Here’s an observation from my time at the combine last week that may be funny to no one but me. There’s a quick way to distinguish young (i.e., inexperienced) agents from seasoned, experienced ones: what they talk about when they bump into me at a hotel, in a hallway, outside the agent seminar, or whatever.

If an agent is seasoned, at some point, he’ll ask me (or I’ll ask him) how long I’m in Indianapolis (or Mobile, or St. Petersburg, or whatever). If the agent is less seasoned, he’ll pretty much slip into ‘sell’ mode at some point. Let me explain.

More seasoned agents have good clients. They know that some will be drafted and some not, and where they’ll generally fall on draft day. They know the expenses of things, they know best- and worse-case scenarios ahead, and pretty much know the landscape. For that reason, when I bump into them, there’s really not much to say after we cover family, weather, details of their flight in, etc.

I mean, almost all my clients are my friends, and that includes hundreds of agents, many of them some of the bigger contract advisors in the business. We have genuine regard for each other, but it’s almost passe’ to talk about player issues. So we make small talk, which inevitably leads us down the path to an awkward silence, at which point, one of us asks, ‘so how long are you here?’

It’s like pulling the ripcord on a conversation. It’s like reaching for the oxygen mask in a fire. You know it buys you an extra couple seconds while you wait for the elevator, or a client arrives in the lobby, or whatever. It’s not that you don’t want to talk. It’s just that time is limited and you’re not going to go into any kind of in-depth conversation, so rather than launch down a path that could lead to a five-minute dialogue, you try to keep it light. So you ask the inevitable question, unless you’re a new agent.

If you’re a new agent, pretty much any time is a good time to give a point-by-point rendering of your clients’ strong suits. Hey, I understand. It’s exciting to talk about clients, especially when you’re in your first year, and their possibilities. Still, the thing is, I’m not the guy that needs to hear this. I’m neutral in all of this. I’m like a ref. I’m Switzerland. I’m rooting for all my clients, but I have no power over getting them drafted, or signed as UDFAs, or whatever. So I mostly smile and nod when they start in about their players’ 40 times, or how they got jobbed by their coaches, or what a great kid they are, or whatever. I mean, I share their enthusiasm. It’s just that it can lead to long, awkward visits to ‘smile and nod’ land.

I totally (TOTALLY) don’t mean to sound dismissive when I write this. That passion that young agents have is what keeps them going during the challenging times in this business, and those times are many. I want them to be upbeat, and they deserve to be. That’s why I’m always happy to hear them recount their clients’ strengths. It’s just funny to see the metamorphosis as they mature in the business.

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