If there’s one thing new agents always ask me, it’s this: how do I ask an established agent the hard questions about the business that no one wants to answer? I’ll admit it’s one question for which I have no answer. That’s why it was pretty awesome when, out of the blue, Chicago-based Mike McCartney of Priority Sports reached out to me last week and offered to answer questions from agents in a Zoom session.
This was a real coup. As the son of a legendary former college head coach, Mike is not only a member of football royalty, a former NFL scout himself, and the man who negotiated one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history, but a 20-year contract advisor and member of a top NFL agency (by our metrics, Priority has been the 11th-best agency on draft day since 2007). When, last Friday, we put the word out that we’d be hosting a Zoom session with Mike on Tuesday, we had immediate responses from almost 20 agents. We thought we might have to turn some down (though we ultimately did not).
We chose not to record the session so Mike would feel fee to provide ultimate candor. However, here are a few nuggets from the hour he spent with 17 mostly new NFL agents.
- The key to success as an agent is signing players that NFL teams want. It follows that knowing NFL scouts who will recommend players is critical, so it made sense agents would ask Mike about that. Predictably, he didn’t have a ‘magic bullet’ solution. The only way that I, personally, made friends in the scouting world is two ways: time and credibility. Mike essentially echoed that. I guess, if you’re a new agent, your job is to find 1-2 players in your first years on the job that somehow crack the NFL scouting bubble. Once you are somewhat proven to scouts, they’ll begin to have a more reciprocal relationship with you.
- Another thing Mike was adamant about: never lie to scouts. He said that if he has a client who’s not fast, he’s not going to try to convince teams the player can zoom. Instead, Mike will emphasize his client’s positive qualities. God knows one of the themes of the 2020 draft season has been the questionable times posted on social media.
- If you can’t sign a player with excellent triangle numbers, find a player who has heart and grit. In 2002, his rookie year as an agent, Mike signed a quarterback out of Sam Houston State, Josh McCown. McCown was a player who had transferred to SHSU from SMU for his senior season and lit things up, but he was still mostly an unknown. Mike badgered the head of National Football Scouting at the time, Duke Babb, to let McCown be one of the passers who throw the ball in drills at the combine, and Babb consented. On the last day of the combine, defensive backs were going through drills, and the three passers needed to heave 80 deep balls as part of the drill inventory. For whatever reason, the other two quarterbacks begged off, so McCown threw all 80. Babb was so appreciative that he flew McCown home first class, and he wasn’t the only one that took notice: McCown went from a probably UDFA to a third-round pick (3/81) by the Cardinals.
- Speaking of UDFAs, Mike has a very regimented process he goes through with his clients who are Day 3 guys. He essentially prepares them for the worst-case scenario (that they are “eighth-round picks”) and sets up the NFL in three tiers: 4-5 teams that are the absolute best fits for his client, a second group of teams that are good-but-not-great fits, and a third that includes the rest of teams. He then gets on the phone with scouts from his top-tier teams and makes sure he’s on the same page with them as far as his client’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as the team’s depth chart at the player’s position.
- Also: he said that a GM or scout who wants your client isn’t nearly as good as a coach who does. Mike even said that, during the post-draft UDFA process, he has asked scouts to walk down the hall and specifically ask the team’s position coach if he wanted his client. If the coach seemed lukewarm, he passed on signing with the team. He said it’s absolutely essential that your client’s position coach is excited about coaching your client.
- As far as this draft, he sees most Day 3 picks as long shots to make teams, to say nothing of the UDFAs. Think about that. Due to the uncertainty and probable lack of rookie camps this year (and spare number of physicals), teams will lean more toward veterans and the best of the best draft picks on cutdown day this fall. I’d agree with him. It’s just one more reason it’s incredibly hard to be a new agent this year.
We’ll talk more about Mike’s words of wisdom in this week’s Friday Wrap, which you can register for here. Happy Draft Day!