Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff sat down with renowned Athletes First President of Team Sports David Mulugheta for the Black Sports Business Symposium's Down To Biz: Inside The Deal session, moderated by NFL Network Senior Correspondent Steve Wyche.
"This isn't the first time Kevin and David have met," Wyche said as he opened the conversation. "They negotiated one of the largest player deals in the NFL in 2020, when they negotiated Jalen Ramsey, the defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams."
The Rams traded two first round picks and a fourth to Jacksonville Jaguars to acquire All-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in the 2019 midseason transaction. Demoff discussed the Rams' approach to the deal. Their significant focus is what the player cares about most.
Going into the trade deal for Ramsey, the Rams knew that they were going to reset the corner market. The question was, 'by how much?'
Mulugheta helped Ramsey negotiate a five-year, $100 million contract with $71.2 million guaranteed, making him the highest paid defensive back in the NFL at the time.
"You felt good if you looked at the totality of the trade," Demoff explained. "The trade didn't start when you did the contract. The trade started when you acquired the player, so we felt we were getting great value."
Demoff was very open about the team's strategy to solidifying any deal, sharing, "The goal is not to win the deal. The goal is to get as many good players under contract as possible. We will always pay great money to great players." This led to the discussion of managing dollars in the organization. As everyone knows, the league's salary cap isn't going anywhere, so budget management is imperative when approaching any deal.
Following the 2021 season, the Rams conquered three major contracts. Demoff shared how the Rams freed up cap space after Super Bowl LVI and highlighted how the entire organization works together to make their deals happen, giving much praise to their ownership's support.
In turn, Mulugheta shared nuggets about how agents navigate the deal. The key is understanding the market's landscape and how each team orchestrates its roster.
Mulugheta represents numerous superstar athletes throughout the league. He credits his success to leveraging his relatability and credibility.
"I was lucky enough to not know better, even at the very beginning," Mulugheta said. "I wasn't aware that we weren't supposed to be in these roles. Initially, for agents of color, there's an entry barrier. That entry barrier is just representation."
He spoke about how his ethnicity creates a measurable relatability factor as most NFL players are Black.
"The biggest advantage as an agent is having a real relationship with your clients because you're going through these intense moments of negotiation," Mulugheta said. "We're talking about money that's going to change someone's life… they have to trust that you have their best interest in heart and that you can get done what you say you're going to get done."
Relationship building is key in the industry, no matter what side you're on, and step one is listening.
"Our job is to ultimately find out what the player wants," Demoff said. "What does the player want that's most important to them that you can try to help them achieve while you get some of the things you want? I think that's the balance."
Demoff made it clear that there's no best contract. The reward is success. In the Rams' front office, understanding the progression of the industry and the salary cap is a high priority while always doing what's best for their franchise.
On the agent end, Mulugheta focuses on finding the balance between long-term contracts with more guaranteed versus smaller deals.
"You can't look at this like commodities. We're dealing with people here so everyone's different," Mulugheta said. "You're not dealing with 12-ounce cans of Pepsi that are all the same. Every person is different. What's important to every person is different."
Mulugheta is a top NFL agent and the son of immigrants. Starting as an intern, he has solidified himself as one of the most successful and influential agents. His story inspires other Black sports agents to strive for success and he encouraged the audience of young Black talent to stay focused on their goals.
"I'm not the smartest guy out there, I'm not the best recruiter, but I work hard. I control what I can control, which is my work ethic." Mulugheta said. "It's about the long game. You have to focus in on what you want to do and understand that it's going to be a process. You're going to have to work for it, and there might be some sacrifices you're going to have to make."
The industry is continuously taking steps to increase diversity in all aspects of the business. Demoff spoke to the Rams' approach to creating the most talented front office.
"We want the best people," Demoff said. "We wanted the most talented roster we can find. I think the best way we find talent in any organization is to look at the places other people aren't looking. If you go look in the same pool, the chances you're going to hire better talent are unlikely. The one place you can always win is in talent away from the field. There's no salary cap. You can hire as many people, and you can also look in different places. For me, If you're looking in the same places all 32 teams are hiring, you're going to get the same results as all 32 teams. If you start to look in different places for more talented people who aren't as widely available, you're going to get better talent... and you're going to find them before the rest of the NFL knows they're talented."
The group left the audience with final tips about how to get into the industry, underscoring the value of one's network and past experiences.
To learn more about the Black Sports Business Symposium, visit www.blacksportsbiz.com.