When Lamar Jackson negotiates his contract after getting drafted, he should have no problems — even without an agent.
The NFL has a slotting system for each selection that essentially predetermines how much that player will make on their rookie contract. There isn’t much wiggle room.
The problem with Jackson’s decision not to sign with an agent for the 2018 NFL Draft — and to instead have his mother represent him — is all of the behind-the-scenes activity for which an agent is responsible. The contract is determined by how high Jackson gets picked, and an agent can play a huge role in how high the client gets selected.
The odd discussion surrounding Jackson has already begun. And agents are, in part, in charge of setting and monitoring that discussion. Former general manager and current ESPN analyst Bill Polian has repeatedly suggested Jackson move to receiver. But as a quarterback, Jackson is considered a fringe first-rounder, who many rank behind Josh Allen, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield. Jackson isn’t in the discussion to jockey for selection in the top of the first round like the rest of those quarterbacks.
Why shouldn’t he be? He was prolific in college as a runner and passer, and is drawing Michael Vick comparisons (from Vick). He was a tad inaccurate, and doesn’t have the freakish arm talent of Allen. But Jackson could — and perhaps should — be in consideration to be a top 10 pick. For now, he isn’t. And it’s hard to understand why. Perhaps an agent would be working behind the scenes, planting good thoughts in the ears of media members and making sure the right info was being communicated to teams, to help hype Jackson. Conversely, it wouldn’t be out of the question for some agents to intentionally badmouth him to media contacts and team sources in advancing their own clients and causes. Poor publicity can be a statement to future players who might consider not getting an agent.
The Combine will ultimately be the deciding factor for Jackson’s decision not to get proper representation. An agent can facilitate and prepare a player for the rigorous experience, during which Jackson can establish himself as one of the draft’s top quarterbacks if he excels with his measurements, his interviews and in his throwing session. If he has no issues, he doesn’t have to worry about not signing an agent.
If any or all of those things go poorly, however, Jackson puts himself in a tough situation.
He could find himself sliding down teams’ draft boards with little power to change their minds. An agent could help change negative dialogue surrounding Jackson, if any pops up. But Jackson would have to toe the challenging line of serving as his own public relations officer — if he wants to engage the media discussion. If he signs an agent late, the move might come off as desperate.
By avoiding an agent, Jackson has essentially decided to bet on himself as he embarks on the smoke-screen-filled landscape of the NFL Draft.