Three for Thursday: 3 Lessons You Can Learn from NFL Free Agency

As former athletes, we are all in tune to current events going on in the world of professional sports. Wednesday—for some of us—was a form of Christmas, as the NFL officially began its new league year at 4 p.m. With the beginning of that league year came a frenzy of new players looking to take their careers to the next level in free agency.

Now, unlike the NFL and other professional sports, your personal job search doesn’t include anything like the free agency period. A line of potential suitors usually isn’t waiting outside your door at 3:59 p.m. to deliver an offer for you to join their organization. Let’s face it, in comparison to NFL free agency, job searches in the “real world” are pretty boring.

Despite the fact that our personal job searches contain less of the dramatic than the NFL, there are important lessons to be learned this time of year by paying attention to what goes on in free agency.

Anyone who pays attention can see negotiations, leverage, salary discussions and many more components that are part of your job search. While I could go on with a list of 10 lessons you could learn from free agency after day one alone, keeping with tradition of “Three for Thursday,” below are our three lessons from this week.

Know Your Worth

You would think this is something simple that many people heading into a new job search would know, but many do not. In fact, I have seen extremes on both sides—people undervaluing themselves when looking for a new job (my mom is the biggest culprit on this side), and others overvaluing themselves because they have been passed over for raises at their current job.

When approaching a potential new job, you have to spend some time doing research on what the going rate is for the position you are applying for before you go on any interviews. There are plenty of resources out there for you, including and, just to name a few. Potential employers will be impressed you researched the going market rate for the position they are hiring for.

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Now, does this mean you are going to get the high end of that $75,000 to $130,000 range for the job you are applying for when you have the bare minimum experience they are asking for? Probably not, but it gives you a point of negotiation with potential employers—just like Travis Benjamin formerly of the Cleveland Browns took advantage of yesterday.

Heading into free agency, Benjamin was coming off his best season in the NFL by far in the final year of a rookie contract that paid him $779,250. Now, to normal job seekers this is a lot of money. But by NFL standards based on his production last year, Benjamin was grossly underpaid.

Benjamin and his agent did research of the market, and knew their worth heading into free agency. Combining his age and production in comparison to recent contracts, Benjamin landed a four-year deal worth $24 million to leave Cleveland and head to San Diego to play with the Chargers.

It is Okay to Leave

As former athletes, one of the most important traits you likely possess is loyalty. You develop bonds with your teammates and take pride in the desire to grow at your current job and achieve great things that you hope will get recognized and lead to promotions and more money one day—and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

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However, sometimes you reach a plateau of sorts with an employer. Advancement opportunities, salary growth and the additional responsibilities/personal growth you are looking for are just not there. This ultimately prompts you to talk to your manager or human resources about your options or path for growth in the company.

Now for some people, this conversation will end positively with a plan drawn up to meet your needs as a professional. For others, things are less clear and your find yourself back at square one wondering what more you can do to achieve your goals at your company.

For those of us here in Cleveland, we saw a similar situation play out in NFL free agency on Wednesday—as four free agents decided to leave the Browns to put themselves in a better position to achieve their career goals. Three of the four (Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz and the aforementioned Benjamin) were drafted by the team, while Tashaun Gipson was brought in as an undrafted free agent. All four players have spent their entire careers in Cleveland, leaving them with a major decision to make in terms of loyalty versus opportunity.

The ultimate goal of winning is usually No. 1 for all athletes, and none of the four experienced one winning season during their careers in Cleveland. Combine that with constant turnover in system, coaching staff and front office, and it was easy to see their personal goals were not being achieved with the organization. And at the end of the day, all four left for teams in a better position to win now.

What does this mean for you? Well it is quite simple, being loyal is an amazing trait to have—but if you are not accomplishing your career goals, it is time to take a step back and evaluate your situation. At the end of the day, the bonds created and success you have achieved are great, but ultimately you must put yourself in the best situation to further your career. Often, that means you have to leave your job to do just that.

Do Not Burn Bridges

If you feel like you have read this from me before, you did in an article written around the NBA trade deadline. However, in the age of instant-reaction on social media I feel the need to drill this message home as often as possible.

A great example of how to leave one place and go to another came from tight end Coby Fleener yesterday. Fleener spent his entire career with the Indianapolis Colts, however, the writing was on the wall for him to leave after the Colts paid big money to another tight end on their roster. Because of this, Fleener accepted an offer to leave the Colts for the New Orleans Saints.

At this point, he could have gone one of two directions. He could have taken to social media and blasted the Colts for not having faith in him and paying the other guy. Instead, he went the other direction—thanking the fans for their support and memories in Indianapolis, as you can see below. After that, he delivered a message to his new team and fans—telling them he was excited to join them and wanted to work toward bringing a Championship there.

It is simple people. Everything on the internet is saved somewhere. Do not be that person who destroys their employer on social media, because potential employers are going to find your social media accounts—and nobody wants to hire the person who is going to throw them under the bus one day.

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