Dallas Cowboys

Agent Leigh Steinberg says NFL salary cap, franchise tag should go

Sports agent Leigh Steinberg says it’s time for the NFL to drop the salary cap and franchise tag.
Sports agent Leigh Steinberg says it’s time for the NFL to drop the salary cap and franchise tag. AP

Leigh Steinberg is the agent who inspired the Oscar-nominated film Jerry Maguire. He’s represented football stars such as Troy Aikman and Steve Young, and baseball stars including Will Clark and to Ivan Rodriguez.

He’s been open about his battle with alcohol and how it affected his career in a negative way. But Steinberg has returned to relevancy in the football world, landing his biggest client in years — Denver Broncos rookie quarterback Paxton Lynch.

Lynch became the latest first-round draft pick represented by Steinberg, who has had more than 60 first-round picks and eight Hall of Fame players in his career.

Steinberg is offering a seminar at SMU for those interested in entering the world of sports business. Steinberg has more than 40 years of experience, and wants to pass that knowledge on.

The daylong seminar is Saturday, and is designed to give attendees a real-life perspective on how the industry works and go through hands-on exercises that will help them going forward.

The seminar is $375 for professionals and $250 for students, and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The purchase price includes a copy of Steinberg’s book and lunch, and those interested can visit venmo.com/steinberg-sports to sign up.

The Star-Telegram caught up with Steinberg about the state of the football industry.

The traditional concept that women had to be dragged into watching football to accommodate their husbands or boyfriends is being destroyed.

Leigh Steinberg, on NFL popularity

Why has the NFL become so popular? The country has gone completely football wild. They said nobody would watch Thursday night and, yes, they did. Every time they think they flooded the market or have too much content, they’ve proven them wrong. Every week in the fall, football is among the top shows in prime time. And what’s been added in large numbers is women. The traditional concept that women had to be dragged into watching football to accommodate their husbands or boyfriends is being destroyed. It’s just becoming more and more integrated as the nation’s most popular sport and most popular form of entertainment.

Does the franchise tag need to go away? Yes, but it’s the hammer that teams have and try not to exercise. As long as they retain it, they can use it in every negotiation as a threat. It’s sort of like the atom bomb. You have it, but the goal is never to use it. But football would be just fine without this.

It’s not free agency that causes the movement of players, it’s the salary cap.

Steinberg, on getting rid of the NFL salary cap

Does the NFL need a salary cap? I don’t think so. A team usually wraps up its seven to eight great players before free agency anyway. And, how it’s structured, there are so many bad effects, such as teams pushing rookie quarterbacks into playing because they can’t afford veterans. That results in Tim Couch, JaMarcus Russell, David Carr … and injuries play a disproportionate role in how a team does. You go from an ‘A’ offensive tackle, he gets hurt, then you have a ‘C-plus’ replacing him. So one bad blow to a critical position and then teams have to rely on rookies or minimum-salaried players. So it’s unnecessary for all those reasons.

When I had Russell Maryland with the Cowboys, he was the first pick. He was not ‘A-plus-plus’ but he was ‘A.’ They were very happy with him, but when he hit free agency, they couldn’t even afford him. It wasn’t an issue of $300,000; they just couldn’t afford him under the collective cap number. So it’s not free agency that causes the movement of players, it’s the salary cap. So you have Russell Maryland leaving the Cowboys, and Bruce Smith and Thurman Thomas leaving the Bills at the end of their careers. So it’s bad in that regard.

We’ll have sessions where students recruit a prospective athlete and we’ll critique them on that. We do negotiating exercises where people play general managers or agents and critique that.

Steinberg on what happens during his seminar

What do you hope people take away from your class? We get thousands and thousands of résumés from young people who want to be agents, work for leagues, teams, a conference, an athletic department, a players’ association … and there is very little information available in what needs to happen and how to break in. So I thought, let’s create something to help this next generation of sports agents have ethics, values and who are specifically trained to be effective. We teach a day how to clarify your own internal goals and values so that there is a fundamental understanding of why you’d be entering this field. Then we teach specific goals like how to recruit, how to negotiate, how to build a brand, marketing, damage control, creating a charity and walk the students through that. Then we’ll have sessions where students recruit a prospective athlete and we’ll critique them on that. We do negotiating exercises where people play general managers or agents and critique that. So these are specific skills which are applicable totally to an agent and largely to any other form working in the sports field.”

Drew Davison: 817-390-7760, @drewdavison

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