For professional athletes, especially those players who have spent their entire career with one team, the twilight phase of an on-field career can be especially challenging.
When does a player call it quits? When does a team cut him loose? What is the sports agent's role in the process?
In the not-so-distant future, Braves third baseman Chipper Jones will be faced with some decisions. Unlike some aging athletes, Jones is still a force at the corner and in the lineup. He will be 40 next season and in the final year of his extension, though existing options and incentives could extend his career through 2013.
Around the game, iconic superstars like Jones are inching closer to retirement.
In New York, core players like Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, closer Mariano Rivera and shortstop Derek Jeter aren't getting any younger. Meanwhile, Cooperstown-bound catcher Ivan Rodriguez and Boston slugger David Ortiz continue to chase career milestones.
All of these stars continue to answer questions about diminishing ability or, ultimately, retirement plans.
Though athletes rarely ever want to step away from competition, sports agents play an important role in preparing the athlete for that difficult transition to life after their last out.
We don't manage or invest players' money, but certainly players look to us for advice and introductions.
When negotiating what might be a player's last multiyear contract for one of the game's longtime stars, it's critical to push that contract into the twilight part of the athlete's career.
Both teams and agents have no shortage of statistical models available when deciding how to value a player past his prime. Attempting to protect the player's downside and emphasize the upside is our goal.
The first goal is protecting the player's base salary using such things as their statistics, longevity, clubhouse presence, ticket sales, jersey sales and community presence. Attempting to load performance bonuses like innings pitched, saves, All-Star game appearances, Cy Young awards, Gold Glove selections and plate appearances (or lack of these) also protects both sides to allow the player's health and performance to dictate upside earnings.
Perhaps more importantly, players pay agents to anticipate for them both on and off the field, court or course. Part of that entails planning for life after sports.
With legendary Braves pitcher John Smoltz, our strategy was to prepare him for a day when his arm couldn't handle a full season.
We want athletes to have post-career choices and to make a seamless transition into the next chapter of their lives. With Smoltz, we identified broadcasting as a potential platform for him years before his last pitch.
We arranged broadcasting opportunities during All-Star games and postseason games to give him a taste of the broadcasting industry and to expose his ability to potential employers.
We also examined opportunities on celebrity golf tours and professional tour events that worked with his schedule, to offer him exposure to professional golf.
Off the field, an agent must capture the uniqueness of an athlete's platform with marketing deals that can prove mutually beneficial to the brand and the athlete. With the onset of social technology, athletes can elongate their relevance as well as utilize platforms to monetize their brands for their own or their philanthropic benefits.
Take Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, for example.
Gonzalez, an 11-time Pro Bowler, uses his website and Twitter following to expand and protect his brand. He's already authored a book on sports nutrition and owns a sports nutrition supplement company. In short, Gonzalez is well-prepared for the next steps in his career.
In today's world, it's critically important for athletes to take advantage of new media opportunities, social networking and any interactive tools that keep their brands sustainable and relevant.
As athletes approach the twilight of their careers there are many moving parts. Agents, players and their financial advisers need to work closely to anticipate years before the last out is recorded or the final buzzer sounds.