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What Drew Brees Can Teach You About Salary Negotiation

On July 13, 2012, the New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees agreed to terms on a 5-year, $100 million contract, a deal that included the largest amount of guaranteed money ($60 million) in NFL history.

Brees was able to do this because he may have had more leverage during his negotiation process than any other athlete in the history of pro sports.  If you want to increase your perceived value, your salary, and your future earning potential, keep the following 6 lessons in mind from Drew Brees’ career:

Lesson #1 (Results)

The more impressive your past results are, the greater your leverage during salary negotiation.

If you have a lot of free time on your hands, read through all of Drew Brees’ records and awards.  Going into the 2012 season, he currently held more than 50 NFL records and more than 20 franchise records for the New Orleans Saints, including the following:

  • 2-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2008 and 2011)
  • 6-time Pro Bowler (including the last 4 seasons)
  • Super Bowl Champion and MVP (2009)
  • Single-season record-holder for most passing yards in a season (5,476 yards in 2011)
  • Highest completion percentage (both in the regular-season and the post-season) among all quarterbacks in NFL history

Lesson #2 (Ripple Effect)

The more you make the people around you better, the greater your leverage during salary negotiation.

Brees doesn’t just deliver results on his own, however.  His work also has a positive impact that makes everyone else around him better.  When Brees signed with the Saints in 2006, he inherited a perennial doormat (sorry, Saints fans).  However, he not only made the Saints legitimate, he made them into a perennial powerhouse feared by the rest of the league.  Here’s a more specific example of Brees’ impact on those around him.  In 2011, Saints’ tight end, Jimmy Graham, had 99 receptions for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns.  If not for the even more impressive season by Rob Gronkowski, tight end for the New England Patriots, Graham’s year would have been the best statistical season by a tight end in NFL history.

Lesson #3 (Revenue)

The more money you make your bosses, the greater your leverage during salary negotiation.

Brees wasn’t able to sign a $100 million contract just because he gets results and makes other people around him better.  He’s gonna make 1 million “Benjamins” over the next 5 years because his work has a direct impact on all of the major revenue streams for the New Orleans Saints (i.e. merchandise/concessions, ticket sales, and sponsorship/advertising).  While teachers, counselors, and police officers can all achieve impressive results (and make the people around them better), none of them will ever negotiate a $100 million contract because they unfortunately don’t make their bosses rich like Brees does.

Lesson #4 (Rarity)

The rarer your skill set or expertise (assuming your skill set or expertise is also valuable), the greater your leverage during salary negotiation.

There are not many people in the world (i.e. less than 10 people right now) who possess the incredible physical/mental skill set that Brees has at the quarterback position.  If there were even 100 people in the world who could do what Brees does (at his expert level), he wouldn’t have landed a $100 million deal.

Lesson #5 (Right time/place)

Negotiate your salary at the right time/place.

One could argue that Brees’ best football might even still be in front of him, as he just came off the best statistical season of his career and has shown no signs of slowing down.  Brees obviously wouldn’t have been able to negotiate his current deal when he was 50 years old, even though everything else about his resume would still be impressive.  To be paid well, you also need to prove that you will be able to KEEP getting results.  This is true whether you’re an athlete or an executive.

In comparison to Brees, the rest of the Saints’ franchise has been marred in a disastrous scandal over the last few months.  What in the world would the Saints have done if they had been unable to come to agreement with Brees?  The team has been undergoing a PR nightmare for months surrounding “Bounty-Gate.”  As a result, their head coach is out for the entire year and other coaches and players also face major suspensions.

When you can stand strong as everything around you looks like it’s going up in flames, you gain even more leverage during salary negotiation.  You obviously can’t control this, but it’s worth keeping in mind.  I have to imagine Brees’ agent reminded the Saint’s brass of the team’s challenges fairly often throughout their negotiation.

Lesson #6 (Reputation)

The better your reputation as a human being, the greater your leverage during salary negotiation.

While revenue-generating results are important, it’s not just about the bottom line.  Intangibles are important as well, and Brees is world-class in this regard as well.  Check out some of his charitable accomplishments:

  • Drew and his wife, Brittany, started the Brees Dream Foundation in 2003 to improve the quality of life for cancer patients, and to support children and families in need.  Drew and Brittany, along with the foundation, have collectively committed and/or contributed over $11 million to a variety of charitable causes over the last decade.
  • In 2010, President Obama appointed Brees as co-chair of the newly renamed President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.
  • Sports Illustrated selected Brees as their Sportsman of the Year in 2010, largely due to his charitable work to help rebuild New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  SI also referred to Brees as “an athlete as adored and appreciated as any in an American city today.”

In a time when athletes unfortunately make headlines on a daily basis for DWI’s, assaults, or other off the field issues (to put it delicately), Brees is a breath of fresh air.  There’s probably a greater chance that you could beat Michael Phelps in a swimming contest than there is that Brees will have any off-the-field issues.  He epitomizes what it means to be a professional athlete.  Even if you have no interest in football, Brees’ character alone gives you a reason to want to support the Saints and the NFL, and he’s an incredibly low-risk investment because of how he handles himself off the field.

So, let’s sum it up… While you might not be able to negotiate a $100 million contract, you can definitely increase your earning potential and make a lot more money by learning from Drew Brees.  Remember the 6 R’s throughout your career and during any salary negotiation: Results, Ripple effect, Revenue, Rarity, Right time/place, and Reputation.

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