The search for the next executive director of the NFL Players Association is underway, and it’s now clear the kind of candidate the union wants for its next leader.
Sportico has obtained a document outlining what traits and attributes the NFLPA is seeking in the person who will replace DeMaurice Smith, who is in the midst of his final term as the union’s executive director, a position he’s held since 2009.
The document was produced by Russell Reynolds Associates, the executive search firm tasked with finding Smith’s successor. The nine-page memo details that the union is looking for someone with “future strategic vision” and a business acumen that will be useful as the job becomes more centered on commercial rights and players’ intellectual property.
Among other duties, the next NFLPA executive director will chair the board of OneTeam Partners, an athlete-focused licensing arm that has deals with players unions of other major pro sports leagues.
Smith’s fifth and final term could last through 2024, but Russell Reynolds Associates has already started engaging and identifying potential candidates. The firm is expected to shorten its list in coming weeks and allow serious candidates to begin meeting with players and explaining their long-term visions as early as next month, according to people familiar with the process.
The document mentions that it’s looking for a candidate who can seamlessly go from the board room to the locker room while working in a “transparent and consistent manner.” It’s an interesting choice of words, given that Smith has been criticized by players for lack of transparency. The former assistant U.S. attorney was also jabbed by some for giving into the owners too much in the last CBA negotiations, which resulted in more money for players but also a 17th regular-season game, which disappointed players, including stars such as Tom Brady.
The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) doesn’t expire until after the 2030 season. CBA negotiations and contract administration will be a “critical responsibility” for the next hire, as players look to increase their current league-wide revenue share of 48% and gain ground on other issues such as guaranteed contracts, minimum salaries and split contracts.
But since the CBA expiration date is still years away, the next hire can focus on other pertinent issues that typically get overlooked. One is improvement of the players retirement program, which includes a pension plan for eligible members. There are more than 10,000 retired NFL players.
Health and safety will need to be addressed as well, especially as it pertains to equipment. The league recently rolled out the Guardian Cap bubble helmets as a step toward preventing brain injuries, but concussions remain a hot-button issue in the wake of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s frightening injuries in October. Tagovailoa was knocked out during a game just a week after he’d staggered off the field following a hard hit, which led to public outcry and a change in the NFL concussion protocol.
The NFLPA continues to push for changes to field surfaces as more players are speaking out about non-contact injuries; NFLPA president JC Tretter recently said he wants all six NFL stadiums that still use artificial turf to convert to natural grass.
In addition to building relationships with players and other stakeholders, CBA duties, business expansion and advocacy on safety issues, the document points to another major responsibility for the new hire: being the face of the union. “The Executive Director,” the position specification reads, “also serves as the union’s lead spokesperson in the media and will be responsible for carrying the institution’s message to the public.”