Former Agent Counters NFL, NFLPA with Antitrust Suit After Decertification
On November 21, 2017, former NFL agent and lawyer James Dickey accused the NFL, the NFL Management Council, and the NFL Players Association of stifling competition by implementing a rule in 2002 to keep new agents out of the industry. The rule, which Dickey refers to as an unreasonable artificial barrier and which is enforced by the NFLPA, requires agents to negotiate at least one NFL team deal for every three year period in order to stay certified to represent NFL players. “The so-called three-year rule appeal process was merely set up as a ruse and sham to routinely deny any reasonable appeal to the decertification process, which became an automatic decertification event contrary to the guidelines as set forth under the [collective bargaining agreement],” Dickey said in his complaint. Dickey was decertified himself in 2008 and again in 2016 after failing to sign on players to teams within three years.
Dickey contends the NFL is violating their collective bargaining agreements as well as antitrust laws. The collective bargaining agreement provides the NFLPA with exclusive authority to determine the number of agents to be certified as well as the ability to withdraw or deny an agent’s certification so long as the determination is reasonable and not discriminatory.
The rule has been found to be reasonable in the past. In the arbitration between the NFLPA and agent Lee Clayton, an arbitrator reasoned that an NFL agent who was inactive would likely be operating at a disadvantage when negotiating with an employee of an NFL team who negotiated on a full-time basis.
The defendants have not yet answered Dickey’s complaint, but the expectation is that league and the Management Council will argue failure to state a claim, as neither party was involved in the creation of the rule at issue, nor its enforcement. The NFL Players Association is expected to argue that precedent interpreting the validity of the rule should be binding.