San Francisco 49ers defensive back Richard Sherman took a gamble when he negotiated his own contract and loaded it up with incentive pay instead of a high guaranteed amount.
After an excellent season, Sherman will collect more than $4 million in incentive pay for making Pro Bowl and All-Pro rosters. He fell just short of a bonus for playing 90% of all his team's defensive plays, but the 49ers reportedly paid him for that anyway.
Sherman went to Twitter this week to remind critics that they questioned his negotiating skills.
Remember this? Pockets looking right. https://t.co/B7nwsQjGwq
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) January 3, 2020
Another high-profile NFL player, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, negotiated his own rookie contract last year, with the help of his mother. It also worked out fine for Jackson, the No. 32 overall draft pick, whose upside as an NFL quarterback many questioned, even though he'd won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville.
Jackson said he didn't think that as a rookie, he really needed representation, because first year players don't have a lot of room to negotiate anyway.
“As a rookie, agents don’t really negotiate anything,” Jackson said in a news conference the NFL's Scouting Combine. “You’re going to get the salary you’re going to get."
Jackson is expected win the NFL's MVP award this season, his first as a full-time starting quarterback.
Will More Athletes Negotiate Own Deals?
Darren Heitner, a lawyer whose practice includes representing athletes on non-team contract matters, and who wrote a book on sports law, noted that even professional athletes sometimes see the savings from not having to pay an agent, who may get 3%, as worth it, and perhaps even more so going forward because of a tax law change. Players used to be able to get a tax write off for agent fees, but the new tax code eliminated the benefit.
Some players have the skills to do their own deals, but "hindsight's always 20/20," Heitner said.
"Looking back now everyone can say (Sherman's) contract was good," Heitner told Benzinga. "If certain things had gone differently, they wouldn’t be."
With his All-Pro selection Richard Sherman has now earned $4M of incentives in 2019 ($1M for the Pro Bowl, $1M for 90% snaps, & $2M for the All-Pro team). He raked in nearly $13M in 2019. https://t.co/S5TyMzpdm4
— Spotrac (@spotrac) January 3, 2020
Doesn't Always Work
In 2016, self-negotiating didn't work out as well for offensive lineman Russell Okung, who left a lot of money on the table when working out his own contract with the Denver Broncos, leading SB Nation to write that "Okung the agent seems to have screwed Okung the player."
Okung went agent-less again the next year, signing a four-year $53 million deal with the Chargers that included $25 million of guaranteed pay.