If you had never heard of Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam before this week, I understand you being a bit skeptical of his decision-making abilities. Calling out Calvin Johnson before a must-win game probably isn’t the best idea.

But believe it or not, Elam made the best financial decision of any rookie drafted in the 2013 class by not hiring an agent.  And given the standard 3% that most NFL agents take from their clients’ paychecks, he saved himself over $200,000 in the process.

The 2011 addition of a rookie wage scale has exhausted an agent’s ability to negotiate a rookie’s contract. Rookie contract lengths are now predetermined (all contracts are four years, while teams have a fifth year option on their 1st rounder’s), and each team has a Year One Allocation Pool & and a Signing Bonus Allocation that’s determined by where their draft selections are.

So what does this all result in? Let’s look at the first pick of the 2nd round, or the 33rd overall selection since the inception of this rookie wage scale:

Ras-I Dowling2011NE2.1 (33rd overall)4$5,304,098$2,357,528$3,699,960
Brian Quick2012STL2.1 (33rd overall)4$5,386,599$2,357,000$3,822,373
Jonathan Cyprien2013JAX2.1 (33rd overall)4$5,469,104$2,357,528$3,916,124

Shown above are almost identical contracts for these three players who occupied the same draft slot.  Now let’s look at the last pick of the 1st round, or the 32nd overall selection.  This is where Baltimore selected Matt Elam:

Derek Sherrod2011GB1.1 (32nd overall)4 (5th year option)$6,602,002$3,301,456$5,326,729
David Wilson2012NYG1.1 (32nd  overall)4 (5th year option)$6,683,979$3,301,456$5,382,979
Matt Elam2013BAL1.1 (32nd overall)4 (5th year option)$6,767,002$3,301,456$5,439,229

Again, the contracts are almost exactly the same.  While all three players received identical signing bonuses, it was actually Elam, who was representing himself, that received the most in both total and guaranteed money.

Elam has stated that he plans to hire an agent for his second NFL contract, where negotiations aren’t nearly as cut and dry. And with the way the sports agency industry works today, agents certainly do more than just negotiate contracts. They often pay for their clients’ pre-combine training, help with financial planning, and even guarantee future marketing revenue in certain cases.

With college bowl season around the corner, players will begin choosing their agents in bunches. It will be interesting to see if any incoming rookie attempts to save himself money by following Elam’s lead after Elam proved successful in negotiating his rookie contract.

Andrew Cohen