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Steinberg: Getting back in the game

July 21, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

Training camps start to open later this week in the National Football League and the nation's six months of cold turkey withdrawal from the top-rated sports attraction will soon be over.

So it was only appropriate that the NFL Players Assn. held its annual seminar for new or "rookie" sports agents last Thursday and Friday.

I began my career in 1975 representing the very first overall NFL Draft pick, Steve Bartkowski, who signed, at the time, the largest rookie contract in NFL history, which eclipsed previous stand bearers O.J. Simpson and Joe Namath.

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I'm not approved yet by the NFLPA as an agent once again, but will find out soon.

The concept of being a new rookie was very, very strange ... I had represented the very first pick in the NFL eight times, 60 first-round draft picks, had half the starting quarterbacks as clients one weekend and have eight clients in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But due to an alcohol problem I have taken a several year hiatus to bring it under control.

The new collective bargaining agreement in 2011 led the NFLPA to recertify every agent. So, I was a "new agent" starting all over again.

Like Rip Van Winkle, I went to sleep with an NFL which had huge rookie bonuses and tremendous creativity in contracts, and awakened to a dramatically changed set of rules.

A hard rookie salary cap which drastically slashed first-year bonuses, required four-year contracts for all rookies and the ability of clubs to force first rounders to sign a fifth-year option had replaced the Wild, Wild West of negotiating. There was a series of programs which allowed players to get matching salary savings for annuities, health treatment for partially or totally disabled retirees, and a program for treating players with dementia.

The new CBA is over 300 pages, and the union requires mastery of all its rules, along with mastery of a new steroid and substance abuse program, and the pages of rules governing agent behavior. The NFLPA is to be commended for the tighter scrutiny of agent behavior.

Since the NFLPA takes the position that under National Labor Relations Board Law it is the sole bargainer for wages, hours and conditions for the players, and has the right to negotiate every individual contract — it then deeds out on a case-by-case basis the right for individual contract negotiations only to agents it certifies. There is tremendous due diligence into the background of agents. The NFLPA requires a post graduate degree, and liability insurance for agents.

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