Jon Herbst did not set out to be an NFL agent. As an attorney at the Royston, Mueller, McLean & Reid law firm, the Pikesville native was representing an NFL agent in 2013 when was presented with a proposition to launch an agency.
Shortly thereafter, Herbst, now a partner at Friedman & Friedman, formed PFS Agency with the help of two partners to provide NFL athletes with a full-fledged service to meet all of their needs.
A graduate of Pikesville High School and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, Herbst, 38, represents Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb, running back Terrance West and defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. All told, Herbst boasts a client list of about 12 players who are spread across a number of the NFL’s 32 teams’ 53-man active rosters and 10-man practice squads.
In his role at PFS Agency as vice president, Herbst negotiates clients’ contracts, handles all legal matters and serves as general counsel. He resides in Pikesville with his wife, Irina, and their two children, Madelyn, 2, and Sam, 3 weeks.
How did you end up becoming a sports agent?
It started out as side gig. It’s kind of funny how it happened. I represented another agent at a big agency who left, and he brought a bunch of his players with him several years ago. Basically, I just ended up going into business with him. He didn’t really have the ability to pay legal fees to set up a new company, and there was a dispute with [his] old agency. He told me, ‘Why don’t you go and get licensed, because I might need some help.’ The next thing you know, I’m a sports agent. It’s pretty crazy how it all happened and how it came together so quickly.
What does it take to get licensed and certified by the NFL?
Every sport is different in terms of what it takes to become a certified agent. In the NFL, the Players Association requires an agent to get certified. Even if you’re a lawyer and are licensed to practice law, you can’t negotiate a contract with an NFL club unless you’re certified by the players’ union. Every July, the NFLPA offers an exam, and you go to Washington, D.C., for a two-day class. At the end of the second day, you sit and take an exam. You only have to take and pass the test once, but you have to negotiate at least one contract every three years or you get decertified.
[The NFLPA] doesn’t want people to just go and take the test and say they’re an agent and not really be in the business. There are a lot of people who take the test in the hopes of starting an agency or breaking into the business. But it’s very difficult to do that unless you know someone.
How many clients do you represent, and where does that number put your agency in the industry?
In this business, it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. Right now, my agency has about a dozen players either on active rosters or practice squads. In terms of the number of players we represent, I would say we’re up there as one of the top 20 agencies.
We’re not exactly small time, but at the same time, we’re not on the level of some the huge agencies. We have a good niche market in that we have the experience and credibility and are able to effectively recruit some of the players who are a little bit off the radar from some of the big agencies. We’re able to provide the one-on-one attention that the biggest agencies just can’t when they have upward of 100 clients.
How do you sell prospective clients on your agency?
It’s competitive. This business is very cutthroat, and it’s not for everyone. We’re going up against big agencies who are promising all kinds of things. Some of them are doing things they shouldn’t be doing, such as giving [prospective clients] gifts, cars and things like that. You’re not actually allowed to do that, but it happens all the time. Those are the kind of factors we’re up against. We try to target the mid-round draft picks, even late-round picks, because it’s really hard to get a first- or second-round draft pick unless you are one of the four or five biggest agencies.