and $90 million in overall guarantees established new records for non-quarterbacks.
Segal could help change the landscape for running backs with Christian McCaffrey, who became eligible for a contract extension when the 2019 season ended. If what Segal did for Mack is any indication, a new McCaffrey deal with the Panthers would top Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott's market-setting $15 million per extension by a considerable margin.
Jimmy Sexton (Creative Artists Agency Football)
Sexton redefined the wide receiver market at the end of last preseason with Julio Jones. The three-year, $66 million extension he got for Jones from the Falcons had $64 million fully guaranteed at signing.
Sexton has two clients designated as franchise players, running back Derrick Henry and tight end Hunter Henry. The Titans put a $10.278 million franchise tag on the running back. Sexton is likely looking to put Henry in the top running back salary tier ($13 million to $15 million per year), although he doesn't fit the profile of running backs who command top dollar. Dual-threat running backs have been getting that type of money lately. Henry, who led the NFL with 1,540 rushing yards in 2019 and tied for a league-best 16 rushing touchdowns, doesn't add much in the passing game.
The Chargers placed a $10.607 million franchise tag on the tight end. The four-year, $42 million deal with $23 million in guarantees Austin Hooper received from the Browns could be an important data for Sexton.
Sexton has several other prominent clients with expiring contracts. These include wide receiver Randall Cobb (reported three years, $27 million with Texans), defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and tight end Jason Witten (one year worth up to a reported $4.8 million with Raiders).
Leigh Steinberg (Steinberg Sports & Entertainment)
Steinberg was the best known sports agent during the decades of the 1980s and 1990s. He is also widely considered as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Some of the most notable players Steinberg has represented include quarterback Troy Aikman, quarterback Warren Moon, defensive end Bruce Smith and quarterback Steve Young, all of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Steinberg is expected to take NFL's salaries to a new level as early as this offseason since he represents Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The 2018 NFL MVP should become the league's first $40 million per year player when he signs a new contract.
Don Yee (Yee & Dubin)
Yee is having a hand in shifting the balance of power in the NFL. He is the longtime agent of Tom Brady, whose 20-year tenure with the Patriots is coming to an end. Yee is finalizing a two-year contract with the Buccaneers believed to be in the $60 million neighborhood for Brady, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career.
Brady isn't the only former Patriots quarterback Yee represents, as he is the co-agent of Jimmy Garoppolo. Yee helped Garoppolo briefly become the NFL's highest-paid player in 2018 with a five-year contract averaging $27.5 million per year he received from the 49ers.