The biggest problems with Richard Sherman’s self-representation


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.

36 responses to “The biggest problems with Richard Sherman’s self-representation

  1. Sherman is a smart guy but not smart enough to realize an agent does pay for itself. Next week he is going to roof his house and tune up his car because he is smart.

  2. Guess they didn’t teach contracts at Stanford. He should have worried about himself instead of whining about Reid. But whiners have to whine.

  3. You have no way of knowing that an agent would have got him the injury guarantee. An agent might have have asked for that but you don’t know if the 49ers would have agreed to that.

    Sherman is right, agents don’t always do great deals. You need more data to prove that having an agent is clearly better, *after fees*, than not having an agent.

    You argument sounds a lot like those from expensive financial advisors, who have been shown convincingly on average to not be able to beat the S&P 500 over time.

  4. Sherman has a very good point. There are plenty of bad contracts that agents negotiate and still take their percentage. Why pay an agent to do a bad deal? Florio should criticise those bad agent deals also

  5. Having listened to Sherman for years up here in Seattle, I can attest that he is a legend in his own mind. It’s a lost cause to try to inform him of anything. You’re you know what up a rope.

  6. Why are these deals so complicated. Everybody knows what everybody is getting paid. So based on that you know your worth. Example 4 year deal $10m = $40 If your any good end of year 3 the team will offer you an improved contract extension or move you on. Yes you can add a bonus for excellence or a reduction if you bring the club into disrepute etc.

  7. Perhaps he plans to be an agent after his career is over and took the opportunity to gain his first experience using himself as a guinea pig. He has that right. I say leave him alone before he gets mad, bro.

  8. But he has a degree in communications, surely that qualifies him as a shrewd negotiator. I’m sure the 49rs negotiators were licking their chops when this guy shows up without an agent. Pretty dumb for someone that characterizes himself as a smart guy.

  9. Maybe Sherman was willing to take on that window of risk in return for higher amounts paid to him on the front end? Maybe he only gets a $2M signing bonus if he forces the 49ers for his injury guarantee to immediately vest. There are always trade offs.

  10. What I remember most about Richard Sherman is the rant he went on about Michael Crabtree with Erin Andrews and then later on the post game interviews when the Seahawks beat the 49ers in the NFCC in 2014 (the start of the 1 year dynasty???). Is that the kind of guy you want negotiating ANYthing for you?

  11. He negotiated a fine deal and he is betting on himself. We should be congratulating this instead of bashing this. is there risk? yes. Far less risky than other contracts. and the fact is, if he plays well he will get paid his worth. if he does not he gets 5 mil gtd and he moves on. In reality, his deal is safer than most.

  12. I see both Sherman and Florio’s points. However, that injury guarantee is a red flag. Sherman got owned at the negotiating table. He may like the numbers, but the devil is in the details. Rookie negotiator mistake. He saw “injury guarantee,” and ignored the dates. I’m guessing the 49ers negotiator was chuckling about that one with a colleague later.

  13. Such a clown. Have agents helped their clients get top dollar? For some, sure. For others, they have ruined careers by advising their clients to hold out for bigger paydays. The loss of practice/development/game shape leads to injury, demotion or any number of career ruining outcomes. In theory, agents might be a boon, but to hype them as guardian angels of players is a laugh.

  14. I’ve said this a million times. It’s his contract. It is his money. Why are we so obsessed with it? If he is happy about it, that’s all that matter.s

  15. Sherman has specifically said he’s studied dozens of NFL contracts and their language. Andrew Brandt (former agent, former sr. exec with GB, current SI MMQB contributor) has specifically said Sherman reached out a few times to him to discuss certain contract terms and issues. Seems to me Sherman did his full due diligence and this wasn’t some knee-jerk negotiations.

  16. re: Clause for triggering Pro Bowl injury guarantee

    How many players even have this type of player-friendly clause in their contract? You have NO IDEA that Sherman didn’t negotiate that into his contract and KNOWINGLY took the risk of possible injury between qualifying and end of season for another “give” during negotiation – ie have $8m guaranteed vs. $2m guaranteed.

  17. Rather than pay an agent an exorbitant fee, a player should hire an attorney and pay an hourly fee. An agent making $300,000 to negotiate a $10M contract is excessive

  18. The simple thing here is to check what other contracts say about injury guarantees. Do they automatically vest when a milestone is hit or is it typical for them to vest in the next season like Sherman’s does?

    He either did a contract like others have or did himself a disservice, it’s not that hard to figure out.

  19. It’s been said that the Seahawks had the opportunity to match it and they didn’t, so it can’t be that bad of a contract. It’s more guaranteed money than the Hawks were willing to give. I saw the press conference and he seemed pretty happy about the contract so it doesn’t really matter what else anyone thinks.

  20. Strange? When Tedy Bruschi represented himself he was universally praised for being smart. “He knew what deal he wanted and cut out the middle man.” That was the was the theme back then.

    I wonder what changed from the late 2000’s to the late 20teens? Whats the difference between Tedy B and Richard Sherman?

  21. How do we know he wasn’t working the phones and found out the deal the 49ers offered was the best deal available for him? Maybe he took that deal because everyone else was only offering one year “Prove it” type deals?

  22. Damn near every NFL contract (after the signing bonus) is just a series of one year deals with a team option after each season to conditionally guarantee some portion (or all) of the next year’s salary – If that. That’s the game, contracts have changed and now agents and teams are in an arms race over how the guaranteed money is handled. The NFL has the worst contracts in major professional sports, they are overly complicated and typically allow for players to be cut with minimal financial cost to the team. It’s all about risk, and a good consultant would tell Sherman the risk he is assuming is significant and potentially avoidable with further negotiations. It’s more a of a nit-pick, but with the dollar amount so high it’s no small risk. With the rookie wage scale in place most guys will only get one or two shots at a new deal, I’d say it’s worth a one time payment to have a professional negotiate the deal on their behalf (not to mention the behind the scenes phone working and connections).

  23. You are discounting the value or personal utility (sense of well being ) that sherman gets from doing his own deal despite the financial shortcomings.

  24. Ultimately, a team will pay what it can afford to get a player that it really wants, sometimes paying more than it wants to if there is competition. An agent may not be able to change that. A player who asks for too much, either by acting as his own agent or by hiring an agent, may not be able to find a team that is willing to pay. Richard Charmin came off 2 surgeries and there is no guarantee that he can be healthy enough to play a full season or even part of a season, so his bargaining power is limited. he thinks he got the best deal he could have gotten and he is happy with his deal. It is his money. He is free to make less than he could have if he would rather be playing for a team that has a chance to win. In that way, he is no different than Tom Brady, who makes a lot less than his market value but he is not complaining.

  25. Sherman is a very intelligent guy but the problem as I see it, is others are not as smart. So for him to push people into doing their own contracts when they barely speak English, let alone read or write it, leaves a lot of doubt into what they get. Maybe an IQ test before they do their contract would be in order?

  26. There is a salary cap… $188 million. Meaning roughly $6 million goes to agents and the other $182 to players.

    Take away the agents and the players split the full $188. If you were truly trying to help the players, you’d realize this.

  27. Sherman was great for Seattle, but I think I’m with the majority when I say it sure is nice not to have to deal with his mouth and all his drama anymore.

  28. Agents are the most useless people on the planet. Parasites that need hosts to survive. The NFLPA should just hire some lawyers to advise players and make sure they don’t step in it.

  29. “But the total expenditures will be far closer to the minimum than the maximum”

    You made that up as there is no study or experience that substantiates your claim. Coveted, skilled players would still have more than one team bidding on their services in free agency as is the norm. The difference between the additional money spent above the floor and the additional revenue generated from making the playoffs is substantial. Fielding a superior team turns out to be a good investment.

    Difference between floor and cap = 19.5 mil. Revenue gained from reaching playoffs = additional ticket revenue, additional concession revenue, gain in fandom expenditure (there’s a reason the pats have more fans)

  30. Here is an idea I kick around in my head quite a bit. Increase the roster say 75 players. There are no trade or signings allowed during the season. you live and die with your 75. One third of the salary cap is divided evenly among all the players on a team. Then a third gets doled out by the players on a team to the other players on a team. The last third is doled out by the coaches of the team. At the end of every year, every one is a free agent.
    At the start of training camp a team is allowed to invite 100 current players to camp, and 20 college players including their draft picks. The final 75 must come strictly from those 120 invitees.
    It makes teams truly invite only players who have a realistic chance of making the team, it rewards players for being good teammates, and it allows for performance based compensation. In return, players are allowed to move after every year if they want and all of the salary cap is spent every year.

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