Agents are a part of the NFL and all sports leagues really. Hell, they made a movie out of it with Cuba Gooding Jr and Tom Cruise playing the titular 'hero' Jerry Macguire. But with the NFL having gone out of their way to scale the rookie contracts, are agents even needed any longer?
Now, let me clarify that agents are surely needed for a player's second contract, so there is no question that they should still hold some place in the sport. However, when you think that players going into the draft can pay 15% or more of their salary and signing bonus to their agents, it begins to get a little more murky.
Keep in mind that the 15% in some cases is before taxes are taken out, making the total taken closer to 40% of the money these players are given being taken from them well before they can ever see a game check. Consider that most NFL players play for an average of only 3.3 years and you can see how losing 40% of your salary right off the bat can put players in the hole.
Look at another recent player who had to sell his Super Bowl ring in the Ravens' former linebacker Nigel Carr. Even though he was a practice squad member, he was able to earn himself a ring during the Ravens' 2012 Super Bowl season. Like a great number of players, that was his only season with an NFL team. Carr was only able to earn a single year at $390,000 before taxes, insurance, and his agent took his cut.
While few people can feel sorry for anyone that has a gross income of nearly $400,000, few people can understand the temptations that await new players, even those whose football futures don't look terribly bright. Friends that ask for money, relatives that expect you to pay for dinner out, parents that look at you as their mortgage payment. For many football players, getting into the NFL is like hitting the lotto; both good and bad parts of it.
Not having an agent on a rookie contract isn't going to be the difference on a player's outside influences, but it sure will give him significantly more of his own money. A more wise investment would be to take that pay without an agent getting his or her cut and get in touch with a trustful money manager to dole out money as needed with their advice on how to properly invest and spend.
Having an agent does open some other doors for you as a player that you probably wouldn't get otherwise, so again, I can see the enticing element to having one. Things like endorsement deals for the more known prospects and phone numbers of teams after a player is cut from training camp for those that were bubble prospects. But we do have to keep in mind that the world of agents isn't squeaky clean. They don't make money based on how many of their clients are still rich down the line, they make money based on how much money they can make for their clients. Part of the seedy world of sports agents also includes kickbacks from trainers that might not be the best place to go, money managers who are less reputable, investments that net the agent more money than the player will ever get. Sadly for these prospects the first people knocking on their doors, the agents, are so often wolves in sheep's clothing and they don't have the life experience yet to tell the difference.
So when it comes to rookie contracts, is it really that important to have an agent? Or can a prospect do better overall without one?