What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. This bad joke about the legal profession just as easily could be applied to agents, considering how many sports fans feel negatively about those representing athletes, particular when there is a contract dispute between a player and team.
There is a small minority of players who don't place much value on the services an agent can provide. All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman acted as his own agent while working out a team-friendly contract with the 49ers after being released by the Seahawks last week. Future Hall of Fame tackle Joe Thomas isn't impressed with Sherman's negotiation skills. He thinks Sherman "got absolutely crushed" by the 49ers.
A misconception about what an agent makes for negotiating contracts exists. Contrary to popular belief, agents don't receive 10 percent of their clients' playing contracts. The respective players' associations regulate the fees an agent can charge. The most that can be received for negotiating an NFL player contract is three percent. The NFLPA changed the language last year in the required Standard Representation Agreement that both agents and players must sign. The default fee is now one and a half percent.
Here's a look at a half dozen agents who will have a big role in helping shape 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 who will sign new contracts and the actual or anticipated value of those deals.
Tom Condon (Creative Artists Agency Football)
The former Chiefs offensive lineman began representing players in the mid 1980s while his own NFL career was coming to an end. Condon is best known for representing franchise quarterbacks, which include Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who retired after the 2015 season. The five-year, $135 million contract extension Condon negotiated for Stafford last preseason re-set the NFL pay scale. In addition to Stafford having the highest average yearly salary for an NFL contract at $27 million, new standards for overall contract guarantees ($92 million), money fully guaranteed at signing ($60.5 million), signing bonuses ($50 million) and three-year cash flow ($87 million) were established. Stafford's $50 million signing bonus is also the largest ever for an NFL player.
Condon has had an impact on the quarterback market this offseason by negotiating deals for Brees, Sam Bradford and Alex Smith. There's a good chance Condon could have made Brees the NFL's first $30 million player on a short-term deal had the 39 year old not directed him to cut the Saints a financial break for the first time in numerous contract dealings with the franchise. Brees took a two-year, $50 million contract with $27 million fully guaranteed to remain in New Orleans.
Condon may still get his chance to negotiate a $30 million per year contract this offseason. A new deal for Ryan, who is in his contract year, is a priority for the Falcons. In the meantime, Condon must find a new home for Pro Bowl defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, who the Cardinals released after he refused to take a pay cut from the five-year extension averaging slightly more than $12.5 million per year he signed in 2016.
Condon and the Cowboys couldn't reach an agreement on an extension for offensive guard Zack Martin, who has been a Pro Bowler in each of his four NFL seasons. The expectation is a different outcome this time around. The five-year, $66.5 million contract ($13.3 million per year) Andrew Norwell just got from the Jaguars in free agency to raise the bar for the position has become the salary floor for Martin.
Nate Solder just took the left-tackle market to unprecedented heights in free agency. The Giants gave him a four-year, $62 million contract with $34.8 million fully guaranteed. Condon client Taylor Lewan may be the biggest beneficiary of Solder's $15.5 million per year deal. It's probably going to require the Titans making a similar commitment to get their left tackle, who is scheduled to play the 2018 season on a $9.431 million fifth-year option, signed long-term.
Mike McCartney (Priority Sports & Entertainment)
McCartney may have created a new blueprint for players to follow when given a franchise tag through his representation of Kirk Cousins. The quarterback's bet on himself during the 2016 and 2017 seasons by embracing the franchise tag is paying off in a big way. After making almost $44 million on the two franchise designations, Cousins has landed a fully-guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract from the Vikings. He becomes the NFL's highest-paid player at $28 million per year.
More importantly, Cousins is chartering new territory with the NFL's first lucrative fully-guaranteed veteran contract. His groundbreaking contract should set the stage for other high-profile players, like Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to follow suit. A new contract for Rodgers is on the horizon this offseason.
McCartney opted for a shorter contract with Cousins than most quarterbacks sign. Most lucrative quarterback contracts are at least four years in length. The 29-year-old Cousins is in a better position to take advantage of changing market conditions sooner than with the more conventional quarterback deal. He would be in line for an extension at 31 in 2020 if he is living up to his contract. Cousins is set to hit the open market at 32 in 2021, when a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will need to be negotiated, which could be more favorable to players than the current labor agreement.
McCartney also represents Ryan Jensen and offensive guard Jack Mewhort. Jensen is arguably the best center available in the open market. The knee injuries limiting Jack Mewhort to 15 games over the last two seasons don't create ideal circumstance for free agency.
Joel Segal (Lagardere Unlimited)
Segal got cornerback Trumaine Johnson, who made just under $30.7 million the last two seasons for the Rams on franchise tags, a five-year, $72.5 million deal ($34 million fully guaranteed at signing) from the Jets. He also represents Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, who was designated a transition player for $12.971 million. The five-year, $65 million contracts A.J. Bouye and Stephon Gilmore received from the Jaguars and Patriots in free agency last year may have caught Segal's attention. Bouye's $26 million fully guaranteed at signing is $5 million less than Gilmore's. He's also $1.5 million behind Gilmore after three years with $40.5 million. Gilmore deal has $40 million in overall guarantees.
Segal went the one-year prove-it deal route for wide receiver Donte Moncrief with the Jaguars. The base value is reportedly $7 million where the maximum value is almost $10 million with incentives.
Segal should help change the landscape for non-quarterbacks with Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack. Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie's timetable for a Mack extension has been the 2018 offseason ever since locking up quarterback Derek Carr long-term last summer. A new deal will likely make Mack a charter member of $20-million-per-year non-quarterback club.
Last preseason, $1.5 million of performance bonuses were added to the four-year, $26 million contract Brandon Graham signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2015, which has left the Eagles defensive end underpaid. Graham had a career high 9.5 sacks last season. Extending Graham's contract, which is set to expire after the 2018 season, has reportedly been on Philadelphia's radar screen for awhile. It's hard to envision Segal accepting less than the four-year, $58 million extension with $34 million in guarantees Everson Griffen received from the Vikings last July.
Drew Rosenhaus (Rosenhaus Sports Representation)
Rosenhaus has been representing athletes for almost 30 years. He landed his first client, cornerback Robert Massey, in 1989 as a law school student at Duke University.
As expected, Rosenhaus reset the offensive-guard market with Andrew Norwell. The Jaguars gave Norwell a five-year, $66.5 million contract with $30 million fully guaranteed. The previous standard bearer for guards was the five-year, $60 million deal containing $31.5 million in guarantees Kevin Zeitler received from the Browns last March.
The Patriots finally addressed Rob Gronkowski's perpetual unhappiness with the six-year, $54 million extension he signed in 2012 to become the NFL's highest-paid tight end by average yearly salary. Last offseason, $5.5 million of not-likely-to-be-earned incentives were added to Gronkowski's contract. He earned the entire amount when he was named first-team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
Gronkowski surprised many after Super Bowl LII with the revelation that he is contemplating retirement, which could just be a negotiating ploy. He is scheduled to make $9 million this year. The four-year, $32 million contract a largely-unproven Trey Burton received from the Bears may only provide more confirmation to Gronkowski that something more than another short-term fix with incentives should be done with his contract. Burton has $11.3 million in the first contract year. Jimmy Graham, 31, remaining the NFL's only $10-million-per-year tight end, despite a sizable statistical regression in 2017, on his new deal with the Packers may add insult to injury.
Rosenhaus' other notable free agents include cornerback Rashaan Melvin, linebacker Nigel Bradham, running back Isaiah Crowell and inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman. Bradham is remaining with the Eagles on a five-year, $40 million deal. Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap could be in line for an extension.
Jimmy Sexton (Creative Artists Agency Football)
Sexton changed the non-quarterback market in 2015 during free agency by negotiating a blockbuster deal for defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He received a six-year, $114.375 million deal containing $59.955 million fully guaranteed from the Dolphins. Suh was released when the 2018 league year started on Wednesday. It remains to be seen whether Sexton can keep Suh from taking a financial hit with his next deal. The Dolphins contract included $54.375 million in the last three years.
Sexton got a Graham a surprisingly strong deal from the Packers. The expectation was that Graham would have a difficult time cracking the $8 million-per-year mark because he hasn't been the same player since tearing the patellar tendon in his right knee during the 2015 season. Graham's three-year, $30 million contract reportedly is for $22 million in the first two years.
The market was virtually non-existent for inside linebackers in free agency last year. That isn't the case this year. Avery Williamson signed a three-year contract with the Jets worth $22.5 million.
Todd France (Creative Artists Agency Football)
The Rams won the battle in a contest of wills when Donald ended his lengthy holdout at the end of the preseason without getting a new contract. Rams general manager Les Snead now calls a new deal for Donald, who is scheduled to make $6.892 million in 2018 on his fifth-year option, a major priority. An undisclosed timetable was discussed during a meeting with France a couple of weeks ago in Indianapolis at the NFL combine.
Donald may ultimately win the war because it usually costs more to sign a great player the longer a team waits. The 2014 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year had the best season of his impressive four-year NFL career without the benefit of training camp. Donald solidified his standing as the league's most disruptive force from the interior of a defensive line. He was named 2017 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Both Donald and Khalil Mack should be the league's highest-paid non-quarterback with their new contracts, which are expected to exceed $20 million per year. Whichever one signs first will probably have his contract leveraged by the other one into a more lucrative deal.
Lions wide receiver Golden Tate has been angling for a new contract since last summer. He is entering the final year of a five-year, $31 million deal he signed as a free agent in 2013. Since joining the Lions, Tate is fifth in the NFL with 436 receptions and eighth in receiving yards (5,122).
The wide-receiver market exploding in free agency makes Tate, who turns 30 in August, a tremendous bargain. Wide receivers that aren't nearly as productive as Tate (Albert Wilson, Ryan Grant, Marqise Lee, etc.) are now routinely eclipsing the $7 million-per-year mark. Doug Baldwin, Tate's old Seahawks teammate, may be a financial measuring stick for an extension ($11 million-$12 million per year/$25 million-$30 million in guarantees).