Meet the Lions punter trying to keep his NFL colleagues from going broke

Jeff Locke says his biggest advice to his NFL colleagues is "to take the time to actually find the right adviser" when trying to manage money and plan for their financial future. . Courtesy Detroit Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Jeff Locke looked around the room. He is a professional athlete, placed in high-pressure situations every Sunday during the NFL season. This, in a conference room in Santa Monica, California, was as stressful, if not more, than anything he saw out on the football field.

When Locke started his five-week internship at Dimensional Fund Advisors in 2015, he figured he would break down retirement plans; analyze 401K packages. Then his bosses came up with a proposal: spend time studying why professional athletes go broke and formulate a plan to help stop it.

Jay Totten and Joe Riggio of Dimensional Fund Advisors knew about the problem of NFL players going broke. They knew that after Locke's internship ended, he'd be heading back to an NFL locker room -- then as the Minnesota Vikings punter, now with the Detroit Lions. He'd heard the stories in Minnesota in his years before Dimensional, so why not use his internship to solve a real-world problem?

This led to the conference room and the presentation to his Dimensional colleagues -- all of whom knew more about finance than Locke did. Every intern does this at the end of the program.

"Twenty-five, probably, people in the room, execs sitting around," Locke said. "I'm like, 'Frick.' I think I was more nervous for that than for presenting it to my teammates. They actually know about finance, know about all that stuff."

Locke created a 45-minute PowerPoint package. He believed he found the causes of the problem. He thought he found a way, through his research, to stop it. Executives were impressed.

It gave Locke the template for what he wanted to do next: take the presentation and bring it to the Vikings. After refining it throughout 2015, Locke gave his seminar to Vikings rookies in 2016 and Indianapolis Colts rookies this preseason.

"I think he picked up enough concepts that are really positive," said Dave Butler, the co-CEO of Dimensional and a former professional basketball player who helped Locke get the internship. "And he's able to then translate them via his deck and his presentation, translate them to a format that is impactful and guys might say, 'OK, this is one of my colleagues saying it. That makes some sense.'

"That's really positive."

* * *

Poor budgeting. Spending money on extravagant items like multiple cars, multiple houses when the income didn't match up. Overestimating how much money from their actual salary they see. These were the obvious reasons that players had money problems, Locke's studies found.

Then there are things rookies might not pick up on: low-risk versus high-risk investment. Do you have a financial adviser? What do you know about him? Where is the adviser putting your money? What's the payment structure?

Locke created an online Google document survey, about 20 questions long, for players to email to potential advisers to help answer these questions. Every question required an answer. He has players ask for a potential adviser's Central Registration Depository (CRD) number and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing numbers.

This is the introductory email to the survey:

Dear Potential Financial Adviser,

Below is a link to a questionnaire that I have sent to all potential financial advisers. Please fill it out at your earliest convenience. Your answers will be cross-referenced with information available through FINRA and the SEC. Also, if I feel we may be able to work together, I will be in contact with NFL Security to conduct a background check.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to getting back in touch once I collect more information.


Locke leaned on his economics degree at UCLA, where he also worked with teammates and the National College Players Association on budgeting and cash flow, and his time at Dimensional to create the survey and his presentation. He extrapolated ideas from players who have no money in college to ones with massive paychecks for the first time in their lives.

"The first 10 are the weeding-out ones, like, 'Have you ever been investigated? Yadda, yadda, yadda,' " Locke said. "Then, if a player were to fill it out, then someone can go on the sites with them and you can literally check those answers to see if they are lying to you, like straight up on the CRD site."

Once the player gets the survey back, he can cross-check the answers on FINRA or SEC sites -- something with which Locke is willing to help. The player can also ask the NFL to do a free background check on the adviser.

As part of the survey -- and something he wants players to follow up with after -- he asks how the adviser will be paid. Don't just go with the guy who makes the most flattering pitch, Locke said.

"A lot of guys have no idea. A lot of advisers get paid out of the investment account so you don't ever see the statements, you don't ever see how much they are taking," Locke said. "These statements are in a different language, really, for most people. You look at them and there are all these financial terms that you don't even know what you're looking for in terms of the actual payment that you're giving these guys.

"So that's the biggest advice, to take the time to actually find the right adviser and know exactly how you are paying them and how much."

Responses have been positive. Players are more apt to listen because they see Locke daily in the locker room. Many rookies end up on special teams with him. He isn't a guy in a suit. He's the guy in sweats next to them. He is, in some cases, their actual friend. And he's looking out for them and their futures.

He can tell when he has captivated his audience of teammates. Eyes perk up. Heads raise. Notes are scribbled. In those moments, he knows he's getting through and potentially making a difference.

Locke can't handle his teammates' money -- although he plans to get into financial advising once his playing days are done. He plans to return to school for either an MBA or PhD. Anything he advises now is just to assist teammates -- including the type of adviser with whom they should invest.

"I personally believe that guys should be with fiduciaries that have the actual fiduciary responsibility, not just the broker-dealers that can find investments that are suitable for you," Locke said. "Fiduciaries have to find the investment that is the best for you and usually only charge in a way that's not commission-based. It's got to be a percentage of assets.

"Personally, I think that's the best way to do it, making sure your adviser is working for you. That's not to say there aren't broker-dealers and commission-based guys out there that do a great job."

So far, Locke has presented only to teams he has played for -- he's open to presenting to the Lions but has not done so yet -- but there are larger goals in mind.

"I'd love to present to every team, if we could," Locke said. "Just to help guys out."

That could end up being possible.

* * *

A year ago, Locke reached out to former Pro Bowl defensive end Patrick Kerney. After retirement, Kerney -- the husband of ESPN anchor Lisa Kerney -- became a financial adviser, now with NFC Investments.

Kerney has the years of experience Locke lacks. Locke observes today's locker room stories. Even though they were in the NFL in different decades, the same issues persist.

"Jeff and I, we are kind of just two birds of a feather so it was just sharing what we had seen and what we deemed to be the issues leading to the financial problems," Kerney said. "Unfortunately, the mystery is not there. The private allocation, which leads to either zeros or frauds or something of the like. There's the delusion where $10 million is a lot of money unless you're funding opulent lifestyles for 20 people. Not much money at that point. The belief that the home is an investment, which permeated the locker room when I was playing and Jeff says hasn't really changed a whole lot.

"And that was, I guess, it was fun to talk to a current guy who sort of shared [that] the same bad information that plagued the locker room when I was playing still plagues it."

Kerney has his own hour-long money-management presentation to NFL players. He tries to explain to players the concept of compound interest -- how spending an extra $100,000 as a 22-year-old NFL player might not seem like a huge deal, until they realize saving that money versus spending it could lead to $7.6 million over their lives. Like Locke, he stresses watching for excess fees charged by unsavory agents. He asks players how much money disappearing would it take before they decided to spend an entire week figuring out where it went.

The highest a player has gotten is $10,000.

"Then I show them what a lifetime of exorbitant fees will do on just $100,000 investment account and $100,000 becomes $268,000," Kerney said. "One million becomes $2.7 million. Ten million becomes about $27 million.

"And so basically I tell them, 'Look, guys, you've said you'd put in a week's worth of work to find out where $10,000 went. I'm showing where potentially, $2.6 million could go.' "

Kerney will present to Seattle, his sixth NFL team of rookies, on Monday.

Locke said that after he retires, he'd love to present with Kerney -- something Kerney is open to -- with the same goal: present to all 32 teams. Keep the players from going broke.

* * *

It has been a year since Kentrell Brothers sat in Locke's presentation. Brothers stuck around afterward to ask more questions. He listened to Locke break down how much of his money would go to taxes, agent and adviser fees, car payments, rent and other everyday expenses.

Then Locke presented the dollar amount left -- a number far smaller than the public contract figures thrown around even with the highest-paying rookie deals.

"Once you see that number that's left, it kind of hits you, like, we make a lot of money, but it's really not as much as you think it is," Brothers said. "It's enough. It's maybe more than maybe most people make, and it should be enough to keep you good for a while, but you've really got to take care of that stuff.

"You hear a lot of stuff about how players go broke and stuff like that."

As Brothers -- a fifth-round pick in 2016 -- explained this, his teammate, Jerick McKinnon, walked by. Eavesdropping, McKinnon quizzed Brothers on finances and checking advisers -- essentially Locke's entire program.

Brothers ticked off answers to McKinnon's questions. He would enlist Minnesota's director of security, Kim Klawiter, to do a background check on different advisers he was considering. Then, when he got the information back, he'd use that to help make his decision.

Locke, had he been there, would have been proud. This is what he wanted from the minute Dimensional came to him with the proposal for his internship work. The program he created has value. It is informing players. No investment is risk-free, but he's doing his small part in educating players to keep them from going broke.

NFL Nation Vikings reporter Courtney Cronin contributed to this report