'State of the Union' theme headlines NFL business retreat in Miami

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- NFL agents Adisa Bakari and Jeff Whitney experienced a hint of deja vu this past weekend. As the annual Sports and Entertainment Group business retreat -- which started in 2007 -- reached a decade milestone, it was highlighted with an appearance from NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who spoke directly to players about key issues facing the league.

"It’s funny that we've kind of come full circle," Whitney told ESPN.com Saturday. "The first one that we did, we actually took our players over to the [NFL] Players Union. So many years later we've kind of come full circle and DeMaurice is here.

"It's grown exponentially. We've added different components every year, and I think we will continue to do that."

About 30 NFL players -- including Patriots running back James White, Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and Kansas City Chiefs sacks leader Dee Ford -- took part in the three-day retreat, which was held in Miami Beach for the third consecutive year.

The theme was to address "The State of the Union," and Smith's appearance was a first for the retreat and offered players a chance to have an up-close and open dialogue with their union leader.

"We want to make sure that players are communicating directly with their union reps," Bakari said. "So we want to have the president talk directly to them about some of the issues that are hot-button issues that are currently being addressed. Obviously player health is always at the forefront. We're preparing to go into a new negotiation and a new CBA in the coming years, and what are the issues that are going to be addressed during that process?

"Sometimes players go their entire careers without having a personal relationship with their president, and we want to make sure that's not the case with our clients."

In addition to this year's "State of the Union" theme, the retreat also put a heavy focus on preparing players for life after football. According to a 2009 Sports Illustrated article, by the time NFL players have been retired for two years, 78 percent have gone bankrupt or have come under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce. Bakari and Whitney drew attention to several recent headlines about NFL players losing millions of dollars, such as former NFL running back Clinton Portis, former linebacker Patrick Willis and Dallas Cowboys running back Darren McFadden.

There already are several success stories within the group. For example, Detroit Lions safety Don Carey owns 15 rental properties and is a published author. Former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew is a successful broadcaster for the NFL Network. Longtime veterans Antoine Bethea of the Arizona Cardinals and Kendall Langford of the Indianapolis Colts teamed up to open three "I Love Juice" bars.

"I wish I would have started earlier," Bethea told his fellow players during a panel discussion Saturday. "Focus on after football today. Think big picture."

Bethea and Langford didn't know each other until they began attending Bakari's annual retreat. Now, they are good friends and business partners.

"That's the idea for them to forge personal relationships that eventually lead to business relationships," Bakari said. "When you see that materialize and you see those relationships prosper, then it shows that we're doing our job and the retreat has a real effect."

The average NFL career lasts about three years. A player's life after football will last much longer, which was a point that was driven home several times this past weekend.

"At some point they're all going to transition," Whitney said. "We want to make sure their transition is as seamless and smooth as possible."