How Lardarius Webb Got $50 Million: An Agent's Guide to NFL Contract Negotiation

Marc LillibridgeContributor IAugust 9, 2012

Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire
Tom Cruise as Jerry Maguire

“Show me the money!”  “Show me the money!”

In my six years of being a NFLPA certified contract advisor, I have never had to yell those words to a client. Jerry Maguire was a good movie, and though every agent claims the plot was based off their life, let me assure you, the movie was fictional, and the characters were actors.

Being an NFL agent is not glamorous. Like any career, there are perks like attending NFL games, talking shop with NFL coaches and personnel and maybe getting invited to some good parties. But at the end of the day, being a great agent is securing your client the best contract possible. 

An agent is hired to maximize the amount of dollars a player can make. The average NFL career is less than four years; my job is to get my clients paid so that when they retire, they can live comfortably and stress-free financially.

The new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) is very dollar-friendly to established veterans and was a major key in my ability to complete a deal for a total of $50 million for Baltimore Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb.

I was one of only two or three agents who recruited Webb out of Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La. I had watched some video of him from his junior year when I was recruiting his teammate, safety Kareem Moore.

Side note: As a former player and scout, I will say this; if I watch a player on film, nine out of 10 times, I can tell you if he is going to make the NFL. I try to watch at least three games of any player I recruit, and this helps me identify the players as well as coach the players when I recruit them. Good players want an agent they can relate to and who speaks their language.

Anyway, after watching Webb play, I knew he was going to be special. I got his cell number from Moore and went about selling him on myself and the agency. Webb is the only player in NCAA history to win offensive, defensive and special team’s player of the week in a season, so I knew I needed to be his representation.

After his senior year, I flew Webb to St. Louis to have a face-to-face meeting about the services I could provide for him and his family. We hit it off from the second he got off the airplane, and by the time he was flying home, he said he was ready to sign. The one thing I told him before he got on the airplane was, “If you work hard to chase your dream, I will work hard to help that dream become reality.”

Webb was excited to get training for the NFL combine, and the work he put in paid off. He ran 4.37-second 40-yard dash and even received praise on NFL Network from Deion Sanders.

When Webb was selected in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, I was ecstatic and as proud as I could be. But just because a player is drafted does not guarantee NFL success, so I had to keep reminding Webb over and over again, “If you make plays on the field, I will get you paid off the field.”

Webb started four games as a rookie in 2009 until the unthinkable happened. A torn ACL in Week 15 versus the Bears derailed what was, up to that point, an outstanding freshman year. Talking to him on the telephone that night made me want to cry, but he told me point blank that he was going to work his tail off and be ready to go by opening week in 2010.

The Ravens played the St. Louis Rams that preseason in St. Louis, so I went and met Webb at the hotel. We walked to a restaurant to get something to eat, and I could tell he was down.

I asked him what was wrong, and he just looked at me and said, “This injury makes me realize just how fragile a NFL career can be. Not everybody can be Ed Reed or Ray Lewis. Bridge, I will handle my business on the field, but you need to get me paid. I don’t ever want my son to want for anything.”

I can say when I was recruiting him out of college that I knew he was a special player, but at that moment, I knew he was going to do everything in his ability to be great. I had to be great for him as well.

After playing in 15 games in 2010, Webb was named a starter in 2011. He was in the third year of a three-year deal, and all I heard leading up to last season from him was how he was “gonna ball,” and I needed to get ready to talk with Pat Moriarty, the Ravens' vice president of football administration.  Moriarty handles the contract negotiations for the Ravens and is someone I have known for a while.

Webb did his part, securing five interceptions during the regular season and three more in the playoffs.  He also did not allow a touchdown all season. When one of my clients has a monster year like that, I begin to salivate a little—especially when we did not have much leverage with the Ravens. 

They would simply slap a restricted tag on Webb, which they did for a one-year salary of $2.742 million. If we could not negotiate a new deal before the 2012 season, Webb would simply play for the $2.742 number and become a free agent in 2013.

The risk there is if Webb were to get injured again, the Ravens could decide to put the franchise tag on him for the 2013 season. This is the part where being a good agent versus great agent comes into play: research. I had spent a majority of the 2011 season studying and comparing NFL cornerbacks’ contracts—not just the recent deals, but deals done historically as well.

I went back over Moriarty’s tenure with the Ravens and looked at all the contracts he had structured, both for unrestricted and restricted free agents. I knew the Ravens' draft history and how they covet certain positions. I looked at every possible angle to approach the negotiation and knew when I met with Moriarty at the NFL combine in February that I was as prepared as possible.

Webb and I had talked earlier in the year when he flew into St. Louis and decided that the magic number was $50 million. If we did not get that number, we would play out the 2012 season and hit the open market in March 2013. 

Putting aside the injury risk, I explained my plan to him. The Ravens had a lot of good young players whose contracts were coming up, and they could not franchise tag them all. Running back Ray Rice and quarterback Joe Flacco were the most prominent.

So, I knew the Ravens would want to get something done, and now, all that mattered was the magical number of $50 million.

Moriarty and I, along with my business partner Kevin Omell, did not talk numbers in Indianapolis. But we did open a dialogue about beginning to work on securing a new deal for Webb. I told Moriarty I would wait for his call when he got back to Baltimore, and we could start the negotiations in earnest.

I received the Ravens’ first offer on March 14 via email. Moriarty had done his homework as well and came out with a solid offer. But the offer was well below what Lardarius and I were looking for, so I started to crunch the numbers.

Teams use different structures when building a contract, but the Ravens are historically very basic and do not get caught up in escalators, workout bonuses, play-time incentives or likely-to-be-earned incentives.

Webb begged me to get him a bonus for every interception he got. I had to explain to him the Ravens do not work like that. Moriarty and general manager Ozzie Newsome are football guys and are willing to pay what I call “hard dollars.” Players earn those by being good and doing their jobs.

I responded to Moriarty’s offer with a huge number, far exceeding the $50 million we were looking for, to show Pat I had a structure of my own I wanted him to consider.  Instantly, my cell phone rang, “Bridge, you can’t be serious? There is no way we are going to match these numbers,” Moriarty said on the telephone. 

I told him to put the numbers aside and look at the structure of the deal. Negotiations are not about shoving a deal down the other guy's throat; they are about compromise. Both sides need to feel like they won.

Moriarty and I went back and forth for an hour or two, crunching numbers, looking at the length of the deal, etc. He was dead set on a six-year deal. I was OK with that, but I wanted to look at all the options.

We discussed doing a three-year deal. This way, Webb would get some instant guaranteed dollars, but if he continued to excel, he'd be free to come back to the negotiating table again while still in his prime.

There is no one way to structure a NFL contract, but being prepared allowed me to propose ideas to Moriarty that might have otherwise been missed.

At the end of the conversation, which was tense, but cordial, I told Moriarty that Webb loves Baltimore, his teammates and the coaches and wants to get a deal done. But at the same time, this is a business, and Webb will do whatever he needs to do to maximize his earnings.

We hung up deciding we would each look at the other's proposal and get back together in a week. The offseason training had not begun for the Ravens, so there was zero rush to force a bad deal. 

Webb and I had discussed that he would not sign the restricted tender until he absolutely had to, and I explained to him where we were in the negotiations. All he kept saying to me over and over was, “I need $50 million Bridge! I’m worth $50 mil Bridge!” I would play coy with him sometimes and tell him he should just be happy to be in the NFL, but kidding aside, I wanted the $50 million for him too.  My marketing director Dan Saffron, who had become one of Webb's closest confidants, would call me daily.  "Please get Webb the money.  He knows you are close Bridge."  I did not want to let any of them down.

I had my run as a NFL player, and I know how blessed I was to even get a shot. The reason I really love what I do now as an agent is helping other players live their dreams too. I’m also competitive; I want to get every one of my clients the best deal possible just for bragging rights. 

I may not be able to win with my legs anymore, but I sure as heck can win with my mind. And why wouldn’t I want to get my clients the most money possible? I am paid proportionally to what I secure them. I have two young children, one a daughter. I need as much cash as possible.

After a solid telephone conversation on April 2 and another round of contract discussions, I felt like we were on the verge of getting a deal done. Moriarty had agreed to my proposal of a $10 million signing bonus, but we were stuck on Webb’s base salary for 2012. 

I was aiming for higher, but he explained he needed to keep the base low for the lack of increase in the salary cap in 2012. The Ravens were up against the ceiling and looking to gain some relief. Webb was counting $2.742 in their minds due to the first-round tender he could eventually sign. By putting Webb’s base at $615,000, Moriarty was willing to increase his offer on an option bonus to $5 million.

The key to any good NFL contract is the guaranteed dollars in the first three years of the deal. Most of the time, teams will do long-term deals to spread out the signing bonus so their cap hit is not very large. Those guarantees were our next step. 

After much back and forth, we were able to agree on $20,615,000 guaranteed through the seasons of 2012-2014. If Webb is injured anytime between now and then and can no longer play football, he still is entitled to that compensation.

I was feeling very good about how the talks were going, but Moriarty was battling on one major point: the $50 million total. I did not sleep much on the night of April 2; I was going over and over in my head, thinking of ways to get to the $50-million mark that worked for us and the Ravens.

I presented my ideas to Moriarty the next morning, but he would not budge. We had come this far, and I was scared the deal may fall apart. But I also knew that $50 million had been our mantra from the start, and anything less would be unacceptable.

Like sitting in the locker room before a game, players are confident, but nervous, all at the same time.  That was how I felt all the rest of the day on the third. Moriarty and I spoke again on April 4, but I truly felt like all this work had led to a dead deal.

Then, at about 7 p.m. CT, I got a call in the office from Moriarty. He said he had spoken with ownership and was willing to meet our $50 million number. I never won a Super Bowl, but at that moment, I felt like I just had. 

We exchanged pleasantries, and as Moriarty continued to extol how solid the negotiations had been, I honestly did not hear anything he was saying. All I kept thinking about was picking up this happy-go-lucky guy from Opelika, Ala., from the airport and less than four years later, Webb had done exactly what he told me he would do. And I did exactly what I told him I would do.

The call to tell Webb the deal was done was one of the greatest calls I have ever made. I explained the deal point by point, and again, all he kept saying was “$50 mil Bridge? We got $50 mil?”

When we hung up, I sat in my car and cried. I had worked my butt off to do the best I could for a client and a friend. To know Lardarius Webb’s son will be set up for life because his father is outstanding at a game is amazing. And to say I played a part in that is all you can ask.