The League

Peter Schaffer
NFL Agent

Peter Schaffer

Agent and professor of sports law

Throwing in the Towel

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There are three certainties in life for an NFL player: death, taxes... and retirement.

Retirement from the NFL is something each player has to prepare for from the first day of rookie camp. Of course, no one can play forever, but not everyone realizes that the average duration of a player's career is less than 4 years.

The blessed players, whose careers extend into a second decade, face this do-I-or-don't-I retirement decision every off-season. Veteran players routinely have retirement thoughts this time of year. The decision to get out of the NFL player life is never easy. In fact, assisting a player make that call and with the transitional period to "normal" citizen is sometimes the most difficult task an agent has to do. However, having been a professional and well-regarded athlete can mean rewarding, lucrative post-NFL careers.

Take our client Jerome Bettis, who has gone on to be a successful broadcaster or Mike Rucker, former defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, who founded Ruckus House, a group of early learning centers focusing on the character of today's children.

Giving up a life where the salaries are huge, the endorsements are lucrative and the adulation and affection intoxicating is never easy. Yet this decision occurs every year amongst the veteran class of the league. In most instances, this is a private or family deliberation. In Brett Favre's case, this decision is very public, which makes the eventual retirement even more difficult.

The best and most effective strategy is to wait for the pain and torment of the season to subside. Players should never make the decision immediately after the season, whether that season ended in a raising of the Lombardi Trophy or the unceremonious conclusion short of the playoffs. "Life springs eternal in the spring" is the famous expression.

With the warmer and longer days comes renewed vigor, a reduction in the constant and daily pain from playing football and sometimes a player's mindset changes as the pain of the preceding year gives way to the anticipation and enthusiasm of a new season. Routinely, after years of playing professional ball, players' bodies tell them it is time to keep playing. This is an individual decision and the key is to know the player and help him and his family make the best decision for his future.

We were fortunate enough to represent the great running back and even better person Barry Sanders for his entire career. Given his early retirement from the league, we fielded thousands of questions from fans, players, and teams alike, as to why Barry retired "prematurely." The realization that I came to, the reason he retired from the NFL, was simply because he could! He was fortunate enough to be the highest paid running back in the league for a number of years, managed his money and spending wisely during his career and exceeded his own personal expectations for success in the league. This is the best way to go out, not being retired by his team or the NFL but having the ability to make that ultimate decision on his own. If all of my clients are this fortunate it is a blessing.

The key in these career and life decisions is to provide the player with all of the necessary information and criteria so they can make a knowledgeable, voluntarily and informed decision that is best for themselves, their families, their bodies and their legacy. This process needs to start not when the player's days are dwindling, but when his career is in its formative stages. The key is to make sure the player understands where he is financially, where he can be and where the family's values and goals are. Then the player has to ask if he has attained the goals set out for him at the onset of his career. A true and complete medical evaluation is also critical in this process, to determine long-term benefits and risks of continued performance.

The player and agent should also keep in mind the team's situation, and while there is no legal obligation to notify the team at any given time, the moral obligation to a franchise that has richly rewarded the player financially, supported the player and his family, and has a need to prepare for the upcoming season is to keep the team in the loop, informed and up to date as to the decision making process so they can plan appropriately for both the possibilities of the player's return as well as his retirement.

Brett Favre has been fortunate enough to have a great and rewarding career; he is arguably the best quarterback of our generations and perhaps all time. Yet he will face this decision, along with other players, this off season. One can only hope that he strives to keep his deliberations private, keeps the Jets informed, takes sufficient time to distance himself from the season, and yet does not allow it to drag on into the summer months for the benefits of all involved and affected (hopefully avoiding a repeat of last year with the Packers). Mr. Favre has earned the right to take his time and make a decision that is best for him and his family, but one can only hope that he goes out with the same class he has employed during his Hall of Fame career.

By Peter Schaffer  |  December 23, 2008; 10:27 AM ET  | Category:  New York Jets , Peter Schaffer Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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