As self-negotiated contracts go, none have carried more significance than the contract currently being negotiated by Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
Jackson never has had a traditional agent. Three years ago, when he signed a slotted deal as the last player picked in round one, it didn’t matter. (That said, having an agent to push back aggressively against B.S. narratives during the pre-draft process could have resulted in Lamar going higher than No. 32.) Now, as the 2019 league MVP and player around whom the Ravens have constructed their entire offense tries to get the financial reward he has earned, the absence of an NFLPA-certified contract advisor makes things a little trickier, for everyone.
Our position on this dynamic has remained clear and consistent. Every NFL player needs a good NFLPA-certified agent. The fee based on anywhere from one to three percentage points means very little when a good agent does the deal, because 97, 98, or 99 percent of the contract that agent negotiates usually exceeds 100 percent of the contract the player would negotiate on his own.
Lawyers have those conversations with potential clients all the time. When the standard fee in a personal-injury case (typically, 33 percent) raises eyebrows and, in some cases, invites strenuous objection, the lawyer simply says (accurately), “Two-thirds of what I’ll get for you from the insurance company will be a lot more than the full amount of what you’d get on your own.”
In this context, the agent fee lands at far less than 33 percent. Hell, it’s less than 3.3 percent. Regardless, every player has the right to go it alone, if he wants.
Of course, Jackson isn’t completely going it alone. Despite widespread reports and assumptions, we’re told that his mother is not involved. She may be advising him, but she’s not negotiating with the Ravens.
Jackson has advisers. He’s had advisers for all of his business ventures. He simply doesn’t have a traditional NFLPA-certified agent.
It can become problematic if/when the adviser becomes a negotiator. Technically, teams can’t negotiate with an agent who isn’t certified by the union. For the uncertified agent, of course, there’s no downside. He or she already operates outside the jurisdiction of the NFLPA. What will the union say? Stop doing what you already aren’t supposed to do?
Different theories have made the rounds about the person(s) advising Lamar Jackson. One agent believes former NFL player Abe Elam is involved. (Elam’s brother, Matt, was a first-round pick of the Ravens in 2013 and did not use an agent.) There’s also a chance Lamar is using a sports agency that doesn’t do football deals.
Regardless, it’s a life-changing contract and he’s not going it alone. From the team’s perspective, that’s good. If Lamar had no advisers to protect him along the way, the temptation to take advantage of the situation (like multiple other teams, including the Broncos and 49ers, have done in the past with self-represented players) would be strong.
So far, it’s going smoothly. Coach John Harbaugh has said a deal will get done. And it surely will. While the jury may be out on other first-round quarterbacks from the class of 2018 (more on that in a separate item), the Ravens have decided that they want Lamar Jackson to play the position for years to come. Once that decision gets made, everything else is just details.