Exporting the NFL

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Is the NFL’s strategy on expansion insane? It’s definitely expensive.

I’ve been to about thirty countries and I’m always curious about how the NFL is received abroad. Unfortunately, my foreign friends knowledge of the league is usually limited to the off field actions of such players as OJ Simpson, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. Yep, we have an image problem abroad and the foreign media outlets love kicking dirt in our face whenever they get the chance.

Playing the London game is a small bright spot for us but it’s really limited to England. If the NFL is determined to expand and export their product, they need to start exploring some other methods.

The million-dollar foot

If you haven’t seen the movie, Million Dollar Arm, it’s a pretty good flick based on a true story. The NFL pays millions of dollars to bring six teams to London, millions more to promote the games, and millions more in logistics and activities. So, why not take a million dollars and have a worldwide contest every year?

The contest would consist of accuracy, distance, hang time and consistency. Unlike American football fans, foreigners are fascinated with our kicking game.

Because of the skill set used in soccer and rugby, foreigners come out of the womb kicking a ball. Imagine the hordes of young athletes from South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, and/or Asia who would work all year to win a million dollars, and perhaps get a try out and/or contract with an NFL team.

The NFL game is very cumbersome and difficult to learn from watching one or two games live or on TV once every year. But having the world’s attention from a contest is also a chance to teach the game. Each entrant would have to watch some videos, and then take a test online about the game before they qualify to enter the contest. That most likely will mean 10 to 15 million or more entries per year. A good percentage of these entrants will become fans. The final contest would be a worldwide TV spectacle.

Let's attract the world’s best athletes with incentives

I met Dennis Rodman in Las Vegas years ago and asked him if he ever thought about playing in the NFL as a receiver. He said he actually looked into once and was shocked to see how little players made. He said, “I couldn’t afford the pay cut and don’t want to be treated like a rookie again”. He meant “financially”.

Did you know that any pro athlete from another sport that signed with an NFL team would have to enter the league through the rookie salary pool? The rookie salary pool only has a finite amount of money carefully designated for each draft pick and a handful of undrafted free agents. Therefore, any player entering the rookie pool would have to sign a three-year deal, be limited to a tiny signing bonus and have restrictions on incentive bonuses. In essence, most players playing other sports would be taking a severe pay cut to play in the NFL.

The NFL needs to create a special category for foreigners, and/or sport changers over 24 years of age. Furthermore, there should be a roster exception for one foreigner per year per team that doesn’t count against the 90 or 53 man roster. Their contract should be a 2-year deal that does not count against the rookie salary pool. They should be part of the overall team cap.

If the NFL were sprinkled with ten or more players from around the world, the NFL would build fan bases more cheaply than moving a team to London. Countries such as Croatia, Turkey, China, Germany and Spain have tuned in to the NBA, buy apparel and consume the NBA product because of players from their country.

The NFL will have to help countries develop skill sets of athletes at a younger age with camps and the establishment of club leagues. Many of the foreign NBA players grew up playing basketball in their country.

We have been playing NFL games in Europe for over twenty years if you count the NFL Europe venture. I attend the London games each year and I see growth, but it’s at a snails pace. The NFL is truly pushing the proverbial boulder up the mountain.

There are many other entertaining, strategic and less expensive ways to garner foreign consumers of the game.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

NFL Players Christmas List

Spending a lot of time around NFL players and their families, I get to see what they spend their money on. When you’re a professional athlete you have two assets many of us don’t; time and money. When one has time and money they usually can figure the latest and coolest toys to buy. So what do pro athletes want and what can you ladies buy your man?

Here’s a list of what’s trending on pro athletes wish list:

1) Hair it is: Facial hair gone wild looks to be a fad that’s not going away any time soon. I've never seen so many pro athletes letting it all hang out. Facial hair is the equivalent to the tattoo rage of the 90’s. Here are some ideas to tame the Grizzly Adams wannabe in your house.

Tom Ford for conditioning beard oil for men. If he won’t shave it, he may manage it by hydrating, softening and giving it some shine. With signature manly scents such as musky oud wood, sweet tobacco vanille and piney Neroli, how can he not still feel studly?

The Merkur 180 long handle by Dovo. Big guys, big beards, can mean big hands. The Merkur 180 gives your athlete a longer handle to operate with one of the best blades on the planet. Dovo’s lines of shavers are known for quality.

2) Ear to ear: Any time you see an NFL football player walking through the airport or going through his pre-game ritual, he’s usually sporting some earphones. We all see the dominance of Beats by doctor Dre’, but the fastest growing trend I’m seeing is athletes getting custom fitted earpieces.

Ultimate Ears UE-5 custom fitted headphones are getting raves reviews. Once you experience the custom fitted headphones it’s hard to settle for the universal models. These headphones are tailored for each individual’s ears. Athletes love anything that is unique to them and so will any baller in your life.

Another more affordable option: Fuze custom earphones, About $50

3) Grind it: I had a client with the Jets a few years ago who actually had an espresso machine in his locker. It was so popular he had more guys stopping by for some caffeine than he had cups.

I’ve noticed more and more athletes are trading Gatorade bottles for coffee mugs.

Here are some of the more popular models you might find:

The Ratio automatic pour over. You’ll most likely find this in the QB’s meeting rooms. QB's are patient and want to design a proper coffee. This costly but worth-it maker provides perfect engineered coffee with the touch of one button.

The Nepresso citiZ espresso machine machine provides simplicity, quickness and convenience. For those looking for a quick fix

4) Drive for show: Golf is becoming more and more popular among players in the offseason. With no time for practice or lessons these guys want to play well and play well now. Here are some ideas for the golf enthusiast who hates to lose.

ZEPP mobile analysis tool: Instant 3D feedback and analysis of your golf swing will allow you to fix the most fatal of slices quicker than ever. With a Bluetooth device attached, you can swing away and get the instant feedback you need on your mobile device on what’s really going wrong.

Optishot simulator: No time for a full round? Optishot will allow you to play full rounds in under an hour from the comfort of your own home. You can swing away with all of your clubs and project onto your HDTV for a full playing experience. Note: There is a foam ball option for those with the nasty hook.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

Stay or Go?

Last year, there were roughly 250 college underclassman that applied to be graded by the NFL’s underclassman advisory committee. The process incorporates a cross section of NFL scouts and/or scouting directors who form an opinion on a players potential draft status. The information that comes back to the player is usually vague.

By the deadline of Jan 15, 2014, 98 underclassmen declared for the draft. 62 were later drafted, while 36 went undrafted. 16 were drafted in the first round.

So did those drafted below the first round make a mistake by declaring early? What about those who were taken very late or not drafted at all? There’s no doubt some players entered the draft prematurely and several others, regardless of where they were drafted made the right decision.

So how does a young player and his family make an informed decision when so many people with the information he needs has bias, liability and conflicts?

The first thing a young player and his family have to realize is that exploring his option of declaring is NOT being selfish. Football is a team sport with a stigma that if one focuses on his own future he is being selfish and putting his team second, primarily because the research and inquiries that need to be made have to start during the season. College coaches and administrators don’t like their players looking over the horizon and are usually very reluctant to help them and give them the time, respect and resources to make an informed decision. Hence, many universities are guilty of being selfish by not giving a young man the help he needs.

When a player doesn’t get the unbiased help they need from their university, they rely on sources that are readily available to seek an opinion. Those sources are usually conflicted agents who most likely want the player to come out.

So what’s the best way for an underclassman to proceed? Here are 10 things every player should consider before making a decision.

1) A player and his family should let their intentions be known before the start of their third college season (usually his junior year). This way, it doesn’t come as a surprise to his coaching staff, and if he does leave the coaches can start preparing to replace the player. The player should appoint one family member or qualified family confidant as their point person to acquire and sort information as it comes in. There are no reasons to keep one’s intentions private. If a player tells his head coach/pro college liaison that he wants to explore entering the draft early, it’s their moral duty to inform scouts of the player’s intentions. If a player feels his university is not supportive and wont relay the intention to the NFL community, then he should announce it publicly.

2) Apply to the NFL advisory committee right at the end of the regular season. Don’t wait. Be one of the first in line to get your evaluation letter. Also note that the advisory board has to be conservative in their projections.

3) Players must ask themselves some important questions before they consider coming out. Questions such as: Will my coaching staff continue to help my growth and development as a football player? Will my school's strength and conditioning program continue to help get me bigger, stronger and quicker? Are my coaches helping continually raise my football IQ? Am I endangering my health by staying another year? Does my university have my best interests in mind, or only their own?

4) A player must consider his health. If he has some degenerative knee, back/spine and/or concussion history he may be on track for a short NFL career. So why not get started a year early. Also, do your trainers and doctors always look out for your best interests?

The other question is, am I taking a beating and am I seriously risking injury by staying in the same system?For example, you may be a QB with no offensive line who gets sacked and hit 10 times a game. Or a running back, who normally has a short shelf life anyway, getting 30 plus carries a game. If there is great risk of injury at your university you strongly consider leaving early.

5) Can I duplicate or improve on my previous season? Many players who have a great junior year have a hard time duplicating or topping it the following year. Usually because opponents work harder to stop the player the following year.

6) Seek opinions from retired experts. There are numerous retired NFL evaluators who would love to give an opinion on a player’s drafts status. Just make sure you get the right ones. Greg Gabriel, Daniel Jermiah, Jerry Angelo, Louis Riddick, Charley Casserly and Ted Sundquist are just a few good ones.

7) Don’t trust the Internet! So many young players declare because they saw their name rated high on a draft blog. Dig into the source and don’t rely on just any one website.

8) Ask the agent community! Don’t ask the agent community. 75% of all agents will be biased in recommending a player come out early if that agent thinks he can sign that player. However, experienced agents are direct conduits to the scouting community and their opinions. They can get the information a player needs to make an informed decision. But it’s best to have someone from the school filter the information to keep the agent honest.

9) Look at the history of the draft and the position you play. If you are a guard, center, fullback, H-back, tight end, safety, kicker, punter and even a Sam linebacker, there is a good chance you won’t be a first round pick anyway. There are very few at these positions that get drafted in the first round. Therefore, if you are most likely a fourth round graded center after your junior year there is a good chance you will only be a 3rd round graded center at best your senior year.

10) Is money important to you? The higher one is drafted the more money they will make in their first year. So doing everything possible to get into that first round makes sense. That usually means staying for your senior year. However, scouts can be forgiving for juniors and harder on seniors. There are several cases where players were rated as first round picks after a strong junior campaign. Then they get game planned and hyped so much they’re never able to duplicate and live up to their previous season. And sometimes the scouting community just starts looking for flaws on the highest rated players.

Players who were three-year starters at their university and have accomplished all they can accomplish should look favorably into coming out early. All others should really be more conservative and lean on staying in. The bottom line is to recruit your university into the process, get opinions from multiple sources, don’t let the process become a distraction and don’t make an emotional decision. Make an informed business decision.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

Landing the first client

The number one question agents are always asked by anyone is, “How did you get started?”

This is an important week for agents. Many college football players and their universities open the window to the agent interview process. The week after the last regular season game is usually when players start thinking about narrowing down their choices of agents, or, outright making their selection. For those going to a playoff and Bowl game they usually wait until after the playoff game and sometimes after the bowl game. However, 95% of college players usually commit to an agent within a few days after their bowl game.

This time of year is stressful for agents as we wait for players to make contact with us, make a decision or confirm a meeting. Or, to hear that they’re, “going in another direction”.

Before the Internet, pre-draft web sites, the NFL Network, and before the avalanche of information came to be in this digital age, opinions on draftable prospects were scarce. If you didn’t know a scout or two you were banking on a players reputation, and maybe a scouting report from one of only two publications in the marketplace.

I was lucky enough to play college football at a small Texas school (Texas A&I Univ., now called Texas A&M-Kingsville) that was consistently producing NFL talent.

My junior year, I had a front row seat to watch my teammate Hall of Famer, Darrell Green, get scouted weekly and eventually get drafted in the first round. My suite-mate, Lloyd Lewis was also a top prospect and our phone (before cell phones) was always ringing with agents and scouts. I had the job of screening those calls and relaying messages. I also went through the pro day process of being evaluated so that was the extent of my exposure to the scouting and agent process.

After I graduated, I started working for investment banking firm E. F. Hutton in Corpus Christi, TX. After reading a Wall Street Journal article about how players were getting ripped off and always losing their money, I got certified as an agent with no knowledge, plan or guidance. I just wanted to help players protect their wealth and it was a way for me to stay close to football.

After watching some of the players I played with, I went back to my alma mater and sat down with two of the team’s best players, a receiver and a defensive tackle. Both looked the part but weren’t very instinctive. Nonetheless, I signed them and had no clue what the hell I was doing. They didn’t get drafted but they did get signed as undrafted free agents.

That year, 1987, was the strike year so there was a vacuum for bodies needed as replacements players. One of my players got to play in all three strike games and was seen by a lot of other teams. Once the strike was over, he was let go but was recruited hard by four different teams. He bounced around the league for two years and never stuck, but I got valuable experience and made a lot of good contacts with GMs and personnel directors.

Mike DyalLanding the first client is the most difficult.

The following year I was really impressed with a tight end from my school named Mike Dyal. Mike was recruited as a QB, then went to wide receiver and kept getting bigger and eventually was moved to tight end. I got to see Mike play several times. Playing the same position at the same school, I really appreciated his talent. He was fast, smooth, and a good blocker with great hands. I was also naively convicted that he would make it.

Mike was actually recruited by a few other agents but eventually signed with me. I still wasn’t polished at the job, as I was still a full-time investment consultant and our offices’ retirement specialist, so I was working about 60 hours a week for Hutton.

I started calling teams, as I was accustomed to cold calling, and was very comfortable on the phone. I was surprised that most teams never heard of Mike Dyal so I went into sales mode. In 1988, game film from a small school was finite and hard to duplicate. So I had Mike bunker down in Kingsville and painstakingly make a highlight tape. After weeks of work we had a VHS tape, which I then had to make copies of. The work was laborious, cumbersome, and time consuming. I managed to produce about 32 tapes, which I sent out (along with a detailed bio of Mike) to all 28 teams.

I then waited for the calls to come in from my efforts but the only thing I got was the sounds of crickets. I started aggressively calling teams to encourage them to look at the highlight tape. In doing so I discovered two things. One, many teams graduated to Super VHS and/or another system all together. Ouch! So I went back to the drawing board and got the tape made in Super-VHS and mailed those out. Again, nothing but crickets. The second thing I learned was that scouts weren’t going to go out of their way and spend time in Kingsville unless there was a top prospect there.

The draft was a month away and I knew the Cowboys, the Raiders and the Vikings all spent some intimate time on campus doing some work on Mike. Thus, I figured I’d best keep in touch with these teams. However, the stress was building and I was getting desperate.

I went to visit a friend in Tampa and I brought a highlight tape with me to present to the Bucs then college scouting director, Jerry Angelo. Jerry granted me 20 minutes. He spent time advising me how to find players, what books and magazines I should subscribe to and to always be sure that prospects have minimal measurables such as size and speed to play the game. I eventually presented Jerry with a Dyal highlight tape and was hoping he would watch it on the spot. He didn’t. Even worse, he pointed to the back wall of his office to show me a pile of highlight tapes waist deep by ten feet wide. As I looked at the pile, sinking in my chair, I realized it was a highlight tape graveyard and pictured 28 similar cemeteries around the league.

Jerry ended up graciously spending two hours with me and was nice enough to give me a crash course on scouting, contacting teams and promoting players.

A few days before the twelve round draft I finally got a call from Al Davis’ right hand man, George Karras. George was telling me that he was watching my tape and was very impressed. He started selling me on Mike being a Raider but I was confused because I was thinking they would just draft him.

On the day of the draft, I then got another call from a Cowboys scout, Walter Juliff, who is still a member of their staff. Walter took the time to educate me that they wouldn’t draft Mike but would want him as a free agent.

With twelve rounds at the time and about 336 players being drafted I thought for sure Mike’s name would be called. However, the phone never rang!

After the draft, Karras called me again and the local Raiders scout who lived outside of Corpus Christi was, simultaneously recruiting Mike. After taking a good look at the Raiders roster and noting an aging Todd Christensen and a backup TE who was also their deep snapper, I figured it was a great place for him to make the team.

Mike went into camp with the Raiders and caught every single pass thrown his way. Now the Raiders had a problem. Other teams were scouting Mike and they were ready to pounce if the Raiders waived him. So the Raiders did what most teams did back then to keep their young budding talent. They asked Mike to “take a dive” (aka fake an injury) in the last quarter of the last preseason game.

They told him that if he did that they would keep him on injured reserve for a year, pay his full salary and he would develop and
make the team the following year.

We agreed to the strategy, the last game rolled around and Mike wasn’t getting a chance to fake the injury. They eventually had him run down on kickoff towards the end of the game. They told him to stay clear of the runner and limp and fall down. However, the kick returner was running straight at him and he ended up making the tackle and got so excited he start celebrating and forgot to fake an injury. Mike eventually starts running off the field and then it looked like a sniper hit him. He obviously remembered his script before getting to the sideline, and fell to the ground grabbing his ankle (which he did slightly hurt earlier in camp).

In Todd Christensen’s 1988 campaign as the starter, the injury bug caught up to him and the table was set for Mike to become the starter the following year, which he did. Mike caught 27 passes, had an 18.5 yard average per catch, scored 3 TDs and was even AFC player of the week.

Mike then started to refer me to teammates Tim Rother, a 4th round pick from Nebraska, Derrick Gainer, an 8th round pick from Florida A&M and RB Vance Mueller, one of Al Davis’ favorites.

By 1990 I had several Raider players and started picking up clients from around Texas. Before I knew it my sideline business grew into a full time business after landing 2nd round OL Todd Rucci from PSU (Patriots) and 3rd rounder OT Earl Dotson (Packers) from Texas A&M-Kingsville.

I have to really thank those early guys for taking a chance on me, especially Dyal, Rucci and Dotson. There were more experienced agents at the time they could have gone with. As a matter of fact, Dotson signed with an agent out of Dallas who gave him a signing bonus of $3,000. After thinking about for a few days he eventually returned the money, fired them and hired me. I went on to make him the highest paid OL in the history of the Packers and one of the highest paid right tackles in the NFL (at time of deal) on his second contract.

An agent’s first client is the hardest one to get, and sometimes the most important.

Side note:

I have a tight bond with all of my clients but those early ones are very special. Now I get to see their son’s play and may even represent them someday.

Mike Dyal’s son, QB Cade Dyal, is in the 5A Texas High school playoffs (Kerrville-Tivy) and can play in the championship in Cowboys stadium if they keep winning.

Todd Rucci has two massive athletic boys that are tearing it up at the middle school level and already look the part.

Former client, Chiefs cornerback coach and friend Al Harris’ son, Al Harris Jr., is starting for South Carolina at Corner as a true freshman. Like the old man, playing lots of press and wearing number 31.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

Is the CBA hurting young players?

When the group of veteran player reps sat down with the NFL to negotiate a long-term labor agreement in 2011, a big focus for players was putting more safeguards in the CBA to protect their bodies. Jeff Saturday and his team of 30+ year old players were successful in limiting practice schedules, reducing contact, eliminating two–a-day padded practices during camp and shrinking the off season organized team activities (OTAs). The spirit of their efforts was to take their bodies out of harms way by spelling out how many times coaches can access players on the field and by putting a definitive cap on full padded/contact practices.

The result: A huge win for veteran players!

Only time will tell if we have indeed reduced injuries and prolonged the career span of the NFL player.

But in just three years we do know this: 1) A reduced salary structure for rookies and players with less than four years of experience are fiscally more attractive than pricey veterans. 2) There are younger players on rosters seeing the field with less preparation than they had prior to 2011. 3) Young QBs are really struggling. 4) We are seeing more penalties, especially from younger players.

Is this the result of the changes made to the CBA as it relates to fewer teaching opportunities? A lot of coaches and front office execs think so.

Many coaches I talk to are very frustrated with the lack of time they get with teaching young players on the field. As one NFL head coach put it to me, “I had to force myself and my staff to become more patient and tolerate the growing pains of rookie players on game day.” Another AFC offensive line coach told me, “I was able to drill my young players for hours and days without risking injury and having contact. Now I can barely get my hands on them. I’ll still develop them but it will take longer.”

As for the 2011 CBA resulting in fewer injuries, it will be hard to tell. For one, more players are being more conservative by reporting injuries and missing more practices and games. Many players in the past were scared to report injuries because they were afraid they would eventually be released being damaged goods.

As a side note, one veteran client thinks more players are getting hurt because meeting times have increased significantly in lieu of practice time. He said, “Seems like we go from hours of sitting down in meetings, then practice, then hours of sitting down again. The longer we sit we can feel our bodies get stiffer and stiffer. I would prefer we be more active without hitting”.

With no two a day padded practices during camp (which definitely had to go) and only ten days of OTA practices (organized team activities), NFL coaching staffs are extremely limited in their ability to develop younger players. For layman’s, imagine this scenario: A rookie wide receiver asks his coach prior to the official offseason workout program to go out on the field to work on his routes. The coach has to say NO, because if he took the player out on the field and walked through routes for thirty minutes it would be a violation of the CBA.

Young players need to get on the field with their coaches in the off-season and even after practice. Young players want to get some extra technical work and coaches want to coach them up. But it can’t and won’t happen. If we had better prepared young players, which teams are keeping anyway, we will also see cleaner football on Sundays, especially from the QBs.

So what can we do?

Many would like to see some coaches and the competition committee propose some additional non-padded/non contact practice sessions for players with less than four credited seasons. For example, there may be ten one hour sessions between April 15 and June 20. Then, an additional five sessions during camp and about fourteen during the season (no more than 2 per week and no longer than 60 minutes).

Young players want to be coached and need to be coached. Those coaching staffs that are loaded with good teachers will definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks for reading.

What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for….

Getting to watch players like Steve Smith who play football the way it should be played, to the echo of the whistle, going hard on every play and being physical.

Representing America loving blue collar studs like Pat Angerer, Al Harris, Earl Dotson, Eric Steinbach, Todd Rucci, Tim Dwight and Kelly Gregg who are now retired, and many others). These guys did it the right way and left a huge wake of respect on every field they ever touched. Pleasure was all mine.

That the football world has finally woke up and quit ignoring the severity and dangers of concussions.

That college football finally has a playoff system. Amen!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

What If…

Being an agent I get to hear players and coaches talk about the league in private. They talk about which coaches they love and hate, who's smart and who's dumb, who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t. The chatter you don’t get to hear would surprise most fans. In listening to coaches and players over the years, here are some “What if” scenarios that may surprise you.

What if…. All players were free agents after this year and could sign wherever they wanted. Where would they go?

Considering that the head coaches stayed put and all the QB’s did as well, and the contracts were equal; these are the teams players would most likely choose:

Seattle Seahawks: The state of Washington has no state taxes so most players would receive an automatic 5% to 10% raise. Pete Carroll makes football fun and laid back but he still motivates and wins. And, they’re the “it” team right now. Players around the league talk and compare. Players talk to each other about training rooms, practice routines, locker room chemistry and finger pointing within their organizations. Players will come here for the organization.

Miami Dolphins: Players want to go to this team more for Miami than they do the Dolphins. Florida also has no state taxes, a decent cost of living and many players’ workout, vacation and train there in the off-season. Florida also produces the most NFL players, and players from Florida prefer to stay close to home. So just for the fact that so many NFL players are from the southeast they would likely flock to the city they could live in and play in year round.

Tennessee Titans: If you never been to Nashville you’ll find a city with Midwestern values, southern charm and well balanced in every manner. It’s centrally located to players who are from the midwest, east coast, and/or southeast. It too has no state taxes and a friendly cost of living. I’ve had a few players move there after they retired. There’s entertainment, great food and it’s a good place to raise a family. These traits help to overcome the lack of success by the team as of late.

Green Bay Packers: NFL players really respect a winning QB. They respect Brees, Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. Players talk about these guys with the utmost respect and favor. Offensive specialty players know they will have more success if they have a good QB. Rodgers is a QB who is ego-less, tough and fun to play with. Word around the league is that Green Bay is a special place and the players get treated very well.

In talking to several current and retired coaches lately the subject of who were the best head coaches ever came up. So here is another fun what if based off these conversations.

What if… You could hire one coach out from behind the TV camera to coach and build your team for three years? Here are our choices: Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Brian Billick, and Jimmy Johnson.

My choice without question would be Jimmy Johnson. I don’t care that he’s 71. Players love playing for him, he’s tough but fair and can motivate. He has an eye for talent and knows whom to hire as assistants. I would let him run my draft as well. The coaches and players who worked and played for him are constantly singing his praises and any coach in the league would love to work for him.

Who would you hire?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

5 best NFL venues

I’ve asked several agents, media types and other professionals in our industry what their favorite stadium venues were. Along with my own experiences, here are our favorite venues. In selecting our venues, we considered the city experience, ease of logistics, pre-game, post-game and the game time experience.

Here are our top five stadiums in no specific order:

Dallas AT&T Stadium: If you haven’t been to Jerry’s World, put it on your sports bucket list. It doesn’t even have to be for a Cowboys game but this stadium is the new world standard. What I particularly like about it is you don’t have to stay in your seat for the entire game. You can bounce around and still see the games from the many TVs, screens and the massive HD digital display.

Additionally, if you are located in some premium seating areas you may get access to some fantastic club lounges complete with the premium champagne or tequila bars. The tunnel bar is a glass venue that allows you to see the players and coaches walk right by as they enter and leave the field.

Prior to the game, there is some elaborate tailgating going on with some of the most exotic grills and setups I’ve ever seen.

The only downside of Texas stadium is the location outside of some of the better areas in Dallas. However, it’s worth the trip and you won’t be disappointed. If your team is playing the Cowboys, make a road trip you’ll never forget.

Green Bay: The first time I’d ever been to Green Bay in 1993, is when I fell in love with Packer-land. Driving down, what was/is an ordinary suburban like four lane street, the Stadium pops up and out at you from behind a strip mall. Your mind tells you that this thing doesn’t belong here. There are literally backyards of houses across the street. It looks like somebody accidently dropped it there from the sky.

LambeauAlways something good to eat outside of Lambeau.

For me, Packers Stadium represents the Mecca of pro stadiums and experiences. It appears and feels like part stadium, part museum, part monument and part capitol building. It’s warm, inviting and friendly even on the coldest days in December. But what makes the Packers experience is the people/fans. They are quick to offer you luck, a brat and a beer if you are wearing an opposing teams jersey (with the exception of a Bears jersey).

Getting into and parking at the stadium is simple and cheap. Tons of tailgate parties around the stadium with live music, tents and bars. Once inside, you’ll feel the intimacy with the game action because the field is close to the seats.

Seattle: When a team is playing well and their fans have something to cheer about, it always seems like a fun atmosphere no matter where you are. However, Seattle has something more to offer than a hot team and newer stadium. The whole package is one of the best in the country.

The thing I like most about the Seattle experience is that once you arrive you don’t need a car or taxi. You can stay at one of the many cool hotels downtown, visit the many restaurants and explore the city by foot or bike. It does lack a traditional tailgating component but that’s more than made up for by all of the activities and venues the downtown has to offer.

Once inside the stadium the crowd stays electrified through four quarters and the energy is infectious. There’s definitely something organic, but yet futuristic and unique about seeing the skyline underneath the ominous northwest skies from your seat. The stadium is efficient, clean and well thought out.

Indianapolis: The Colts are lucky to have a venue that’s downtown and pedestrian friendly. It’s the reason why the NFL Combine, The Big Ten Championship and many other big events call Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium their home.

Indianapolis may be one of the best walkable sports towns in America. Downtown is stacked with hotels, restaurants and bars. You can easily park anywhere downtown, grab a sandwich and beer before the game and tailgate in the warm indoors. If you want a stress-less convenience, Indy is your spot. I would describe Colts fans as nice, mature and easygoing. It’s a good place to take the family.

As you approach Lucas field you realize you aren’t walking into a stadium but into a field house on steroids. The field house feels more like a setting for a college basketball game than a football game, which provides for a unique experience. The field house style design of Lucas Stadium is deceiving because the stadium provides for a comfortable roomy venue but yet keeps the environment intimate.

After a game, you can quickly be eating a steak dinner at one of the many fine restaurants, or enjoying another game on TV at one of the many sports bars.

Pittsburgh: Back in the apex of the industrial revolution Pittsburgh was one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Oil, steel, banking, and railroad monies laid the foundation of a city on the rise on the intersection of three rivers. The Steelers stadium is magnificently placed as a stage to the city. Night games in Pittsburgh are especially magical.

Pittsburgh has one of the leagues most contiguous fans bases. Meaning there was never a huge turnover in season ticket holders. Therefore, the Steelers fans are some of the more passionate you will ever witness. To experience their passion for their team is one of the reasons you go to the game.

You can get there by foot, by boat or by car. You can choose the experience you want. Watching the fans make their way to the stadium is like watching bees finding their orderly place on their hive.

Yes, Pittsburgh is by reputation a blue-collar town but you’ll also find upscale accommodations, and some sophistication alongside simple down home eateries and watering holes. This setting was designed by the football gods.

Honorable mentions:

KC Chiefs: If you want to know what its like attending a BIG 10 or BIG 12 college game just go to a Chiefs game instead. Arrowhead is one of the few venues that emulates big college football.

ArrowheadKC Chiefs fans always get creative for tailgating.

Prior to kickoff, this stadium offers a massive tailgate scene, constantly singing fans, the smell of authentic barbeque, and an orderly way of getting to your seat. Just follow the regulars and get some laughs from the many outfits you’ll see.

Chiefs fans are passionate, a little out there but still mid-westerners at heart so they are pretty nice. Arrowhead represents an old school atmosphere that hasn’t changed for decades. You can’t help to get swept up in the fans love for their franchise.

New Orleans: A one of a kind experience in a one of a kind place.

The Linc in Philly: The fans are edgy, creative, passionate and take tailgating to new heights. The stadium has several indoor and outdoor venues and the food is damn good.

Cleveland, Houston, Baltimore and Tampa were also listed as several favorites.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

The difference maker

If you are an avid football fan and watch religiously with a forensic eye, you will know that the difference in each game comes down to about five big plays. That’s five plays that could happen because of a blown assignment, a missed tackle, a penalty, a wrong route, and/or a missed block. Outside of the balanced give and take between two teams, it’s these five plays that make the difference in the outcome of a game. Usually, the team who makes the least mistakes wins.

So what are the macro-fundamental reasons why so many teams can’t consistently win ten games or more over the course of a decade? What are the unseen forces of why teams fail to be consistent winners, and make the playoffs two thirds of the time?

Here are four factors for losing organizations you may not notice on Sundays but they are usually the reason.

It does start at the top: Owners can be their own worst enemy by either being too deeply involved with personnel (coaches and players) moves, being too cheap, and/or letting their ego or the media sway their decisions. Now a bad owner even gets lucky sometimes and wins a Super Bowl in spite of themselves. They may score a great QB in the draft and land a great coach, however, they usually can’t keep the wins coming.

The best owners hire great football people, reinforce and support their plans and get out of their way. I would be foolish to name any owners but you know who they are.

The training room: NFL teams will manage about one hundred players over the course of a year. During the season it’s about sixty. However, the vast majority of NFL training rooms are understaffed and lack quality depth. Some teams only have three to four trainers backed up by a few interns. Others have about eight to ten high quality trainers. Some head trainers are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the player first. Some others can’t even order an MRI without permission from a GM or front office exec.

Eighty percent of all NFL players have an injury during the season that requires serious attention. Many players don’t get the care and attention they need. Teams with superior training rooms do a great job in catching an injury before it gets worse, even preventing injuries and making players feel they can trust the decisions being made. The reality is, most players don’t trust NFL trainers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the saying from clients, “Our trainers are a joke”. Or, after moving teams, “Wow, the treatment I’m getting now is night and day”.

Teams that keep their players healthy will win more frequently with a training staff that helps to create high morale throughout the team.

No real offensive/defensive “system” in place: The Packers have been running the same offense for many years. So have the Patriots, Giants, Saints, and the Falcons. They are system-based offenses that can plug in players that fit the needs of the system.

Defensive coordinators Dom Capers, Dick Lebeau, Wade Phillips, and Greg Williams run a philosophy and system based defense that players can adapt to quickly. When these coaches are with one team for a long time they usually have long-term success.

Once players learn a system, the work/practice time is about perfection, execution and adding some wrinkles. The Patriots have used WR’s Troy Brown, Tim Dwight, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and/or Julian Edelman to plug-in and play their slot receiver for years. The Packers and the Patriots have both pawned off back-up QBs that have excelled in their systems but struggled with other playbooks after being traded.

Having a developed system on both sides of the ball allows players to improve each year without having to learn new playbooks every three years.

Ability to develop players: Teams that know how to develop young players will have depth and can rely on the “next man up” philosophy. Under the new CBA coaches don’t have the on-field development time they used to so they have to improvise. Teams who properly manage their preseason reps, balance coaching time between vets and rookies and have a definitive patient plan in place will always have a pipeline of good players.

Teams who don’t have developed depth fall apart around midseason once their best players get hurt. The Ravens and Steelers do an excellent job in developing young players. GM Ozzie Newsome once told me he hired John Harbaugh because he’s used to working with the bottom half of the roster and is a teacher. Thus, John likes hiring coaches who are always “teaching”. It’s actually the reason I sent UFA LT James Hurst there this year after 18 teams bid for his services. As a rookie, he started four games and did a good job protecting Flacco.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

Will a rugby star make it in the NFL?

Before I get into any details, I want to disclose that I have represented two Australians who have played in the NFL. Matt McBriar, Cowboys pro bowl punter. And Hayden Smith, a Saracens rugby player turned tight end for the Jets in 2012. In addition, I am a big fan of rugby and rugby league, follow the sport closely and even consult for USA Rugby captain Todd Clever on his contracts and endorsements.

With all the attention given to Jarryd Hayne’s shocking decision to leave the National Rugby League to pursue a career in the NFL, I thought I’d shed some light on the challenges he will face and the probabilities of making it.

First, to put it in perspective for NFL fans, it would be equivalent to Marshawn Lynch quitting the Seahawks at age 26 to pursue a career playing rugby league in Australia. Or, a young Derek Jeter leaving MLB to pursue a cricket career in India. This is big news down under.

Jarryd Hayne was bred to play rugby league and was a natural since his early youth. In his first year as a professional he made a huge splash, similar to what SS QB Russell Wilson did as a rookie. He went on to win just about every award available within his first seven years in the NRL. He’s been rookie of the year to player of the year and everything in between. He was even named “The fastest man in Rugby”. Jarryd Hayne is one of the most decorated rugby league players in the history of the NRL There really wasn’t much left for him to accomplish that he hasn’t already achieved.

So being one of the best of the best in one sport says a lot about ones athletic ability and overall skill set. It must be special. However, the question remains, will it translate into being special enough to make an NFL team?

Let’s break down Jarryd’s and/or any other Rugby player challenges:

The physical adjustment: For Rugby and or Rugby League enthusiasts, who think wearing helmets and pads makes the NFL game softer than Rugby league, please forget that silly notion. The pads are there for a reason. The NFL game is extremely physical and the hits are massive and aplenty. The helmet and pads encourage players to hit as hard as they can, sometimes even using the helmet as a weapon. The average starting NFL linebacker is about 6’ 3 1/2”, weighs 256 pounds, and runs a forty-yard sprint in 4.65 seconds. He’s strong, mean, explosive, agile and quick. Our defensive linemen are even scarier. They can weigh between 290 and 320 pounds and run as fast as many rugby players weighing 50 pounds less. My point, if you are the fastest and quickest guy on the rugby field, you most likely won’t be the fastest guy on an NFL field, thus your speed that was a huge asset on the pitch will be marginalized to “average” on the NFL field. The same goes for the size and speed combination.

So for a rugby or rugby league player who is used to dominating his peers and playing at an advantage because of his physical skills, he will now have to adjust to the talent level around him.

A rugby league player will have the advantage from a training, durability, stamina, and mental standpoint and will be in better shape than most NFL players. Rugby and League players are some of the best conditioned athletes on the planet. When Hayden Smith was touring the NFL, the Saints put him through a non-stop hour and half workout at a few different positions. Mickey Loomis called me and said he wanted sign him and had never seen a guy in better shape at his size. Unfortunately, the NFL game doesn’t require the endurance needed in rugby. Therefore, rugby players will train differently for the NFL game and have to make some adjustments.

Overall, rugby and rugby league players will have a great advantage stepping into an NFL tryout, camp or game. My only fear is that traditional NFL style training can take away a rugby player’s edge and there is always injury risk in doing a lot of new things that the body is not used to.

(As a side note, the NFL could learn a lot from Rugby as it relates to training and enhancing a player’s durability). Hayden Smith made the Jets in his first season with the club without ever playing football in his life. He actually was playing rugby in the same year he played for the Jets. The following year he was released after not progressing over the previous year and not moving as quickly as he did the year before. Hayden feels his off-season football training slowed him down. Although he got stronger and bigger he lost a tad of his agility and quickness. He told me if he did it all over again he would have stuck more to his rugby training regimen.

The language / terms/ playbook: I like to equate learning an NFL offensive system and playbook to being in an eleven-piece orchestra. You have over fifty songs to learn and you may have to play more than one instrument. In addition, you have to understand the other members’ roles as well. One of the biggest challenges for players is learning the language of the game. Many NFL players have been playing football since the age of ten, so by the time they get into the league they know the basics. Even then, rookies struggle knowing the plays, the calls, and the audibles.

Audibles, also known as “check downs” or simply “calls”, at the line of scrimmage (right before a play starts) may be the biggest challenge for offensive players. If a player misses a call on a blocking assignment he may get his QB killed, run the wrong route, or hit the wrong hole and help cause a fumble.

Rookies from Stanford and Iowa, for example, do really well in the NFL because they work from a pro style terminology, playbook and system. They speak the language well! Rugby players on the other hand are starting from ground zero. And even when they get some type of crash course like I did for Hayden Smith, (I hired a former NFL TE coach to tutor him before his workouts), they will still struggle while learning on the run.

The better an individual’s ability is to learn, the faster they will catch on. But some NFL languages like the Patriots digit system can be even more challenging.

Learning the NFL system, a position requirement, and the game rules gives a younger player from college a huge advantage over someone who has never played the game. And preseason camps are so short that there isn’t much time to learn on the job.

Jarryd may have instant success with his potential ability to cover kicks/punts and possibly return them by relying on his athletic ability and instincts.

The CBA limitations and culture: With only four preseason games before the cut-down to the final 53 roster, there are very limited reps available for the projected starters and the other five or more players competing for a job at a given position.

The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement severely limits the amount of coaching time a coach has with a player on the field. Hayden Smith ’s biggest frustration in learning was his lack of on-field time with the coaches. Even though he would stay at the Jets facility for fourteen hours a day for 3 months straight, he was limited to learning p
hysical techniques on the field with coaches. His coaches were just as frustrated with the limited amount of coaching sessions they’d get with him and all players.

Under these rules, Jarryd and other rugby players will be better served having retired NFL coaches working with them as soon as they make the decision to give the NFL a try. And even once they are signed with a team, they should stick with a personal coach as long as they can.

The other challenge of making an NFL team, is the culture of the decision makers. Coaches and GMs have to think short-term. Outside of the quarterback position, there is no such thing as a three-year project anymore. There is little patience in the NFL in developing players, especially when they get north of 25 years of age. Jarryd and other potential crossovers will have one year to prove they can develop. By their second year, they have to be contributing by the end of that season. A younger player may get more grace with a solid organization.

There will be a few other areas where Jarryd will have some culture shocks. For one, Rugby is one of the world’s greatest fraternities. The players practically live together, travel together, socialize together, vacation together and train year round together. The NFL is very different. With only 16 games and 53 players, a rugby player won’t find the same kind of closeness he experienced with his other teammates. Many NFL players are married and rarely ever go out. Certain position groups stick together and don’t do much with other position groups. Unlike rugby, the NFL roster turns over so much that it’s hard to build and maintain relationships with teammates.

The other x factor involved with Jarryd having success or not may be out of his hands. Coaches select what players get the practice reps in the preseason and minicamp. If a coach thinks another player can help the team more, a crossover rugby player may never get the reps, coaching and time he needs to be successful. So no matter how hard he works, how talented he is, and how determined he is to make plays, he may never be given a fair opportunity to compete. Therefore, picking the right team will be 60% of his potential success.

I for one have a feeling he’s going to make it. Additionally, I already know of a few teams who are interested and wouldn’t mind grabbing the attention of his already built in international following.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

On the road with an agent

One perk of being an NFL agent is attending a lot of football games. Yes, it’s work because I’m usually visiting a client or two. However, being a football purist I like to enjoy the local scene, take in the regional food, marinate in the pre and post game energy, and admire tailgating at its best.

A typical schedule for an agent visiting a city for a game weekend usually goes something like this:

Saturday: Arrive before 4:00pm, check into hotel. Between 6:00pm and 8:00 pm, I’ll have dinner with a client from the visiting team. From 8:00pm to 10:00pm I’ll meet with the visiting team GM, salary cap manager, and/or pro scouting director. An agent may also visit with a player’s family member, former retired client and/or one of the home team’s front office execs. Both teams usually have team meeting starting about 9:00pm and curfew shortly thereafter.

JackPre-game on the field is a great place to catch up with team execs.

Sunday: Assuming a 1:15 or 4:15 pm kickoff, game day for me usually looks like this: Grab breakfast somewhere I can watch the early games and still take in a local experience. I always try to stay somewhere that gives me a true local experience and is not far from the stadium. And every now and then, I stay with clients. I will arrive at the stadium about two hours prior to kickoff. I like walking around and checking out either the downtown area and/or the tailgates. I may even stop by a client’s family tailgate and have a beer and/or bite.

My next stop, about an hour before the game, is the media will call window where I will pick up my tickets, pre-game field pass and/or post-game pass. I’ll make my way to the field to say hello to team execs, owners and coaches I didn’t see the previous evening. I may even chat with a network sideline reporter, home team PR director, and even a game official. I enjoy watching how each team handles their pre-game warm up, especially by position group.

Once kickoff begins, I’m in my seat experiencing the game and watching my client’s every move. Simultaneously, I’m watching NFL Now on my phone via my Verizon plan. (For some reason phones seem to die faster in stadiums so I make sure I bring my Mophie to get some additional juice). During the game and on breaks (halftime, timeouts) I’m always taking note of who is advertising in the stadium and in the program. These advertisers may be good prospects for client endorsements/sponsorships.

After the game, I make my way down to the family room of the home team or outside the locker room of the visiting team. Here I visit with my client for a few minutes and usually see their families as well. It’s also a great area to get some short but quality time with reporters, team execs, and or coaches.

After I say hello and good-bye to everyone after the game, it’s usually out to dinner with the home team client. We usually go somewhere that is known for the local fare. Or, head back to a family tailgate within the parking lot. Other times, back to the client’s house where someone is preparing a post-game spread. Whether it’s dinner at a restaurant or their home, I talk to my client about the game, his injuries, his finances and/or endorsement opportunities.

It’s important for an agent to visit his clients during game weekend. We can learn a lot of things to help guide our clients and create more opportunities for our clients. Such as how to build a local brand, which media outlets to trust, where to live or not to live, and/or which charitable organizations to affiliate with.

My favorite part of going to an NFL game is just taking in the atmosphere like Anthony Bourdain does when exploring a far off exotic city and culture. Watching the local fans enjoy themselves, tailgate, banter and cheer passionately is as much entertainment as the game.

Next week I will give you my top five NFL venues/cities to visit for a game.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta