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ESPN Insider: Keys to negotiations: focus, listening


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Keys to negotiations: focus, listening

By Randy Mueller

ESPN Insider


Editor's note: This column was written before Randy Mueller joined the Miami Dolphins front office on Monday, June 6.

As we have seen in the past couple of months in some NFL cities, player agents can cause a stir – not only to any front office but also to a fan base.

Drew Rosenhaus has become Public Enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia because of the contract dispute between the Eagles and wide receiver Terrell Owens. One can argue the merits of agents and what the agent's job should or should not be, but we can agree that agents are here to stay. They have become part of the everyday fabric of NFL business. Sometimes the negativism a controversial holdout can cause is what we hear about most, but those are really few and far between in the big scope of a relationship between club and agent.

I've always thought a good player representative can serve in so many ways above and beyond just negotiating a contract. In probably 80 percent of all cases, an agent is a positive for team decision makers and can help facilitate communication with the player in many ways.

As a general manager, I always took it upon myself to make sure the relationship between the club and the agent was on solid ground, even if a particular agent had different beliefs and principles. I never let any difference manifest itself to become personal or a detriment to making a future deal.

I have argued hard with a particular agent for weeks over a deal neither of us wanted to make and, after that deal was completed, made another deal in 10 minutes regarding another player. Each deal has to be a separate set of circumstances without any hard feelings or repercussions from previous dealings. Sure, it's very hard sometimes, but I think you're doing your team a disservice if you can't get something done because of personal issues between the two negotiators.

There is no question that agents in general have become more involved in everyday dealings of NFL teams since the advent of the salary cap and free agency in the early 1990s. I've always been willing to listen to their point of view and hear them out. You might not agree, but you might learn something that can help you or your team down the road. Almost every player now has representation, and every transaction or contractual dealing involves communication with this representation.

Sure, there are some guys I'd rather deal with than others, but in my two NFL stops (and 19-plus years in the league), I've never not signed or drafted a player because of tough dealings with his agent. It's my job as the negotiator to get a deal done, and you have to have confidence that you're going to succeed.

I've found that the easiest type of agent to deal with has these components: He has many clients; is well-versed in the rules and guidelines; is not looking to make a name for himself with every deal; and is not afraid to pull the trigger on a deal that is win-win for both sides. Frustration comes when dealing with inexperience, where you waste a lot of time educating the other side as to what can or can't be done within the collective bargaining agreement. Or when you're dealing with someone who has to hit a home run with every deal.

The most effective agents are the guys who remember they're working for the player, and it's the player's agenda that should be in the forefront – not the agent's. It has always seemed that the best, most qualified agents (the top 10 percent) have 80 percent of the players – and that's a good thing for the guys who run NFL franchises.

In my opinion, though, sports agents in professional football don't carry the same clout as in MLB or the NBA. Not because they aren't as persuasive or effective, because they are, but because of the more partnership-friendly CBA that exists between those other leagues and their players' unions. I see agents in other sports facilitating trades, releases, etc., and that just doesn't happen very often in the NFL.

Some agents in the business have become some of my closest friends over the years, and I think sometimes they get a bad rap as a group for the actions of a small few. I'll be the first to say that some guys "just don't get it," but I believe the public gets to weigh in now more than ever and judge both the club's and agent's performance.

That's a good thing, in my opinion. Public perception and scrutiny go a long way toward keeping us all in check.

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