In all the previous years of watching the draft, it always seemed as if agent Leigh Steinberg was a permanent fixture on the annual televised show. If you noticed, he would always sit extremely close his client. I know it appeared he was advising his player on the outcome of each and every pick, which I’m sure he was, but he was also there for a self-serving reason – an opportunity to appear on TV.
Leigh was one of the first agents to step in front of the TV camera and speaks not only on behalf of his client but take advantage of a marketing opportunity for himself. If you recall, until Leigh came along, agents were rarely seen and rarely heard.
The other great self-promoter is Drew Rosenhaus. If there’s a camera around, you’ll probably find Drew nearby. If you go back to the days when Drew was at the home of his new client, he too was snuggling up close to his guy when the red light went on. Steinberg and Rosenhaus are great self-promoters and comfortable in front of microphones — and because of this, they have helped their careers by marketing themselves to the next year’s class of draftees.
I will never forget the panicked look on Leigh’s face and his attempt to look busy with phone calls as Big Ben Roethlisberger continued to slip in the 2004 NFL Draft. He had not been in that situation before, and it was clear he didn’t have a script for his client if he suddenly became the poster child for ESPN’s hit show, “The Fall Guy.”
At this point in the draft build-up, the process is driving itself with little input from the agents – although there’s a lot of communicating going on right now between agents for the potential top five picks and several teams. There are probably two sets of negotiations happening with the Lions and Rams, but for the most part, the agents will have little to do with the outcome of the draft. Our job is to keep our clients’ expectations in check, make sure there are no negative surprises in store, assure teams they have the correct draft-day numbers, coordinate various media requests, and most of all, ensure that their lifelong dream of being drafted is a positive experience.
I usually advise my clients to do something small and low key on draft day since it can be stressful. Have a small spread with only the closest of friends and family. The problem is that everyone who has ever known the player wants to be a part of it, so they drop by the house uninvited and simply hang around for the big moment. If a player creates a party atmosphere and his name is called later than expected, or not at all, it becomes a long, difficult day as tension fills the house or venue. You can almost feel the excitement melt into a funeral-like state. I love what the Browns’ Joe Thomas did; he went fishing with his father. Now that’s a stress-free environment!
In the past, I’ve spent draft day with clients. The challenge for me, and most agents, is deciding whom to be with if we have multiple picks. Can we get back to the office in time for Sunday’s portion of the draft and be ready in case we have players who aren’t drafted?
Four years ago I went to Port Arthur, Texas, to spend draft day with Iowa DT Jonathan Babineaux and his family. I felt very comfortable advising Jonathan that he would be a mid-second-round pick, third at worst. However, I had to be back in the office on Sunday to help several other players I had who were expected to go undrafted. You see, these guys are more dependent on me as their agent than the draft picks. I have to be organized and prepared to help those guys find the perfect team with the best opportunity. So I flew into Houston on Friday night and spent the entire first round and half of the second with Babineaux, then had to catch the last flight out of Bush International, which was more than an hour and half drive away. I’m sure some of Jonathan's friends wondered why I had to leave, but I couldn’t worry about that as Jonathan understood my dilemma and wasn’t insecure about his situation. Besides, one of those potential undrafted guys was his teammate.
About two weeks before the draft, I was told by several teams – including the Colts and coach Tony Dungy, who loved Iowa players — that they would take Jonathan in the second round. As the draft progressed, the tackles rated higher than Jonathan were almost all off the board. As I got up to leave, I did an analysis aloud for Jonathan and his friends and family. I told the group that I expected Jonathan to be selected very soon.
About 15 minutes into my drive to the airport, I received a call from the Falcons telling me they were going to take Jonathan with the 59th overall pick in the second round. The Colts had the following pick.
One of my favorite draft-day memories was with Todd Rucci, an offensive lineman from Penn State. Todd decided he wanted to be in San Diego at my office for the 1993 draft. It seemed that all his friends and family wanted to be with him and do something big. Instead, Todd came out with only his best friend and little expectations. There were a few wild cards for Todd because he tore his ACL in his junior year and only played the second half of the season his senior year. He was even snubbed by the Senior Bowl. So even though he was rated high, I warned him that the injury might affect his selection.
As we watched the draft from my office, Todd took down a helmet I had on the wall for each team that took a tackle or guard. About midway through the second round, the helmets started to pile up. The draft was taking forever, and Todd was getting a little nervous. At one point, he went out on my balcony and laid on the edge, saying, “If I don’t get picked soon, I’m just rolling over to the five floors below.” He was kidding of course, but the draft feels like an eternity when your expectations are not being met. Then the call came in from the Patriots’ Big Tuna and the announcement was made. I was actually on the phone in another room giving one of his family members an update, so I missed the pick and the call. About an hour later, my other client, OT Earl Dotson, was selected by the Packers in the third round. We celebrated long and hard that day and into the night. It was actually the first year I decided to go into the business on a full-time basis, so it was a big day for my modest operation.
With a few days left before draft weekend, I still have lots of calls to make to coaches, scouts, GMs and others in my network. I realized over the years that if they really like my clients, they seem to return my calls quickly. They may not tell me exactly where my clients sit on their boards, but they will give me indications that we might be talking during the draft.
I want this weekend to be a positive experience for my clients. If they have an accurate idea how the draft will unfold for them, it will help to relieve some stress and allow them to enjoy their big day.