Weidner’s Words: A players’ league

The NFL Scouting Combine took place over the past week, where most of the draft locks and hopefuls hope to impress teams with their athleticism and skill. Central Florida linebacker Shaquem Griffin stole the show with the fastest 40-yard dash time for a linebacker in more than a decade, running it in 4.38 seconds.

Behind all the drills and interviews, though, there was another slightly overlooked story at the Combine. That is of Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who is entering the NFL draft this offseason in a somewhat unconventional way. Rather than hiring an agent like most players typically do, he will be representing himself throughout the draft process. Jackson told reporters at the Combine that he did not think an agent would be necessary for him to navigate the draft process, given the already scaled initial rookie contracts for draftees.

While Jackson is probably right that an agent is unnecessary for a process in which salaries are locked through the rookie wage scale, it means something to see another big-name prospect bucking the usual trend. In the 2016 NBA Draft, the top prospect out of University of California – Berkeley and eventual No. 3 overall pick, Jaylen Brown, also chose to navigate contract signings and sponsorship deals without an agent. On his decision, Brown said, “Understand that you can speak for yourself and you can advocate for yourself. You don’t need somebody in every aspect to do that for you.”

One can wonder whether these decisions by Jackson and Brown were influenced at all by the actions of players like LeBron. LeBron, through his own free agency decisions and personnel control, has blazed the trail for giving power and agency back to the players in the NBA and allowing them to take some control over their earnings and their own destinies. New players coming into the NBA see how LeBron, Kevin Durant and others took control of their careers as a model.

Another recent example of power being shifted to players is Big Baller Brand. While LaVar Ball sometimes seems to be in the media too much, it is interesting to wonder if that is because organizations like the NCAA and the NBA are worried about what he might represent. A talented player like Lonzo Ball just created his own brand, instead of signing with Nike or Adidas. LaVar has also initiated talk about creating another pre-NBA league, as an alternative option to college basketball for high school prospects. His other two sons have already pushed aside the NCAA to play for professional teams in Lithuania. Despite wide criticism of many of these moves, it shows a player and his family taking power away from the big corporations and leagues that usually control sports, and putting it in their own hands.

For most of the NFL draft prospects this year, their careers will unfold in a pattern similar to those of most players who have come before. However, players like Jackson, Brown and Ball are forging a path that has the potential to fundamentally change how college and professional sports operate.