Marcus Mariota – Conflict Inevitable in Contract Negotiation

In 2011, the National Football League and the National Football League Players Association reworked their collective bargaining agreement, which brought a major change to the structure of rookie contracts. Gone were the days of massive dollars for players yet to play a down in the NFL. In their place: structured, cookie-cutter deals that have a fixed compensation value based on which slot in the draft the player is selected. Every contract is for the same length of time as well. The goal was to streamline the process, eliminate long holdouts, and get young players on the field as fast as possible without long negotiations.

In theory this seems simple. However, contracts, by nature, are never simple. For one, conflict is inherent in the nature of contract negotiation, as players continue to hire high-priced agents whose primary job is to get the absolute best possible deal for their client. Indeed, any perceived opportunity to gain leverage is a potentially lucrative battleground for an agent negotiating on behalf of the player(s) they represent.

This inherent conflict presented itself recently with Marcus Mariota, who was selected No. 2 overall in the NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans. While Mariota might have gone early in the draft, he was the last rookie to sign his contact this year; his representatives and the Titans were at odds about offset language, which, in simple terms, allows a team to recoup some guaranteed money if the player is released and signs with another team. Traditionally, teams request offset language and get it without contest. However, that was not the case with Mariota. Both sides took a hard stance on the issue. Ultimately, the parties met in the middle and included partial offset language.

No matter how simple a contract seems on its face, agents will find any opportunity for leverage on behalf of their client and go after it. With the decreased amount of flexible factors in rookie contracts, agents are forced to get creative to in order to remain a relevant asset in rookie contract negotiations.

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