Life of an NFL Agent During Free Agency

Marc Lillibridge@NFL_BridgeContributor IMarch 19, 2013

Mike Wallace was a big winner in free agency
Mike Wallace was a big winner in free agencyUSA TODAY Sports

Life as an NFL agent can be as exciting as it is stressful. By running my own agency with 20-plus clients, I can say with confidence that free agency is a period when both terms apply. 

This year, with so many cap casualties, the free-agent market was flooded with talented players who have logged significant game time. With a market like that, promptly securing the free-agent dollars is key. 

There are tiers to free agency, and unless an agent represents a player at the top of his position, the money dries up quickly. This reality is especially true for three positions in 2013—cornerback, defensive end and offensive tackle. 

Cornerbacks like Nnamdi Asomugha, Antoine Winfield and Brent Grimes are still on the street. At defensive end, Osi Umenyiora, Dwight Freeney and Elvis Dumervil are all without contracts. 

Jake Long needed until Sunday night to make up his mind, which slowed up the offensive tackle market, but Sebastian Vollmer and Andre Smith will get less than what their projected value was this late into free agency. 

Though agents must be skilled in contract negotiations, they can't overlook any of the minor details. 

Look at the case of Marty Magid, the former agent for Elvis Dumervil. In a classic case of “he said, he said”, Dumervil was released by the Denver Broncos due to a lack of communication. Essentially, Magid lost his best client over a fax snafu and a compressed timeline. Talk about stress. 

I just wrapped up a free-agent deal for one of my clients, outside linebacker Antwan Barnes, who signed with the New York Jets on Monday. Antwan and I went into this period with a plan in place, but with the understanding that free agency is a moving target. 

The market for Barnes was decent, but once players like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril took less than what their perceived value was, just getting a contract done was the most important thing. 

The biggest issue for any free agent is gaining leverage. Even if the leverage is not real, having perceived leverage can work just as well.

The San Diego Chargers, Antwan’s last team, let me know earlier this year they were moving in a different direction and would not be bringing him back. This helped us formulate a plan for free agency. 

Barnes is from Miami and preferred to stay east of the Mississippi River. He would not turn down a job out west, but his hope was that a team on the East Coast would be interested. 

After considering the likely movement of other players at his position, I targeted eight teams that I believed would be a good fit for Antwan's skill set. I put out feelers at the NFL Combine that Barnes would not be signing back with the Chargers and worked on gaining leverage. 

Most teams viewed Barnes as a potential target after Avril, Paul Kruger and Connor Barwin signed, so I knew we would have to wait until Thursday or Friday for a deal to happen. 

I can honestly say the signing that I did not foresee was the Indianapolis Colts bringing in outside linebacker Erik Walden. I know Walden had his moments with the Green Bay Packers, but I would have never envisioned him signing a four-year deal worth $16 million.

That is what makes free agency exciting for some agents, and stressful for others. If I was Walden’s agent, I would love the deal and of course sell that to future clients. But for the other agents like myself with outside linebackers on the market, there must be an explanation as to why we did not get them that deal. 

When free agency opened on March 9, I was in contact with nine teams that had expressed interest in Antwan. Once March 12 hit, I eliminated four of those squads due to signings they made that day.

Once March 14 arrived and the Jets asked to get Antwan on an airplane, I knew that would be our best fit. He knew head coach Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman from their time in Baltimore together. I had been talking to Scott Cohen, the assistant general manager, since March 9, and knew the Jets had interest. 

What I did not have was much leverage. Bennett and Avril had just signed deals in Seattle for below market value, and with Barnes coming off an injury-filled year, I was worried about getting him signed as soon as possible. 

After his visit in New York on Friday, Antwan called me and told me to get a deal done. He wanted to be a Jet. But as much as I loved his enthusiasm, my job is to try and secure him the best contract possible. 

Knowing the Jets reciprocated Antwan's feelings felt great on Friday night, but free agency is a fickle beast. Nothing is truly guaranteed until the ink is on the paper

Antwan got his flight back to Miami on Friday night as I tried to drum up more interest from teams needing a pass-rusher. I got a couple bites, but no one willing to bring him in for a visit until after the owner’s meeting this week in Arizona. 

I did not want to wait that long, so I was relieved when Cohen called me Sunday to start the negotiations. After working through many different scenarios on structure, length and bonuses, we came to an agreement

Antwan Barnes @AntwanBarnes42

Now its official#jetnation http://t.co/E0yb8OOoHR

Don't get me wrong; I'm happy with the contract and that Antwan is on the team he wanted to go to. But as a competitive agent, I wanted to get him more money and more guarantees. 

That is what makes free agency so hard. Every minute, every second, deals are getting done. Even if you're prepared, the landscape can change in an instant. 

Antwan is in the clear, but this victory will be short-lived. The stress of being an NFL agent will resurface again tomorrow as I worry about finding homes for my other free-agent clients.

If you're not constantly working, you risk letting down people that have put their trust in you. Worse yet, you risk losing them as clients.

Just like a player who wins the game on Sunday, Monday brings a new challenge, and reviling in the success too long will get you beat in the coming week.