Agents At The Combine

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This week I’ll be heading off to my 18th NFL Combine. Fortunately, I don’t have to run a 40-yard dash or get poked and prodded by 32 NFL team doctors. But I will be networking with GMs and other agents and meeting with some clients.

The National Invitational Camp (NIC), more commonly known as the NFL Scouting Combine, began in 1982 when National Football Scouting Inc. first conducted a camp for its member NFL clubs in Tampa, Fla. The key purpose then, same as it is today, was to ascertain medical information on the top draft-eligible prospects in college football. The inaugural NIC was attended by a total of 163 players and established a foundation for future expansion.

During the first three years, two additional camps were held at different times to collect similar information for teams that did not belong to National Football Scouting. However, in 1985, all 28 NFL teams decided they would participate in future National Invitational Camps with the goal of sharing costs for the medical examinations of draft-eligible players. After brief stints in New Orleans (1984, 1986) and Arizona (1985), the camp was moved to Indianapolis, Indiana where it has been operated since 1987. (Note: This information was taken from the NFL Combine Web site, nflcombine.net.)

There are several reasons you’ll find downtown Indianapolis flooded with about 500 NFL agents.

One, they’re required to be there. As a member of the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), each agent is required to attend one of three meetings the NFLPA conducts each year in order to keep our certification current. One of those meeting is always on the Friday of the Combine week. The meeting goes from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to get the agents up to speed on all union activities, including Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) issues, agent discipline, drug testing, rule changes, player fines, signing bonus language and Player Inc. activities. Players Inc. is the marketing arm of the union.

Imagine a large banquet room with 500 of the most competitive and egotistical characters you will ever come across. Occasionally, these meetings can get pretty heated, especially when it comes to the “NFLPA Code of Conduct” rules and their lack of enforcement. Agents are allowed to ask questions and make statements. It’s usually the same guys every year with the same complaints. New agents complain that they can’t fairly compete. Ethical agents complain about unethical agents. Small agencies complain about big agencies. And everybody complains that Drew Rosenhaus is stealing their clients. In the meantime, all the successful agents are on their phones outside the room making deals.

The second reason agents are there is to support their new clients who are participating in the Combine. Although the players are tightly sequestered, and the agents are not allowed in the dome (Lucas Oil Stadium), we still show our players that we’re there working for them. We may encourage scouts and GMs to get our clients on their interview lists. Most of the time, the agent is there protecting his turf as well. We may also bump into a Nike or Reebok rep and ask them to pick up our new client.

Third, and sometimes the most important reason: We are there to auction off our free agents. This is the time and place where the free-agent market starts to take shape. And yes, even though it would be considered tampering under NFL rules, GMs and agents are quietly discussing interest level and dollars. A few years ago, I represented two high-profile free agents, which made me a popular guy. I met with team officials in their suites, in a bar, at a pizzeria and at an out-of-the-way cubby under some stairs at the Westin. Teams want to let you know they’re interested and want to get an idea what your price tag might be for your client. Once, I met with an AFC Central team in a small restaurant. As I was walking to the table to meet my client’s new suitor, his team owner at the time, also from the AFC Central, walked in right behind me and was seated two tables away. On my way out, the owner sarcastically wished me luck getting a deal done. He knew he couldn’t match the deal I was looking for.

One year, I got Matt McBriar’s deal done with the Cowboys on Jerry Jones’ bus. I simply enjoyed the novelty of doing a deal on that thing.

During the NFLPA seminar, right outside the banquet hall, many agents congregate and tell war stories about how many draftees they just missed because another agent supposedly screwed them. Then there’s a group of about 20 guys hanging around who look they’re from the Island of Misfit Toys. They all look a tad familiar, but you’re not sure if you know them. If you have a decent client list, though, they will certainly know who you are. These are the beat writers and reporters. (Side note: Guys, since I started writing these columns, I have a newfound appreciation for you.)

Other people and things you will see at the Combine:

Financial consultants prospecting the agents and draftees.

Out-of-work coaches looking for jobs.

Out-of-work scouts looking for work.

Combine trainers setting up shop to give support and therapy to their clients.

Reebok, Nike and Under Armour reps.

Team owners, Commissioner Roger Goodell, union chiefs and some NFL TV personalities.

A large amount of booze and food being consumed late into the evening.

What you won’t see:

Women! However, there are four or five female agents who also have to attend this testosterone fest. God help ‘em!

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