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Money, networking, branding at heart of Miami business retreat for NFL players

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NFL agent organizing seminar about financial responsibility (0:40)

James Walker details what NFL agent Adisa Bakari is hoping to accomplish by holding a seminar on financial responsibility in Miami. (0:40)

MIAMI -- Take note of this staggering off-the-field statistic: 78 percent of NFL players go broke just two years after retirement, according to Sports Illustrated.

The average NFL salary in 2016 for players currently under contract is $2.04 million, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Many starters are making more than that amount, especially when contract bonuses are considered. Yet various pitfalls such as poor financial planning, tax issues, overspending and bad investments have led to financial hardship for more than three-quarters of retired NFL players.

One NFL agent is doing all he can to curve this alarming statistic. Adisa Bakari and his Sports and Entertainment Group, which is based in Washington, D.C., held their 2016 Annual Retreat in Miami Beach last weekend for about 40 NFL clients. Among notable players in attendance were Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea, Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs and Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith.

The business conference focused on educating players about financial responsibility and how to be better businessmen. The NFL is a multibillion-dollar industry. Players are getting millions of the pie, but statistics show they too often fail to maintain their wealth over the long term.

"You can't just assume that because you earn a certain amount of money that you have wherewithal to keep it or how to grow it," Bakari said. "So one of the things we decided to do was bring the players together every year before the start of training camp to instill certain life lessons as well as business lessons to help them mature as young business executives and business professionals. That was the impetus of it."

A half-dozen seminars comprised Saturday's conference. It began with two football-related panels called My First Year and Lessons Learned. First, second-year players had open and honest discussions about the ups and downs of their rookie seasons with the goal of educating the group's 2016 draft picks. Then, NFL veterans such as Bethea, defensive lineman Kendall Langford and retired running back Maurice Jones-Drew -- who combine for 29 years of experience -- offered advice on how they elongated their careers.

In terms of business, Bakari and Sports and Entertainment Group partner Jeff Whitney spent time educating players on the horror stories some of their NFL peers have experienced, and there certainly was no shortage of examples to choose from. The pair also explained how to identify good business opportunities and had a "Shark Tank" style presentation.

"The reason we do this is because we really want our players to understand the business of the sport on and off the field," Whitney said. "We want them to really see themselves for what they are, which are corporate executives.

"Yes, football is what they do. It's their job, but at the end of the day it's not the essence of who they are. If we use this game and their God-given abilities, we can do so much more."

The program, which is in its sixth year, is paying dividends.

Bell has been making music since he was 13. But the star running back chose not to go public with his musical talent during his college career at Michigan State or in the NFL with Pittsburgh until recently.

"I think it's really important," Bell said. "I don't want to be just known as a guy who is playing football. I'm going to use football as my platform to open up other things. I know I'm talented in other areas in this world, and I really want people to know that."

Taylor, who completed his first year as the starting quarterback for the Bills, has become the face of New Era in Buffalo. Taylor said the business partnership makes sense because he always had an interest in fashion, which is an area away from football where he wants to grow.

"It's definitely important to leverage your brand," Taylor said. "I think getting down here and listening to the guys he brings in, meeting new faces, it's basically networking. To be in front of those people that ultimately watch you on Sundays, whenever they get a chance to actually meet you, it's very important."

Another example is Jones-Drew, who retired in 2015 after a successful nine-year career and transitioned into television with the NFL Network.

The average career span in the NFL is between three and four years. Part of the program consists of helping players find their second interest during their careers to help make the transition after retirement much easier.

"We talk about life after football very early," Bakari said. "In my mind it's very challenging -- almost impossible -- to wait until retirement to then say, 'OK, now I want to become this.' You can't become something overnight, regardless of how much money you have.

"So we start exploring what the players' passions are away from football. There may not be many. But they may come across something that quite frankly fuels them and does their heart well such that they want to commit to that thing."