Contract negotiations involve more than just a focus on price. The former Most Valuable Player would have benefited tremendously from consulting with a market expert.
Each time Lamar Jackson advocates for himself, he demonstrates why he should not be doing so. On Twitter, he is responding to his detractors, demanding respect and reasonable value and defending his fortitude. He might be correct on every point. It is immaterial. He is fighting the wrong battles with the wrong individuals, and all he is proving is that athletes employ agents for this reason.
Jackson did not have an agent when he rejected the Ravens’ contract proposals last year, nor does he have one now as he resides in franchise-tag limbo. This is his right, just as it is his right to demand a completely guaranteed contract or, if he so chooses, to demand the highest salary in the NFL. Jackson is aware that the NFL is a “chew-’em-up-and-spit-’em-out” league, where relationships are transactional, allies can be fired, and loyalty is a one-way street. He desires to obtain as much as possible while he can. Totally comprehensible. Well done to him. Not the way to go about saving the 3% agent fee (or even less if an agent granted him a discount).
Negotiations are not just about value. They are about positioning, and to be frank, much of the positioning is illegal. Undoubtedly, an agent would have advised Jackson on whether to accept the Ravens’ best proposals, would have possibly been able to negotiate for a higher salary, and almost certainly would have devised other creative structures.
An counsel could have informed Jackson of the reality of NFL contracts: a completely guaranteed contract is not the only means to assure a substantial income. Even if the money is not technically “guaranteed,” roster bonuses and trigger clauses provide athletes with a solid idea of how much they will earn. (and therefore does not have to be put in escrow immediately).
Agents frequently negotiate for completely guaranteed salaries if a player has been on the roster for more than a year. When that individual is a starting quarterback with a large salary and a team built around him, it becomes very difficult to release him. An agent could have demonstrated to Jackson that what appeared to be a gamble was, in reality, a very secure wager on himself.
Jackson could have rejected all Ravens offers and all of his agent’s suggestions because clients do not work for agents; agents work for clients. But he would still be in a stronger position than he is now, with the Ravens having placed a $32.416 million price tag on him and no other team willing to offer more. (plus draft compensation).
An agent would have spent the last few months—or longer—covertly assessing the market and asking pertinent questions, such as: Who are the other potential suitors? What are they willing to provide? NFL rules prohibit franchises from discussing other teams’ athletes with agents. But it occurs frequently. While Brady was a Patriot, the Dolphins did this with Tom Brady and his highly regarded agent, Don Yee. Miami was discovered and consequently required to forfeit draft choices. However, it has occurred throughout the league in the past and is most likely occurring now.
Telling athletes to employ agents can come across as condescending or worse. It may appear that I am questioning the intellect of the players, which, let’s face it, would be a reprehensible thing for a white writer to do when discussing a predominantly Black league. However, this is not a mental issue. I presume that anyone who can play quarterback as well as Jackson in the NFL is extremely intelligent.
Contract negotiation is a learned skill, and being your own advocate is difficult. Delegating negotiations to an expert who is not as emotionally invested as they are is advantageous for nearly everyone. This is why, in the realm of literature, agents who write their own novels typically engage another agent to negotiate advances on their behalf.
Teams are aware of this. This is why offensive coordinators are not asked to negotiate quarterback contracts. They employ professional negotiators with less personal and professional ties to the quarterback. Jackson may believe he is empowering himself by acting as his own agent. He actually surrendered a weapon.
A competent agent would have informed Jackson of the market conditions. A competent counsel would have advised Jackson to negotiate a lesser extension that would enable him to become a free agent again relatively soon if he was so confident in his own longevity. A competent counsel would have advised Jackson to keep his anger to himself, as his Twitter outbursts will harm his prospects of securing a larger contract. Jackson has a strong sense of his own worth.
However, a competent counsel would have explained that negotiations are not based on what Jackson believes he is worth or even what he is actually worth. It only concerns how much you can convince someone to pay. And if after all this time an agent had told Jackson that he could only secure a single nonexclusive franchise tag for a 26-year-old former league MVP, I would have advised Jackson to terminate that agent and hire a better one.