There’s a reason most college football players don’t make it in the NFL. They’re just not good enough. Likewise, there’s a reason most professional athletes don’t do well financially after their playing days are over. They’re not businessmen (or women). That’s why, at least when they’re playing, they have agents who understand business, especially professional sports.
But Richard Sherman, formerly of the Seattle Seahawks and now of the San Francisco 49ers, thought he could both play in the NFL and negotiate his own contract. Turns out that while he negotiated his own contract, he didn’t do such a great job of it, at least by NFL standards.
Sherman just signed a three-year contract with the 49ers that is reported to be worth $39 million. Fantastic, until you look closer at it. For next season (2018) he is guaranteed $2 million. Now to most working joes and janes, that’s a nice payday. But to a superstar like Sherman it’s a pittance. Under the NFL collective bargaining agreement, a player with Sherman’s experience (7-9 years) is entitled to a minimum salary of $935,000. That’s just for being on the team.
If Sherman plays, and plays well, he’ll get substantial bonuses, called incentive bonuses. But if he plays poorly or doesn’t play because of injury, he can be let go at the end of the season. Sherman is coming off of two serious injuries and his ability to play in the future is in some doubt. Still, most commentators feel Sherman sold himself too short. For his part, Sherman said in an interview with MMQB.com, “I don’t think any agent in the business could have done a better job of negotiating this contract. As long as I’m content with what I’m making, nothing else matters to me.”
Lawyers see this type of thing all the time. Clients come to us after the fact with a contract they’ve signed, complaining about how it’s unfair or doesn’t say this or that. Yet no one held a gun to their head to sign it. It’s mostly a problem of not knowing what you don’t know. Richard Sherman knows a lot about football. About negotiating a contract to play football, not so much.