On Tuesday, 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman defended his decision to negotiate his own contract. Along the way, he called out one of the biggest critics of his self-negotiated deal. (And, yes, said critic is a certain Internet hack with whom you may be familiar.)
“The thing I’m most frustrated about is all the people that were so high on bashing this deal refuse to bash the agents that do awful deals every year,” Sherman told reporters at his introductory press conference. “There are agents out there that are doing $3 million fully guaranteed deals that look like $50 million deals. When the guy gets cut after two weeks or after a year, and the guy only makes $5 million of a $50 million contract, nobody sits there and bashes the agent. You don’t hear Florio writing any articles about it. The kid from Philly, Bradham or something, took one year, $6 million deal but to everybody else is a $40 million deal. There’s nobody to bash it, because nobody’s even paying attention to most of these agents and their deals. So I think this was just one of those things where the agents feel uncomfortable with a player taking the initiative to do his own deal. Obviously it puts a fire under them. It makes them more accountable for their actions, because more players will do this.”
Sherman apparently assumes, as do many, that I’ve criticized his skills as a negotiator because I’m trying to help the agents. And he’s right. I am trying to help the agents. I’m trying to help the agents because I’m trying to help the players.
The player-agent relationship isn’t a win-lose proposition. A good agent can get more money for a player than a player can get for himself. So every player should have a good agent who can and will do just that.
But Sherman already has boasted that no agent could have gotten a better deal than Sherman negotiated for himself. Of course Richard Sherman would say that; would we expect anything else from one of the most confident personalities the NFL has ever seen?
Regardless of his confidence in his skills, he’s just flat wrong. There’s one key term in his contract that no competent agent would have ever agreed to, and any agent that ever did agree to it should be immediately disciplined by the NFL Players Association.
The term relates to the guaranteed money beyond his $3 million signing bonus. If Sherman makes it to the Pro Bowl this year, his contract doesn’t void for 2019 (which is what a good agent would have sought). Instead, Sherman triggers upon making it to the Pro Bowl an $8 million injury guarantee that vests in March 2019. As of April 1, 2019, the injury guarantee becomes a full guarantee.
Let’s focus on that for a minute. The $8 million injury guarantee doesn’t vest the moment he makes it to the Pro Bowl. The $8 million injury guarantee vests on the third day of the next league year, in March.
Here’s what this means. If Sherman qualifies for the Pro Bowl before the end of the 2018 regular season, and if the 49ers make it to the postseason, he’ll play one or more playoff games (and engage in multiple practices) with no injury protection at all. So if he ruptures an Achilles tendon or tears an ACL in January or otherwise suffers a serious injury in January, the 49ers can do exactly what the Seahawks did to Sherman earlier this month: Cut Sherman without consequence.
Instead of vesting immediately, the injury guarantee vests in the middle of March, and the salary then becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. However, any injury guarantee vesting in the middle of March and converting to a full guarantee on April 1 is meaningless; from the middle of March until April 1, there’s no football game or practice or offseason workout session that could result in an injury to Sherman.
That’s where the 49ers hoodwinked Sherman. Instead of simply saying, “Your salary for 2019 will be fully guaranteed on April 1 if you make it to the Pro Bowl” (which may have prompted Sherman to ask for the injury guarantee to vest in December), they inserted a hollow injury guarantee that becomes triggered at a time when there’s no way to suffer a football-related injury, leaving him unprotected for the balance of the 2018 regular season and postseason.
Why should anyone care about this? (Peter King recently characterized the “outcry” over Sherman’s self-negotiated contract as “weird.”) If Sherman representing himself were an isolated occurrence, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But Sherman and Chargers left tackle Russell Okung, both of whom are members of the NFLPA Executive Committee, have embarked on a crusade to get more and more players to negotiate their own contracts, apparently because they believe that agents — officially dubbed Certified Contract Advisors by the NFLPA — should be providing a much wider array of services in exchange for the fee that they earn by (wait for it) advising players regarding their contracts, and by actively negotiating them.
Believe this: NFL owners cannot wait for the moment when agents are rendered irrelevant. Owners already have slick, charismatic, skillful negotiators, who justify their salaries in part by keeping players from getting as much as they can. With no agents, players negotiating their own deals will have the bad deals negotiated by other players crammed down their throats, with teams eventually having a full roster of players at bargain-basement price.
What about the salary cap, you ask? Won’t that ensure players get theirs with or without agents? Far more important than the cap is the floor. With an 11-percent spread available, owners will have an easier time getting the players they want for 89 cents on the dollar, with the other 11 cents becoming raw profit.
Consider the current gap between the maximum and minimum spending levels. At a salary cap of $178 million per team, $19.58 million need not be spent, per team. With 32 teams in the league, that’s $626.56 million per year potentially robbed from the rich and given to the richer.
This doesn’t mean every team will spend the bare minimum if players represent themselves. But the total expenditures will be far closer to the minimum than the maximum if the players don’t have skilled agents getting each of them the most money possible, as part of the collective effort to force as many owners as possible to spend not to the floor, but to the cap.