John Thornton got certified last fall, and by any measure, it’s been a great rookie season. In his first season, he negotiated a big veteran free agent deal (new Bucs DE Michael Johnson got $43.5 million over five years) and had a player drafted (the Seahawks took Marshall OT Garrett Scott at 6/199) despite being independent. Though he credits Chicago-based Rick Smith of Priority Sports as being a huge help and a big influence, he has no specific affiliation with Priority or any other firm.
Also making him unique: he’s one of only a handful of contract advisors who also played in the league; he was a 10-year veteran with the Titans and Bengals after being drafted by Tennessee in the second round in 1999. As such he’s got some unique takes on the football business after his first year certified by the NFLPA. In fact, he had too many thoughts to fit into Monday’s newsletter, so we thought we’d pass along some of what we couldn’t use in today’s post.
On the draft, and the expectations of draft prospects: “I think the rookie side of the business has gone out of whack on how they train and agents are told where (players are) going to go. I would say that’s the craziest part of this thing. You almost don’t want to deal with a rookie, and if you have a first-rounder you spend a lot to get them and to train them. It’s almost better to find a guy that you know is a good football player and have a great relationship with. Who cares if you have a first rounder if you overspent on him? I’d rather have a fourth- or fifth-rounder that you didn’t spend as much on but have a great relationship on. On the rookie side, so much is done for egos. Being (an ex-player, you know) it doesn’t matter where you’re training at and (you know) a guy can train at school, like Garrett did, and had better numbers than probably 95 percent of the guys at the combine. You got to send them here and there, and that’s part of the game. You know a lot of that is BS, but everybody’s doing it.”
On protecting a client while also managing expectations: “You gotta really keep your circle tight on who you do business with. Most people say they can do things and they can’t, and they’re usually marketing people or financial people. One thing that (Arizona State Director of Athletics and former NFL Executive V.P. of Football Operations) Ray Anderson told me is to stick to your principles in this business, and if I don’t know someone, I don’t do business with them. Everybody’s not in this business for the same thing. If you’re going to do business with someone, make sure they’re the same as you, business-wise. If you don’t do business with people you trust, nine times out of 10 they’re going to try to stab you in the back. Everybody says they have a deal for you, but they don’t always have it on paper. All they really want to do is to have a player’s name so they can go shop it around. Good players get great deals, but if you’re not a good player, you won’t get a good deal on or off the field. Nobody’s giving a bad player anything. There’s no marketing deal and no second contract to talk about. Football is football, and (Broncos QB) Peyton Manning is getting deals off the field because he’s a great player. That’s the thing I learned.”
On transitioning from player to agent: “When I played, I was always the type of player that coaches would say, ‘do what he does, follow him,’ and I became a big brother to guys like Robaire Smith and Albert Haynesworth at Tennessee. I was (head coach) Marvin Lewis’ first free agent at Cincinnati, and I tried to help change the perception of the team. Rather than being a dominant player, I did the right thing to prolong my career, and in doing that I became a big brother to players. I also had four agents (during my career), and I was always changing. There was Ray Anderson, Ralph Cindrich, Harold Lewis and David Dunn, and I learned a lot from them in what they do best and what they don’t do so well. Then, I helped Frostee Rucker during his pre-draft process, and while I was helping him, the Lions wanted me to come play because (then-head coach) Jim Schwartz had been my defensive coordinator at Tennessee, so I agreed to it, but two days later, I backed out, and I just said, I have something I want to do. I had made enough money to not have to struggle, and I had this itch to be a manger and be a professional and help guys off the field. I told the agents I would handle my side if you handle your side, and I wasn’t a runner. I was really helping the players through the agent process, and then I was coming out of my pocket as well, so that’s why I was given the opportunity to be a player with really good agents. As far as wanting to be an agent, that was the next step for me as player, mentor, manager, and then being an agent.”