Agent's Take: The five biggest rainmakers in 2017 NFL free agency
It’s ‘Show me the money time!’ for the agents of top free agents
Cameron Crowe’s 1996 movie, “Jerry Maguire,” shed some light on the sports representation business that was largely unknown to the general public. The film coined the catchphrase, “Show me the money!” That’s an agent’s objective when a client is hitting the open market.
Contrary to popular belief, agents don’t receive 10 percent of their clients’ contracts. The respective players’ associations regulate the fees an agent can charge. The most that can be received for negotiating an NFL playing contract is three percent, although the NFLPA recently changed language in the required Standard Representation Agreement that both agents and players must sign so one and a half percent is the default fee.
Here’s a look at five agents that will play a major part in helping shape the NFL landscape during free agency and the rest of 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 anticipated value of those deals.
Tom Condon (Creative Artists Agency Football)
Condon started representing players in the mid 1980s while his own NFL career was winding down. He is best known for representing franchise quarterbacks, which include Drew Brees, Eli Manning and future first-ballot Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who retired after the 2015 season. Inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, defensive back Tyrann Mathieu and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt are some of Condon’s other prominent clients.
Condon will shape the top of the offensive guard market in free agency this year. He’ll try to push Kevin Zeitler pass the five-year, $58.5 million contract (worth a maximum of $60 million through incentives) that the Raiders gave Kelechi Osemele in free agency last year. Osemele’s deal came with $25.4 million fully guaranteed. Condon will use that deal as the salary floor for the contract extension that Zach Martin is expected to sign with the Cowboys before the start of the 2017 regular season. He is also tasked with finding defensive lineman Calais Campbell a new home as the Cardinals seem resigned to losing him.
Brees became the NFL’s first $20 million-per-year player in 2012 thanks to Condon. Resetting the quarterback market in a similar fashion could occur this offseason since the Lions and Falcons are interested in signing Condon clients Matthew Stafford and Matt Ryan to extensions. When the dust finally settles, Ryan should be at the top of the NFL’s salary hierarchy with a contract well over $25 million per year after his 2016 MVP season.
Joel Segal (Lagardere Unlimited)
Segal represents two of the seven players that were given franchise tags: Rams cornerback Trumaine Johnson and Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short. Johnson was franchised by the Rams for a second straight year. For Short’s negotiations, the six-year, $102 million extension that Segal got for defensive tackle Fletcher Cox from the Eagles last offseason will be particularly relevant. Cox’s deal came with $63.299 million of guarantees. Segal will also have his hands full in free agency because of his representation of wide receiver DeSean Jackson, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.
Segal’s best work may have been the four-year extension averaging approximately $10.5 million per year with $28.5 million of guarantees that he got for Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin last preseason. The deal could easily be worth a lot more because of $14 million in incentives and base salary escalators, which wouldn’t be too hard to achieve with Austin producing like a good wide receiver. If Austin gets 1,000 combined receiving and rushing yards, it’s worth $250,000 each season. Every 125 combined yards up to 1,375 is worth an extra $250,000 -- although the highest threshold also requires at least nine wins by the Rams or a playoff berth. The amount earned gets added to the following year’s base salary. If Austin’s performance can remotely match his contract, making a minimum of $1 million annually under these clauses is a realistic possibility.
There are also annual incentives for touchdowns between $250,000 and $500,000 with 10 scores as the highest threshold. Austin didn’t earn any of his performance bonuses in 2016 because he only had 668 combined yards, which included a career-high 509 receiving yards.
Austin’s contract is a headache for the rest of the NFL. Other free-agent wide receivers, such as Kenny Britt, Terrelle Pryor and Kenny Stills, are using the deal as a salary benchmark for their own contracts.
Mike McCartney (Priority Sports & Entertainment)
McCartney is in the driver’s seat with Kirk Cousins because the Redskins quarterback won his bet on himself in which he played the 2016 season on a $19.953 million franchise tag. The Redskins designated Cousins as a franchise player for a second time at $23,943,600, which is a 20 percent increase over last year’s amount. That 20 percent raise is mandated by the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA. Unlike in 2016, Cousins was given an exclusive franchise tag to prevent him from soliciting offer sheets from other teams.
The Redskins have reportedly put a $20 million per year offer on the table, which would have been acceptable last offseason provided the structure wasn’t team-friendly, when talks reopened last week at the NFL Combine. McCartney has the leverage to demand a contract in the same ballpark as the five-year extension that Andrew Luck received from the Colts last offseason, which reset the NFL pay scale. That’s because there are more NFL teams than good quarterbacks and the Redskins giving Cousins a third franchise tag in 2018 for $34,478,784 is impractical. Luck’s contract averages $24.594 million per year and contains $87 million in guarantees, of which $47 million was fully guaranteed at signing.
This dynamic makes a trade to the 49ers a possibility, provided it doesn’t involve San Francisco’s 2017 first-round pick, which is second overall. Cousins would be reunited with newly hired head coach Kyle Shanahan, who was his offensive coordinator with the Redskins during his first two NFL seasons.
McCartney also represents offensive guard T.J. Lang. Lang is expected to command a deal in the same neighborhood as the $10 million-per-year extensions that David DeCastro and Kyle Long received from the Steelers and Bears right before the start of last season. Long’s contract has $30 million in guarantees.
Drew Rosenhaus (Rosenhaus Sports Representation)
Rosenhaus has close to 30 years of experience representing players. He landed his first client, cornerback Robert Massey, in 1989 as a law school student at Duke University.
Rosenhaus has already made his mark this offseason. He raised the bar for wide receiver salaries by getting Antonio Brown a four-year, $68 million extension with the Steelers.
Rosenhaus represents Terrelle Pryor, who is arguably the most intriguing and unique player hitting the open market. Pryor successfully making a difficult transition from quarterback to legitimate starting wide receiver has put him in position for a contract averaging in excess of $10 million per year. Rosenhaus is going to be one of the busiest agents during free agency since he also represents safety Johnathan Cyprien, edge rusher Jabaal Sheard, wide receiver Torrey Smith and inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Rosenhaus is also Rob Gronkowski’s agent. Gronkowski’s 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, prompted Rosenhaus to have a training camp meeting with the Patriots’ brass about giving him a new contract. The chances of Gronkowski getting a new deal seemed remote since he is already under contract through the 2019 season. It remains to be seen whether Rosenhaus pushes for a renegotiation with Gronkowski coming off his third back surgery and New England winning the Super Bowl without him.
Pat Dye, Jr. (Pro Trust Sports Advisors)
The son of legendary Auburn head football coach Pat Dye, Sr. broke into the representation business in 1987. He was Emmitt Smith’s co-agent when the NFL’s all-time leading rusher was drafted by the Cowboys in 1990.
Dye’s representation of Dont’a Hightower puts him in a position to redefine compensation for inside linebackers. It’s going to be hard for the Patriots to justify to Dye that Hightower should take less than Jamie Collins, who the Patriots dealt as last season’s trading deadline was approaching. Collins gave up his shot at free agency in late January by signing a four-year deal averaging $12.5 million per year with $26.4 million fully guaranteed to remain in Cleveland. If New England refuses to go above Collins, Dye shouldn’t have any problem finding a team, possibly the Dolphins, Lions or Titans, that will.
Dye has the best left tackle available in free agency. Andrew Whitworth should be able to command a short-term deal for more than $10 million despite his age. The 35 year old isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Retaining Whitworth is a priority for the Bengals.
Dye may have his work cut out for him with Eddie Lacy. The running back was well on his way to putting a disappointing 2015 campaign, in which weight issues contributed to a loss of playing time, behind him in 2016. But a left ankle injury ended his season after five games, with Lacy needing surgery. A better-conditioned Lacy was on pace for over 1,150 rushing yards while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. The injury has likely cost Lacy a shot this offseason at the lucrative second contract that sometimes eludes running backs. Dye also has offensive tackle Ryan Clady and edge rusher DeMarcus Ware, who are accomplished older veterans coming off injury-plagued 2016 campaigns, as free agent clients.
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