How is it that an agent can sit on both sides of the table without a conflict of interest?
Despite appearances, the NFL treats such situations more like a real estate deal than a divorce.
A lawyer can’t represent both parties in a divorce. In Ohio and many other states, a real estate agent can work on behalf of the buyer and seller if both agree to the arrangement, called dual agency.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the players union regulates agents, not the league. And, according to union rules, dual representation is not prohibited as long as an agent discloses the names of any coaches, general managers or other management types he or she represents.
But when it comes to actually hammering out terms of the contract, LaMonte would likely pick a side, presumably the coach.
“My expectation,” said Scott Rosner, associate director of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania, “is that it would be an arm’s-length negotiation.”
“Arm’s length,” conducted as if the parties were unrelated, means Cleveland lawyer Fred Nance, hired as the team’s general counsel in late 2009, stepped up to oversee negotiations for the Browns.
Nance, managing regional partner of law firm Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and a candidate for the NFL commissioner’s job when Roger Goodell was hired, directed the team’s negotiations when Holmgren became president.
Nance, in an e-mail this week, deferred questions about his role and how an agent can represent both sides of the coach’s hiring to owner Randy Lerner, who declined to address the issue publicly.
LaMonte also didn’t return several messages this week.
Concerns about what constitutes a conflict of interest in sports agency reflects how the business is changing.
Coaches and team executives, not just players anymore, are represented and well-compensated. With so much turnover, head coaches — even assistants — hire agents to help protect and promote them. Merging sports agencies have also put more clients under the same roof.
So it’s not unusual to see players, coaches and management — even athletes who play the same position — represented by the same sports agency or even the same agent.
Besides Shurmur, LaMonte’s clients include Jon Gruden, John Fox and Marty Mornhinweg — all mentioned as possible Browns’ coaching candidates — and top executives from six other NFL teams.
Sports lawyer Rick Karcher, who directs the Center for Law and Sports at the Florida Coastal School of Law, said agents would suggest such representation is an advantage because it provides valuable connections, allows for insight other agents wouldn’t have and allows them to serve as a helpful mediator when two clients clash.
But the result can at least be the appearance of a conflict, given the interests at the negotiating table — how much to pay the new Browns’ coach and for how long — run counter to each other.
“I cannot imagine that the agent wouldn’t recuse himself from representing one of the parties,” said Roger Kaplan, who arbitrates agent disciplinary appeals for the NFL players union.
In 2005, the father of quarterback Matt Leinart refused to have his son represented by the agent who represented USC teammate Reggie Bush. Both were potential No. 1 draft choices. Leinart’s father saw that as a conflict of interest because he doubted whether one agent could fairly represent both clients.
Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at the Vermont Law School, said the remedy is just that simple.
“The fix is easy, at least in theory,” McCann said. “Get a new agent.”