A lesson learned in Cleveland

Last February, I was asked by another agency to help them with their top free agent. It was the biggest free agent client this agency had ever had, so they asked me to guide them and their client through the process to make sure he got the best deal possible. I agreed.

When free agency kicked off, the player was being courted by seven teams. My job was to help set an accurate market for the player. I weeded out a few teams right away and helped narrow it to two. Then I got a call from the Browns’ new general manager, George Kokinis , who asked me to bring the player to Cleveland for a physical and signing. I told George the contract numbers that were needed to get the deal done. He didn’t blink and said he could do it.

Then, as we agents have to do during the fast-moving free agency period, I told him I would only send the player to Cleveland if they were 99-percent certain they were going to sign him at the numbers I requested. He said, “All I need is for the head coach to get a look at him and for him to pass the physical.”

I agreed to send the player with the approval of the other agent, but under one condition: If for some reason they decided not to sign him, he had to be out of the building at 1:30 p.m. the next day and on to the next team. George agreed.

I had worked with George on several players over the years while he was in Baltimore, and he had always been straightforward, professional and honest.

The next day, I spoke to George at about 10 a.m. that morning to see if they were ready to move. He said he needed a little bit more time. Keep in mind that this player was probably the first high-value free agent the new GM, head coach and current salary cap manager had brought in. So it was their first opportunity to work together.

At 1:30, I called the Browns but couldn’t get hold of anyone. This is very unusual during free agency. I finally reached the cap manager and salary negotiator, Trip MacCracken, but he had no direction yet from Kokinis or coach Eric Mangini. Two years earlier, I had worked fast and fluently with Trip on bringing top free-agent guard Eric Steinbach to the Browns, so he and I had a strong history of working together.

A few more hours passed, but there was still no decision from the Browns’ brass. Finally, at about 4:30, they sent the player to the airport with no contract. At that point, I was very pissed because we had just burned a whole day of free agency. I called George and gave him an earful. He was apologetic, but he couldn’t give me a good reason why they didn’t sign the player. I could sense he was very frustrated.

The Browns were obviously never on the same page with this particular free agent and had yet to formulate a way to work together and make decisions. Another agent I spoke to had a similar experience. The signs were there from the beginning that Kokinis had little power and that the team was somewhat rudderless.

Luckily, the next day, we ended up signing the player with a good team near the contract numbers we wanted. But the wasted day in Cleveland could have left a lot of money on the table had his new team gone in another direction. Free agency is a lot like musical chairs; you have to move fast to win.

Since then, the salary cap manager is now working in another department and a Mangini assistant was recently released. The player in question had a huge game in Week 8 and is happy with his new team. If the agent community gets the sense that quick, definitive decisions can’t be made with a particular team, they will dismiss them quickly as well.

Follow me on Twitter: jackbechta

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