Today is Part 2 of our guest entry from Austin Atkinson, an NFLPA contract advisor who’s served in personnel roles with the Charleston, S.C.-based Medal of Honor Bowl (’14-’15) and the Tropic Bowl (’16). I feel he’s got a unique perspective in how to build a strong presence in the game. Today, he talks about some of the unexpected drama he faced working with scouts and agents to build an all-star roster.
“Literally within the first 60 days of me taking the job in Charleston, I was contacted by two individuals who were affiliated with two of the more established all-star games. The first emailed to say that he had heard that the other was calling a bunch of agents and saying that I was planning on using my status as a personnel director to recruit players to my own agency. Days later, the second person emailed to say that he had heard that the first guy was actually calling around and saying that I was unscrupulous and that agents shouldn’t send their players to our game. At that point, I had no choice but to block out the outside noise and handle things my own way. It was obvious that neither one of those guys was going to play any sort of role in helping me establish myself as a personnel director anyway.
“Because of those two individuals, I actually drafted a letter and sent a copy to every single agent in the country via email (thanks, NFLPA directory!) and explained that they should have no concerns over my involvement with the game, and that any concerns could be addressed to me personally. Other than having to tactfully correct a few doubters on Twitter a few times, I never heard another concern from the agent community. I am happy to report that we actually had 38 players report to our game in Charleston that year that were unsigned or otherwise uncommitted to any particular agency. That kind of number is unheard of for a major all-star game, and is one of which I am particularly proud. I had hoped to make it clear to the scouting and agent community that I was going to give my best effort to find talent on my own, and not just ‘play favorites’ with any agencies.
“Now, that is not to say that I don’t value the input from my fellow agents. As many will attest, I’ve spent hours and hours on the phone with them during the last couple of years. Although I spend a lot of time traveling to games and attending practices before and during the college football season, the agents that I speak with that are scattered across the country serve as my eyes and ears on the ground. I am extremely grateful for their insight and I always try to give them an honest opinion or otherwise not ‘leave them hanging’ when they inquire about my interest in a certain player. I understand that this is a pressure-filled business, and I have personally been cussed out and threatened by a few agents during the last couple of draft cycles. But the vast majority are personable and respectful, and I enjoy hearing from them throughout the year.
“To wrap things up, I thought I would share something that happened last week in Mobile that kind of brings my experience full circle. There I was at Veet’s (a bar that’s a Senior Bowl ‘must’) and I was speaking to a CFL coach and a veteran NFL scout. The CFL coach was going on about how much he liked a certain ACC player, and said he hoped to sign him if he didn’t get picked up by an NFL team. I knew, and the NFL scout obviously knew, the particular medical history of this player and how that accounted for why he hadn’t received a single all-star game invite. The scout must have sensed that I had some information to share, so he gave me an ‘after you’ wave of the hand. I then proceeded to spout off to the coach this player’s entire medical history, and told him that despite being an all-conference, record-breaking player while in college, the player had virtually zero shot at passing an NFL physical. The coach was initially shocked by this revelation, and then repeatedly thanked me for sharing that key piece of information. It was definitely one of those moments where I realized that I had come a long way from being ‘just an agent’ just a few years ago.
“I hope to see many of you at the NFL Combine later this month in Indianapolis. Please introduce yourself if we haven’t met already. I’m already working on another all star game for the 2017 Draft cycle, and I hope to share that information with everyone soon. Good luck to all of the players and agents in this year’s Draft!”