He who represents himself has a fool for a client. That adage usually arises in connection with courtroom proceedings, where the litigant’s emotional attachment to the outcome will skew his efforts — even if he otherwise has the skill.
It also has some application in the NFL, where nearly every player has someone representing him when it comes to negotiating with teams.
For rookie contracts in the age of a true wage scale, it’s not nearly as critical. That’s why it won’t hurt players like Ravens first-rounder Matt Elam, who’ll get the slotted deal available to the 32nd pick in the draft.
For veterans, however, it’s more complicated. A skilled and honest agent (and, obviously, plenty are neither) can help compile evidence and fashion arguments to push back against the team’s legitimate belief that the player is worth less than what the circumstances otherwise suggest. It’s not because teams are dishonest (and, obviously, some team employees are), but because teams necessarily will pooh-pooh the prospect of paying more because they’re the ones routinely doing the paying.
As a result, it’s awkward for the player to argue on his behalf why he’s a great player who deserves more than the team is offering. Some guys (even football players) are too humble to do it, and some simply are so conditioned to defer to the notion of “team” that they can’t and won’t disagree with the coach or the G.M.
That’s why all agents are very interested to see what 49ers defensive end Justin Smith got from the team via his recent two-year extension. Smith confirmed on Wednesday that he negotiated the deal on his own, choosing not to hire a new firm after recently parting ways with CAA.
“At this point in my career – my agent and stuff – it wasn’t about that,” Smith said, via Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle. “It was about wanting to be here, wanting to play, having an opportunity to be on a great team. And go for the championship. That’s what it’s all about. Having that opportunity, I feel real lucky. Real fortunate.”
On one hand, the value of playing for a title means much more to the player than his agent. (After all, the agent doesn’t get three percent of the ring.) On the other hand, Smith’s desire to pursue a championship easily can result in Smith taking less than he objectively deserved.
That said, it sounds like he wasn’t bashful during the negotiations. Smith said that he “was in there asking all these questions,” comparing it to having “your first kid.”
Still, players may not know what questions to ask. And they may not be able to respond to the points raised by the team in a way that pushes the team to give them more.
Smith added that, if/when he gets to the point where he’s not a full-time player, he’ll walk away. In our view, there’s also a chance he’ll call if quits if the Niners get back to the Super Bowl and win it.
The real question is whether buyer’s remorse will creep into his brain, and whether he’ll act on it. Much of it will depend on the reaction to the deal he did. While Smith won’t be getting that kind of feedback from his agent, he may end up hearing it from other players who get it from theirs.