O'HARA: It's not surprising that Ndamukong Suh could take lead on own affairs

Posted Mar 4, 2014

Suh has not informed the NFL Players Association that he has hired an agent to negotiate his contract, leaving it open to increasing speculation that he will handle the bargaining with the Lions

If there is anything Ndamukong Suh has demonstrated consistently in his four seasons with the Lions, it’s that he has great judgment and the will to follow through on what he thinks is right for him.

With reports circulating that Suh is considering handling his own contract negotiations with the Lions, it is not surprising that Suh would eschew having a traditional agent and take the lead on his own affairs.

Suh has not spoken publicly on his contract situation with the Lions since the end of last season, and there is no reason he cannot hire an agent. He has one year left on his contract.

His only action on the matter has been to terminate his association with long-time agent Rosey Barnes. Barnes negotiated the five-year, $63.5 million rookie contract Suh signed in 2010 when the Lions drafted him second overall.

Barnes has not commented in any manner on Suh’s situation, except to confirm a month ago that Suh had informed him that he was changing agents.

Since then, Suh has not informed the NFL Players Association that he has hired an agent to negotiate his contract, leaving it open to increasing speculation that he will handle the bargaining with the Lions.

Assuming that is the route Suh takes, from his standpoint it could be a matter of Suh thinking that knows better than anyone what is best for him.

On the last year of his contract, Suh is due to make a base salary of $12.55 million, with a salary-cap number of $24.2 million.

Lions GM Martin Mayhew reiterated at the recent NFL Combine in Indianapolis that he expects to reach agreement with Suh on a long-term contract. However, Mayhew also said that after talking to Suh before the Combine, he expected to hear that Suh had selected a new agent to replace Barnes.

The free-agency signing period begins next Tuesday, and a new deal for Suh would lower his salary-cap number substantially, thus freeing up more cap space for the Lions to sign free agents.

As of Tuesday, the Lions were about $11 million under the 2014 cap of $133 million.

Suh would not be a pioneer in representing himself in contract talks, although the vast majority of players in all team sports are represented by agents. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, whose NFL career ended with the Lions in 2010, represented himself.

While the old expression that a person who represents himself has a fool for a client is popular in legal circles, Suh certainly is no fool. He graduated from Nebraska with a degree a five-year engineering program. He travels extensively and exposes himself to the world outside the playing field.

However, there are pitfalls in self-representation.

“None of them are necessarily slam dunks, but there are factors to consider,” said Vince Wellman, a professor at the Wayne State Law School who specializes in contract law.

Agents act as a buffer between management and the client, which in turn eliminates potential hard feelings stemming from the give-and-take of talks.

“One advantage of having an agent is having someone who can do a better job of taking a step back and getting perspective on what really matters,” Wellman said.

“Another advantage is, it’s sometimes possible to divide and conquer – good cop vs. bad cop. The good cop says some things that the principal doesn’t want to say herself or himself.

“The third thing an agent can do – and this is a function of an agent’s experience and knowledge – the agent thinks about things that the player won’t necessarily think about.”

There is a tradeoff, though.

“If you have an agent,” Wellman said, “you pay for it.”

The going pay rate for an agent negotiating an NFL contract is 3 percent. Assuming Suh gets a five-year extension worth in the neighborhood of $60 million, the agent’s take would be $1.8 million for the full contract.

As Prof. Wellman suggested, a player could hire a lawyer on an hourly basis for advice and to go over the details of the contract.

At Detroit’s top rate of $500 an hour, in order to bill $1.8 million a lawyer would have to work nonstop for 3,600 hours – or 21.4 weeks.