NFL's unspoken draft-day strategy http://www.philly.com/mld/dailynews/spo ... |N&is_rd=Y
Sometimes, teams make picks based on agent
By LES BOWEN mailto:email@example.com
WHEN DECIDING which prospects to draft, NFL teams look at factors ranging from 40-yard-dash times to the results of personality tests to how players perform in all-star games.
There's one variable that isn't an official part of any team's "draft book," though. It won't be written down on any of the printouts heaped on conference tables across the NFL this week, as the league prepares for the 2004 draft, coming up Saturday and Sunday. Team officials and agents interviewed for this article agreed it probably won't affect the draft position of most players - but it will affect some, even if they never realize it.
That variable is the person the team has to make a deal with after the draft - the player's agent.
"There are a few guys who always hold players out, and who don't re-sign them with the same team when the contract is up, whose players often end up getting the 'franchise' tag," one NFC front-office official said. He said if his team's football people wanted to draft a client of such an agent in the first round, where the stakes are highest, "we'd have to have a talk about that."
The player in question might be such a special talent that the team would decide to proceed anyway. But if he was pretty much the same player as another guy the team could draft in the same spot, whose choice of agent predicted less conflict and uncertainty, the team would take the second player, the official said.
A front-office official for an AFC team echoed those sentiments. For his team, he said, the lengthy rookie holdout is a big potential negative. At some positions, players who miss a decent chunk of training camp spend the rest of the season trying to catch up.
"I don't know if there's ever been an agent who would keep me from wanting to get the best player, but a guy you can't get [into camp] - if [the agent] is notorious for that, you're putting money into someone who won't help you the first year," the AFC official said.
This reluctance doesn't come as news to agents.
"Teams are anxious that the rookie season will be productive," said agent Leigh Steinberg, named this week to Sports Business Journal's list of the 20 most influential sports agents. "An extremely long holdout can retard a rookie's productivity and be a diversion in training camp. Teams try to stay away from those doomsday scenarios...When I talk to the parent of a player, I try to communicate an ability to get the maximum contract while getting a player to camp on time. That's the most difficult task, the trick of our profession."
This spring, one of the favorite topics of the NFL's gossip grapevine has been University of Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr.'s decision to hire agent Carl Poston, who along with his brother Kevin runs Professional Sports Planning, with offices in Texas and Michigan. The Postons - who did not return calls seeking comment for this article - are the player representatives whose names come up most often these days when team officials are asked to give examples of agents they see as "trouble."
Currently, there are six unsigned "franchise"-tagged players in the NFL, and three of them are represented by the Postons: Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace, Raiders cornerback Charles Woodson and 49ers linebacker Julian Peterson.
The Postons represent safety Lawyer Milloy, who was released by the Patriots in a salary dispute just before the 2003 season started, and Pats corner Ty Law, who currently is engaged in an acrimonious negotiation with the team he just helped to win the Super Bowl. They are feuding with the Redskins over whether the team agreed to provide $6.5 million the Postons say is "missing" from the contract linebacker LaVar Arrington signed in December.
"Guys that sign with the Postons will fall in the draft," the NFC team official said. He said such an agent choice would cause him to wonder about the player's mind-set.
"I wouldn't want to see them coming," the AFC team official said.
It will be interesting to see if his agent choice affects Winslow, son of Hall of Fame receiver Kellen Winslow Sr., who is considered a special talent on the order of his former Miami teammate, Jeremy Shockey. Lots of mock drafts have Winslow going around fifth overall Saturday - but there is speculation that the Redskins, who hold the fifth pick, won't draft him because of the Arrington dispute with his agents.
Lots of agents have messy, ugly, public spats with teams over contracts. In most cases, particularly where there is a history of positive dealings, those disputes are quickly forgotten, team officials and agents said.
About 13 months ago, the Eagles were less than pleased with agent Drew Rosenhaus, who represented defensive end Hugh Douglas. The Eagles felt Rosenhaus pulled a fast one on them, adding Jacksonville to the Douglas field at the last minute and then quickly accepting the Jaguars' offer.
But a little more than a month after Douglas left, the Eagles drafted his replacement - Miami defensive end Jerome McDougle, who is represented by Rosenhaus. McDougle held out of training camp for 6 days, then was injured and had little impact as a rookie. So the Eagles went out this offseason and signed free-agent defensive end Jevon Kearse - another Rosenhaus client.
"We have a long history of dealing with Drew," Eagles president Joe Banner said recently. "He's intelligent. He knows what he's doing. He closes deals, and his players [often] re-sign with the same team."
Rosenhaus, ranked 11th on that Sports Business Journal list (Steinberg was 18th), once was considered extremely controversial, particularly among his peers, who have accused him of stealing clients. He seems a little more mainstream these days, perhaps only because he represents so many players from the University of Miami, the NFL's favorite talent trove.
Rosenhaus said he knows it's important that at the end of the day, teams don't feel they are dealing with a madman.
"If a team feels a player has an agent they have been able to get deals done with in the past, that can be a positive factor," said Rosenhaus, who represented 10 Miami Dolphins at the start of last season. "If they feel he has an agent they have not been able to get deals done with, that can be a negative factor, at least in the first round - after the first or second round, there aren't a lot of holdouts."
Agents and team officials said choosing a particular agent can work in a player's favor with a team - usually not in the early rounds, but toward the bottom, where differences are minor. In the late rounds or in signing undrafted free agents, many teams have relationships with agents in their area and will look toward such agents' clients.
Near the top of the draft, it's hard to find an example of a player going higher than he would have otherwise because of an agent.
"A lot of agents sell players on the ability to get them drafted higher," said South Jersey-based agent Jerrold Colton, who has had success mostly representing lower-profile players from area colleges. "In most cases, they're letting their egos get in the way - you're certainly not the reason a player gets picked."
But sometimes, Colton agreed, an agent could be the reason a player didn't get picked as high as he had hoped.