There are several high-profile agents who make a living selling players in their senior year on the notion they can help them get drafted higher than they thought possible. The agent might be selling the fact that he has access to a superior Combine-training program, or that he represents a team’s front-office executives or head coach and therefore has influence, or he’s so well-connected and liked that GMs and owners listen to him. Most of these lines are just a load, but believe it or not, some of it is true.
Before I go a little deeper, I first want to say that the draft would be about 95 to 97 percent unchanged if there were no agents involved at all. So where and how do agents make a difference? At the very top of the first round of the draft and at the very bottom, in the last two rounds. Afterward, agents actually control the undrafted free-agent portion of the process.
The top 10 picks in the first round
If you’re an agent controlling one or more of the top 10 picks in the first round, you’re trying to do whatever you can to have your client be the No. 1 selection. If you control several picks in the top 10, you might be trying to dictate some type of draft order among the teams. Keep in mind that many agents and agencies also represent coaches and even GMs in addition to players, so an agent may already have a welcoming front office in which to wield his influence. The majority of owners and GMs can’t and won’t be influenced, but there are a handful who are as not as strong. I would love to list them, but that wouldn’t be in the best interests of my clients.
The other side of what can happen is that an agent will sometimes call a team and persuade them not to take his player by saying things like, “The kid doesn’t want to play there, and/or for your coach, and/or in your system.” Sometimes this is done without the player’s knowledge. The reason for this move is usually self-serving on the part of the agent, but sometimes it’s done in the best interest of the client.
The best known example would be the Chargers, who wanted to draft Eli Manning. Eli’s agency told Chargers GM A.J. Smith that he didn’t want to play there. The interesting part of this scenario was that QB Drew Brees, the team’s starter at the time, was also represented by the same agency. An agent or agency doesn’t want two of its star high-income-producing clients vying for the same job.
In this case, Smith and the Chargers refused to be dictated to. They drafted Eli, traded him and picked up Philip Rivers. It worked out pretty well for Eli and Drew as well. By the way, the agency also represented head coach Marty Schottenheimer and the Chargers’ offensive coordinator. Figure that one out.
There have been rumors that Baylor OT Jason Smith has pushed his agent to make him the first overall pick in the draft at any cost. However, the same agency represents QB Matthew Stafford and several other potential top picks. I have no knowledge if this request by Smith actually occurred, but if it did, the agency may find itself in a position of conflict. It would obviously like its QB to be the first pick to command maximum dollars.
By having multiple picks at the top, an agent can sometimes act as a decent conduit of information between teams who might be interested in trading up or down while simultaneously keeping their clients in order-of-position value.
After we get through the top 10 picks, the influence of the agents starts to diminish and teams start plucking away at their targeted players. Note that some owners and GMs actually avoid a handful of agents when making their selections. They may have had trouble dealing with them in the past, or they already represent too many important players on their team and don’t want the franchise at the mercy of the agent. You won’t ever hear a GM talk publicly about this for obvious reasons, but I guarantee you it happens more than you realize.
There are also agents who have a long history of holdouts. If a team thinks it has to depend on the player right away, it may skip him and go to a player-agent combo that will cause less worry about being in camp on time.
The back end
I truly believe that the back end of the draft helps to separate good GMs from great GMs. As the draft approaches the sixth and seventh rounds, agents and front offices are back on the phone. There’s a lot of cat and mouse going on here as agents are working hard to give teams the impression that their client is going to be picked before or after whichever team you happen to be speaking to at the moment.
Teams initiate these calls because they want to get an idea whom they should draft late and whom they might get as an undrafted free agent. The agents tell teams that if they don’t draft their client now they won’t be available to them as a free agent. In 2004, I had an undersized D-lineman named Jared Clauss out of Iowa. During the sixth round, the calls start pouring in from teams to tell me, “If he’s not drafted, we want him as a free agent.” After I had two teams interested, I told the next seven that called that Jared was going to get drafted and I already had a home for him with a certain team as long it didn’t draft a D-lineman the rest of the way. I didn’t want any team to feel comfortable that Jared would be there when the draft was over. I wanted the scout or coach who called fighting to draft him with one of the team’s last picks. Draft picks get reps and have a better chance of catching on. Jared was drafted by Tennessee with the 230th pick in the seventh round and played three years for the Titans. This same scenario goes on with all 32 teams times 300-plus players.
The stock exchange
When the draft ends, the worst hour of the year in football begins. It’s time for the NFL version of musical chairs. Several hundred players are vying for just a few hundred roster spots. Agents completely control the market because for about one hour teams are actually begging us to help them. I will write more on this topic next week.
During April, agents are busy coordinating trips for our players to NFL teams, helping them screen financial advisors and exchanging practical information to help them prepare for the transition to NFL pro. I can’t speak for all agents, but I’ve been making sure there won’t be any surprises, that teams have all the correct information and highlight tapes and, most important, that my clients’ expectations for draft weekend are properly set.