A theory has emerged in recent years that NFL players can represent themselves. That agents don’t really do anything the players can’t do themselves. While it’s ultimately a personal decision that should be made only after weighing all relevant factors, some players who have decided not to use agents openly advocate going it alone for all players.
Sometimes, it works for the player who operates without an agent. Other times, it definitely does not. In most cases, it comes down to the simple fact that the player doesn’t want to pay a percentage of the contract value (usually, anywhere from one to three percent) to the agent, happily keeping 100 percent of a smaller pie than getting 97-99 percent of a larger one.
Or, as the case may be, no pie at all. At least not yet.
Consider the difference between linebacker Bradley Chubb and linebacker Roquan Smith. Chubb was traded this week by the Broncos to the Dolphins. Per a source with knowledge of the transaction, it didn’t happen out of the blue. Chubb’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, spent time before the trade happened negotiating the terms of a long-term deal with the Broncos and, with the permission of Chubb’s former team, talking to at least four interested teams.
Chubb ultimately picked the Dolphins, knowing that a significant new contract would be part of the transaction. That he could shift the injury risk to the team. That he could get the massive financial reward that, thanks to the rookie wage scale, he had yet to receive. And that, through it all, he could focus on playing football and not much else.
Smith, on the other hand, had no voice in the trade that sent him from Chicago to Baltimore, one way or the other. There were no contract negotiations with the Ravens, no effort to get to the table teams that would promptly give him a new deal.
Besides, when would have handled the business of negotiating with the Bears, of finding other interested teams, of getting their best offers on the table? Smith is immersed in football season; even if he knew how to work those various angles to his benefit, when would he have found the time to do it?
So when a player who prefers self-representation wants to pop off with the question of “what does an agent really do?”, this is one very specific example of the value of having one. Chubb’s agent got the contract Chubb wanted, from the team Chubb preferred to join. Smith still has no contract, there’s no guarantee or even an indication he’ll be getting one in Baltimore, and until he does he carries the very real risk of what an injury can do to his short- and long-term financial prospects.