Pitching NFL prospects on their potential: choosing an agent is the first step in a career

Playing in the NFL is the dream of 98% of the youth players that strap on pads. The career path they envision is pop warner, high school, college, and then the Show. However, the step that athletes usually leave out is the daunting and potentially damaging process of selecting an agent. This is a process that can pave the way for a cleaner trip through the business of the NFL and can leave players and their families with financial security for multiple generations.

The process begins when a player’s final college season ends or they declare themselves eligible for the NFL Draft. Players projected to be drafted and many still right on the cusp will field phone calls, emails, and text messages from agents trying to court the player and sign them as a client. As stated in the article, this process gets to be extremely overwhelming, as dozens of agents are all calling and promising basically the same thing. For many athletes, it can be difficult to sift through all of the false promises and choose an agent who successfully fits them as the player and not the other way around. A little preparation and knowledge can be extremely beneficial during the selection process. Consult with your family members or your trusted circle of people, and most importantly, remember that the agent must work for you. They need you for the draft way more than you need them. You’re on-field actions are what will get you drafted and not the work of an agent.

As mentioned throughout the article, many of the agents went into the client pitch with the same ammunition. Here’s a list of common traits and phrases that all of the agents threw on the table:

-    aggressiveness
-    around-the-clock service
-    promises of an enhanced career and earnings potential
-    name dropping of current clients and former teammates of the client

These are the standard circumstances that will come up during the process and your decision needs to be based on something other than these points. You need to find what makes the agent different from all the others, be it previous success in the league, their connections in the endorsement industry, or their representation of athletes similar to yourself.  As well, use all of your resources to your advantage; you would be a fool to not use your coaches and athletic department at your school to aid you in this process. I guarantee they have all been through this already and are aware of the positive agents and the ones to stay clear of, and will have great advice about making your decision. One of the players in the article stated that his decision ultimately came from the suggestion of his coach and his trust in his coach. These are powerful resources that should be utilized to their utmost potential.

Another way to avoid potential pitfalls is to be educated on the policies and procedures surrounding the agent selection process. Don’t be penalized by blindly following the agent’s lead. They are going to push the boundaries and even step over the lines to try and sign you, so don’t let your career be in jeopardy because you don’t know the rules. Information is an important commodity to have, and without it, you’re putting yourself in a vulnerable position to be taken advantage of. Here are a couple tips to help you through the process:

-    Meet the agent face-to-face before you sign with him. You need to get a feel for the agent and a phone call will just not suffice in this situation. Also, make them travel to you. You will see who is willing to make the effort and is willing to work FOR you.

-    Don’t fall for over promises. Some agents will come in and promise you a Pro Bowl and a trip to the Hall of Fame, they will feel you out and tell you whatever you want to hear. That is not an agent you want to select; pick the straight shooter - the agent who will honestly tell you where you fit in the draft and your potential in the NFL.

-    Know exactly what the terms are of any gift, credit card, or service you receive from the agent. Some will pay for your training and gifts until the Draft. Others, as mentioned in the article, will give credit cards, cars, and services, and then upon signing that first contract, will send a bill. Know what you’re getting into. Ignorance is not an excuse.

-    Ask for the contact information of an agent's current and former clients. Your fellow peers are always your best resource. In addition to your family and coaches' advice, it is important to seek out insider information on the quality of an agent's representation. Don't take an agent's claims at face value. Do a little investigation of your own. A real tell-tale is how happy the agent's current clientele is. While there is a good chance that an agent's former clients may be disgruntled and badmouth their former agent, and you may have to take their stories and claims with a grain of salt, it is always wise to have a full perspective of what an agent's reputation is. If an agent is hesitant or unwilling to provide you with the contact information of either their current or former clients, this is a real red flag, and it should be considered accordingly. Think about it... You wouldn't hire a new employee without checking their references, would you?

-    Select an agent based on his or her credentials and reputation, not how much they can put in your pocket. Nowadays, it's commonplace for agents to offer stipends or certain inducements (whether illegal or in the grey area) to prospective clients. Be forewarned that these perks may be nice, but they have no correlation with the quality of representation you will end up receiving. You can get showered with all the gifts in the world at the start, but if the agent isn't competent, it will have a detrimental, and sometimes, irreversible effect on your career. Agents should be selected based on their professional qualifications and the services they are capable of providing, and not the lavish gifts and monetary incentives they throw your way.

-    Remember that you are the client and you are the BOSS, not the agent. Let the agent work for you and benefit you. If they are successful at representing you and your needs, then they will get their compensation. Most agents will look at you as a business asset and you should do the same. If they aren’t working for you then drop them and find someone who will. There are plenty of agent horror stories where agents mishandle players’ careers and financial plans.

-    Finally, don’t be a victim. Stay in control of your career and your money. Know where it comes from and where it goes.