Tony "The Tongan" Moeaki
One client I’m happy to see in the Super Bowl this year is TE Tony Moeaki. Tony has had some tough luck since entering the league. In his rookie year it was looking like he was going to be the next coming of Tony Gonzalez. Tony was drafted in the 3rd round and in his rookie campaign he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and 3 TDs. Including this spectacular TD catch.
Going into his second season it was looking like he was about to surpass his rookie numbers. However, while carrying the majority of the load during camp because two other tight ends were hurt, Tony was left in late in the 4th quarter. Due to the injuries to the other players, the coaching staff had Tony in the game playing against the two’s and three’s, mostly players who would be released and playing for their lives. A hit eventually came to the knee that gave Tony an ACL tear that knocked him out for the season.
In his third season, Tony wasn’t quite recovered from his ACL tear but went full speed in camp anyway and ended up carrying a lot of the work load again. You see he’s the kind of player who never complains, and loves to compete so he will never turn down a practice, preseason or game rep. It seems the University of Iowa breeds these kinds of players (Tim Dwight, Pat Angerer, Riley Reiff, Bob Sanders, Aaron Kampman, Marshal Yanda, Jon Babineaux and countless more.)
These types of players are their own worst enemy when it comes to managing their bodies. They want to compete so badly and at any cost that they will continue to risk injury as opposed to taking a day off, cutting back on their reps and/or communicating to team docs or trainers in fear of potentially losing their job. Tony is one of these types that just keep going, sacrificing his long-term career to compete right now.
After Tony labored through his third season with 33 catches and only one TD he got his knee scoped again and things were looking up for year four. His knee was finally healed and was feeling like his old self again and was planning for a big year. Then, in the third preseason game, late in the game against the Steelers, he got hit after making a catch that resulted in a non-displaced fracture of his scapula. An injury where you could do nothing but let the bone heal for about ten weeks. KC put him on injured reserved and I eventually did an injury settlement to try to get him on another roster by the end of the year and hopefully help a team in the playoffs.
The Bills ended up signing Tony and gave him a premium contract for the remainder of 2013 and 2014. The Bills didn’t make the playoffs and Tony was held back from being activated but practiced with the team as if he was going to play. Regardless, the Bills brass and coaching staff were excited to have Tony in their arsenal for the 2014 season.
Early in camp Tony had a mild hamstring pull and was rehabbing back to play in the final two preseason games. During his rehab Tony pushed hard during multiple 100 yards sprints, and pulled his hamstring again. It was extremely frustrating because he’d never had a hamstring issue. In speaking with the Bills, we mutually agreed it was best for us to part ways and have Tony rehab on his own with a therapist of his choice. Therefore, I did an injury settlement with the hopes Tony would be ready to workout for teams about week six of the regular season.
(Side note: It’s a really unorthodox and uncomfortable situation for a player to go into a team training room everyday during the season, knowing that as soon as he is healthy the team is going to release him. He has to see his teammates everyday knowing they won’t be his teammates in several weeks. In the meantime, the front office is always trying to do injury settlements to remove the player form their trainer’s workload. A seasoned agent won’t try to play doctor and predict when the player will be 100%. So it becomes like two people who filed for divorce but are still forced to live together everyday until it’s final. It’s not a fun way to go to work everyday).
We found Tony a great personal trainer in his hometown of Chicago to rehab and train him. After six weeks, Tony told me he was ready to roll. However, there was a great challenge ahead in finding Tony a job. GM’s don’t like bringing players in who didn’t have a healthy preseason camp or play in any games. They also worry that they won’t be in shape and will most likely get hurt again and the team has to eat their salary for a year while being on IR.
After two weeks of burning up the phone lines trying to get Tony a job, a workout or a sniff, I kept hearing the same thing, “love the player but worried about the body”. It wasn’t looking good. So I went to Chicago on or about week 9 of the regular season. I went and watched Tony workout to see first-hand what type of shape he was in. I watched him work and was so impressed I filmed the workout on my phone. My conviction was so deep about his health I started bugging every team again that I knew could use a productive TE. I even asked the Chiefs if they would bring him back. I was literally badgering the Seahawks front office until I wore them out. A few hours later GM John Schneider called back granting a workout, flying him in the next day. I could tell in his voice he was a little reluctant but we had a long working history and he knew he could trust me.
(Side note: Agents are always trying to get their out of work clients tryouts and do anything to get it done. The agent usually has to rely on the client’s word that he is in great workout shape. There are times we send players for a workout in midseason and they just bomb. Then, the Pro Personnel Director or GM gets embarrassed in front of their coaching staff that usually runs the workouts. Thus, they become very surgical as to whom they bring in for workouts. In addition, it’s very challenging for TEs, WRs, DBs, and RBs to stay sharp if they don’t have access to a quality QB or a structured environment.)
On the following Tuesday (the typical workout day for street free agents), John called me and said, “Damn you were right Jack, he is in great shape. I think we are going to sign him.” I said what do you mean “think”, sign him now or someone else will.” They decided to sign him on the spot and he immediately impressed the coaches and they eventually activated him for the Chiefs game on Nov. 16.
I couldn’t believe how serendipitous it was that it would be the game Tony would show himself again. The Seahawks lost, but Tony played well and even scored a touchdown against the team that drafted him and released him. It was pretty special as even some of Tony’s former Chiefs teammates were caught celebrating for him. Even the classy Chiefs fans gave him some love. Everyone was happy to see Tony climb his way back into the league.
Since being signed by the Seahawks, Tony has only had eight catches but has been playing a contributing role by grading out high on his blocking scores, catching six of his passes for crucial first downs and helping a blossoming Luke Willson carry the load for the Seahawks TE friendly offense.
Everyone that knows Tony knows his warrior competitive spirit and is rooting for his success this weekend. When a young player sustains several injuries in his first four years he is usually out of the league by now. It takes a lot of desire and self-motivation to keep fighting by yourself when you feel the door closing on your career.
As and agent and friend to my clients, these are they guys I/we love to fight for and get great personal satisfaction when we can help make the difference in keeping a fragile career alive.
The NFL is littered with great comeback stories like Joh nny Jolly (Packers), Rolando McClain, and Willis McGahee. And behind every comeback is an agent with conviction and an NFL personnel man willing take a chance.