Steinberg: How to be a great sports agent

Signing season for college football players who are eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft has begun. Players at colleges whose teams have finished their season and are not in a bowl game are free to sign with agents now.

Those players whose teams are participating in the endless array of postseason bowl games must wait until that final game has been played. The bowl games start on Dec. 21 and end with the BCS Championship game Jan. 6.

Players who graduated from high school over three years ago by next June (juniors or redshirt sophomores) have until mid-January to renounce their collegiate eligibility and enter the 2014 Draft. Once they declare, they too can sign with agents.

The signing process is hyper-competitive. The perceived glamour of the profession has spurred hundreds of agents, many more than the available draftable players, to attempt to contact players or their parents. Universities like Stanford and UCLA have responded by banning agent-player contact during the season. They conduct "agent days" on campus with players choosing who they would like to meet with.

Agents prepare written material to impress players and parents.

These decks have biographical information on the agents and other personnel. They describe the services that the agency provides. They outline the approach to scouting and the draft and contract negotiations that the agent is offering.

Veteran agents emphasize their previous contracts and clients. The 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement narrows the negotiability of rookie contracts. In 1993 I locked our attorneys in the office and did not feed them until they found ways to get around the cap. We had Drew Bledsoe who was the first player selected. We used voidable years, void buy-back, second-year options, not likely to be earned incentives and escalator clauses to insure players were handsomely paid. These techniques are now barred. Or as a NFLPA official told me this summer — "This is the anti-Steinberg clause."

We profile players to make sure that they are interested in being role models and using football as a springboard for second career. These players almost always have parents or panels involved. A limited group of agents are invited to make presentations. The panels are armed with a set of questions provided by the NFLPA. These include probes of fraud or criminal involvement, disputes with former clients, how many players the agency will represent for the draft, and how many at the players' position. These parents and panels have done due diligence and research. At the end I could be confirmed for Secretary of State.

At this point, the player may choose several agents to spend time with.

To successfully represent a player, an agent needs to understand the unique priorities of that player. Asking the right questions and listening to the responses is key. Men don't share as easily. Trust and bonding need to be established.

Parents and coaches and former players may weigh in, but usually it is the player making the final decision.

Most agents use negative recruiting to denigrate their competition.

One prominent agent told players and parents that I had been fired by an Oakland Raider player for incompetence.

I had never met the player or been involved with him. In 1992, a player, who would have given us seven first picks in the draft in a row, wanted to sign with me.

A competitive agent convinced his father that he would be guilty of "parental malfeasance" if he allowed the player to sign with me.

I never met the father and that agent did not end up signing the player.

I use the time to outline what positive things our agency can provide.

I do not want a woman to marry me because I convinced her that all other men are ogres.

The restrictions in rookie player contracts return the emphasis to issues like role modeling, second career, player safety and the all-important draft process.

The scrum has begun.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

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