As we go forward with this blog, we hope to enlighten our readers weekly with a ‘war story’ or two that illustrates a theme we’ve been developing. Today, with the draft just completed, we’ll step away from our series on NFL scouting to discuss two stories related to the agent world that illustrate the uncertainty and unpredictable nature of the business.
One has a happy ending, and one less happy. First, the happy.
A first-year agent decided to aim high and recruit a player rated as a fourth- or fifth-round draft pick in the just-completed 2014 NFL draft. This agent decided to leverage a growing relationship with a top combine trainer to initiate contact with this top prospect, who seemed eager to communicate through the course of the fall. As the relationship with him grew, the new agent decided to improve chances by seeking to partner with a more seasoned firm. After initiating contact with several, there were a number of firms that expressed serious interest. Excited about the prospect of signing him, the agent heightened pursuit. Unfortunately, the player’s performance was disappointing this season, but his expectation level never slackened, and the agent began to realize that subsidizing training and providing living expenses would represent a sizable risk. However, the agent was willing to go ahead with the recruiting process, hoping to make a big first-year splash. Unfortunately, though the agent felt there was a close relationship, he opted for a bigger firm with a long client list and big reputation.
Ultimately, the story turned much sunnier for the agent. The player’s fortunes fell so far during the season that he was snubbed when combine invites went out, which was no small disappointment to the agents he had chosen. Furthermore, though he attended one of the top all-star games, his performance was lackluster. The coup de grace was an ordinary pro day performance that left his draft status floundering. Still, it didn’t stop his family from holding a major draft party at a local pizzeria. They invited dozens of friends, coaches, former teammates and family members to be part of their special weekend. Unfortunately, it all turned out quite awkwardly as the player went undrafted.
The agent wound up settling for a player who was grateful, less entitled, and ultimately far cheaper to represent. Like the big-name client the agent sought to sign, he’s also an undrafted free agent signee who’ll compete for a spot on a 53-man roster this summer, with about the same odds of making the team.
About 10 years ago, our second agent was a teacher in a high school in the Southeast. A conscientious sort who looked out for his students, many of whom came from underprivileged homes, he took an interest in one young student who was especially gifted on the gridiron. Speed was this young man’s forte.
The young teacher came to know the player’s family and he became an active mentor for the youth, so when it came time to weigh the college offers that came pouring in later in his prep years, the teacher was a key part of things. The teacher figured out how to compile and edit highlight films and put them on YouTube, while also imparting advice during challenging times with many suitors for the young athlete’s services. Ultimately, the player went away to school on a full scholarship, but the two kept in close contact. By then, the teacher was practically part of the family.
Flash forward four years, and the teacher, who had by then attained a position as an assistant principal, left the education profession and gained certification as a certified NFLPA contract advisor. This would be his chance to help the young man take the next step and live his NFL dreams, and the teacher would be a big part of things. When the player’s senior year became one of injury and unreached expectations, the teacher was still there, and signed the young man as his first client. He sent him to one of the best training facilities in the business to prepare for the combine, and helped with other expenses along the way, making a financial investment that was as significant as the personal investment he’d made in the young athlete.
Unfortunately, the player’s fortunes dimmed as his injury dogged him throughout February and March, and the relationship became more and more frosty. Never more than a late-round projection, he began to blame his longtime mentor because he wasn’t seeing his name among the lists of top-rated players. Slowly, the teacher began to realize there was no way he’d see a return on the five-figure training bill plus the added expenses he’d taken on over the past few months. At the same time, however, the player’s mother had turned belligerent and had taken to regular explosive phone calls to the teacher, blaming him for her son’s sagging draft status.
Ultimately, the draft came and went, and predictably, he went undrafted. The teacher worked hard vetting the various teams interested in him, but the player was reluctant and lacked enthusiasm. He signed with a team after the draft, but there was little joy between the agent or his client due to the stress of March, April and May. I spoke to the agent recently, and he told me that the player had fired him, blaming him for his fall in the draft. The agent, my friend, told me it was an incredible load off his mind. But there was no joy in his words when he said it.
If you’re considering becoming agent some day soon or in the far off future, I tell these stories not to discourage you, but to give you a clearer picture of what happens in the business.
More stories next Wednesday.