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Good article about slimy Sports Agents


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Season of The Agent

5/12/2004 1:01 AM

By Rufus Dawes | FAQ

May 12, 2004 (afternoon)--Spring signals the opening of the Season of the Agent. From here on until the opening weeks of training camp we’ll be hearing from some of this business’s slicker and slimiest football’s operatives.

This talk of agents got off to an earlier start than normal this year. It has been alleged that NHL player, Mike Danton, of the St. Louis Blues, was involved in setting up a “hit” on his agent, Dave Frost. Danton’s father has called Frost a “monster” and accused him of stealing his son from his family, which is a step or two up from stealing his money – an accusation that you see thrown around far more often than kidnapping. Frost’s other clients have been mum on the whole matter so information is coming out only in small doses. What we know so far sounds like something out of a Raymond Chandler novel.

While another black eye for agents is nothing new, the Danton incident sounds an alarm that we may be entering a darker and more sinister chapter in the tainted history of the profession

On the principle that some things can’t be said too often, let it be said once again: agents are among the worst things to have happened to professional sports. Yes, they’ve reaped the benefits of money for their clients but just as many have hoodwinked and swindled them. More damaging, agents have become notorious for throwing away aging clients or ones who can’t find work.

Agents operate in a world of lies and deception. While it may not be fair to tarnish every agent with the same brush, it can be said that the business as a whole has been given a free pass by too many media who they are in cahoots with.

As an exercise over the coming months, seek out Len Pasquarelli’s by-line on ESPN.com and see how many of his stories have to do with player contracts. My guess is they’ll run two-to-one contract to football story and that’s a shame. Now too often a mouthpiece for agents, Pasquarelli’s fair-minded reporting from his days on the team beat has gotten lost amidst countless stories on player contracts and the rhetoric swirling around negotiations. He can now be found writing the annual “ESPN.com agent draft derby” story, an accounting of each agent’s prospects, where their clients were chosen, and how well they fared.

There is a heady price to be paid for getting into bed with agents. The agent-media relationship is a simple business proposition: I’ll give you the scoop of who signed and for what but you must run it as I say it or I’ll give it to someone else. Next time you’re perusing a story on a player signing, take a look at how many team officials are noted in the story. Now, forget for the moment you really don’t care what some punter’s incentive bonus may be, can you be assured the numbers are correct? Fat chance. By the time that contract has been signed – probably even before it’s been signed – the numbers have been inflated by the agent and his media pal so they may act as a recruiting device for the next client. Even the more successful agents – including columnist Jason Whitlock’s “super agent” Tom Condon – play the game and self-promoters like Leigh Steinberg and Drew Rosenhaus, who preen in front of the television cameras every chance they get, have become masters at it.

In recent years and especially in light of the Danton case, the agent business has had more than its share of unsavory moments. Terrell Owens lost his chance for free agency because of an agent foul-up and college players have been bilked out of money and been lied to about their opportunities to make the pros. Agents like Tank Black and Norby Walters have been indicted and convicted. And then there’s their tactic of holding players out of camp and the damage that has caused.

Held out and held up

Anyone who has followed the Chiefs during the past decade is very familiar with holdouts. If it’s a drafted player, the general manager always talks about the importance of the rookie getting to camp on time so that he isn’t far behind when the season starts. The agent responds that he wants the same thing and will get a deal done. Camp opens, the player’s not there, and the talk starts heating up.

Most of the talk is, of course, decidedly one-sided. The team’s representative says something akin to: “I don’t negotiate through the press” and the agent bursts forth with day-after-day attacks on the club’s negotiating tactics and how his client is being hurt by not being in camp.

In writing about the likelihood that Cleveland’s number one draft pick for 2004, Kellen Winslow, will be in camp on time, the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Bud Shaw noted that the Poston brothers, Winslow’s agents “are to negotiating what the dentist’s drill is to an exposed nerve. Their track record says the pain doesn’t go away, it only subsides to rage again.” (Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 27, 2004)

This scenario isn’t any different for veteran players. The Postons retain their reputation there as well. “There are six unsigned players who carry the team’s franchise tag,” Shaw revealed. “The Postons represent three – the Rams’ Orlando Pace, Oakland’s Charles Woodson and San Francisco’s Julian Peterson.” Moreover, the Postons are currently battling the Washington Redskins over what they believe is “a missing $6.8 million roster bonus clause in an extension LaVar Arrington signed,” and they also represent Lawyer Milloy, who was dumped by the New England Patriots before last season and Ty Law, who says he will never play for the Patriots again.

Do you see a trend here?

Closer to home, the Chiefs have done battle in public with various agents – many who appear to relish getting their names in the paper more than hammering out deals. Norby Walters (Paul Palmer), Mark Ukra/Howard Mistle (Derrick Thomas), Jim Steiner (Elvis Grbac), Ethan Lock (John Tait), Hadley Engelhard (Ryan Sims), Roosevelt Barnes (Dan Williams), even Tom Condon (Sylvester Morris among a long list of veterans) have proven to be worthy and unworthy adversaries.

For their part, the agents would probably tell you their responsibility is to the client but that responsibility more often than not applies to getting the most money and, in turn, themselves or the agency they represent the biggest payout. On the surface there’s nothing wrong with this strictly business transaction, even though most agents claim to have more than financial gain in mind for clients who they often call “friends” not “clients.”

By their nature, the dollar figures included here are based on anecdotal evidence and could only be provided by agents since they are the only people quoted in most media stories. Bereft of any other real evidence, therefore, the media reports are vulnerable to debunking. For purposes of recognition, we will concentrate on number one picks or well-known veteran players whose contracts were up.

Paul Palmer

An early exponent of the value of “buying” players, Palmer’s agent, who up until that time had handled mostly entertainers, was convicted and sent to prison for giving goods and services prior to the player’s departure from college. Later his associate in representing Palmer was murdered.

Derrick Thomas

Derrick Thomas was the highest player drafted by the Chiefs in the Carl Peterson era. Like Palmer, he was represented by two men – one a car dealer from Nebraska. After a relatively short holdout – by today’s standards anyway – he came in, signed his contract and was named the rookie defensive player of the year. His reps were eventually fired and replaced by Leigh Steinberg. At the signing of his second contract with the Chiefs, Steinberg announced that Thomas was the highest paid linebacker in the league, ignoring Junior Seau’s contract among others.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams, a defensive linemen, was signed as a free agent by the Chiefs in the early days of training camp in 1997. After enjoying a productive season, Williams was named the team’s franchise player in February of 1998 and thereby guaranteed a salary of $2.882 million or the average salary of the top five defensive tackles at the time. But at his agent’s urging, Williams elected to sit out the entire ’98 season and didn’t return to the team until the following year.

By sitting out Williams lost an entire year of wages. The agent’s name is missing from the signed contract in the NFL offices in New York and is a clear indication that this was not a decision he would have agreed with if, by that time, he even cared.

With the franchise designation dropped, he eventually re-signed a contract with the Chiefs valued at less than one averaging the top five salaries of defensive tackles in 1999, according to NFL management council records. He was never the player he had been and was eventually waived. The millions he lost, he never regained.

Justin Smith

Smith interests us because his agent has a number of clients who have played for the Chiefs. A product of the University of Missouri, Smith was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round in 2001. Upon his selection, he said he wouldn’t hold out, according to a column by the Kansas City Star’s Jeffrey Flanagan. Claiming that Smith “is bound to get at least a $10 million signing bonus,” Flanagan wrote that Smith “gave the agent instructions to get a deal done, period. Smith understands the issues,” the agent said. (Kansas City Star, July 22, 2001)

But when camp opened every Cincinnati Bengals draft pick but Smith was there In an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Bengals owner Mike Brown said he had made Smith’s agent four different offers including one to approximate the $10 million Flanagan had reported the player was “bound to get”, but that the agent had “not made a bona fide counter-offer.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, August 3, 2001).

To anyone who knew Smith’s agent, this was nothing new. Like the Postons, he had and continues to have a well-documented reputation for holding his players out. Smith was the last player in the league to sign that season (September 8). Also among the final players to sign a contract that year was another of the agent’s clients: Deuce McAllister, even though he had been selected all the way down at the 23rd position in the first round. When he finally inked his contract, 17 players taken in front of him were already signed and in camp.

Elvis Grbac

Elvis Grbac left the Chiefs in the most surprising circumstances. Talk of Grbac’s future with the Chiefs had started well in advance of the close of the 2000 season given his contract status and the unlikelihood the Chiefs would hand over the nearly $10 million dollar bonus he was due in the spring. Nonetheless, it appeared a new contract would be signed if for no other reason than both sides wanted it done.

Upon taking the job as head coach, Dick Vermeil noted that atop his list of priorities as head coach was “to see the Chiefs resolve Grbac’s contract.” (Randy Covitz, Kansas City Star, January 12, 2000). Carl Peterson further noted that the team would “do whatever we can do, within reason” to keep him. (Rick Dean, Topeka Capital Journal, December 12, 2001) Peterson flew to Hawaii for the expressed purpose of meeting with Grbac at the Pro Bowl. Later Vermeil, his new staff members and Grbac met and a happy and seemingly content Grbac left town excited about his new head coach and the new direction he had in store for the team.

“He knows what a team needs to do to win,” Grbac said of his new coach. “He brings a fresh air and I think we need that.” (Adam Teicher, Kansas City Star, February 3, 2001) Everything he heard about the new offense pointed to what Grbac called “a good sign for the future, because to win in the NFL today, you’ve got to be able to throw the football. Now that we’ve developed the mindset that we can throw the ball here, I think we can add a running game that Kansas City is more used to.” (Rick Dean, Topeka Capital Journal, December 12, 2001). Said his agent, “It was an excellent visit. Elvis said he felt very comfortable with the coaches, and I’m sure they’re comfortable with him. I’m sure (a restructured contract) is something we can get ironed out in the next few weeks.

After a month of continued talks, however, the agent informed Chiefs management that he had been stalling all along and that his client had never had any intentions of returning to Kansas City if the team didn’t make the payment he was due. Hearing the news, Vermeil expressed disappointment that he wouldn’t “get the opportunity to exploit Elvis’s talents.” (Ivan Carter, Kansas City Star, February 28, 2001). Team president Carl Peterson repeated the agent’s comment that one of the reasons he was given was “in the end (Grbac) wanted to take advantage…of what was his last go-round (in free agency.)” (Rick Dean, Topeka Capital Journal, March 5, 2001)

A few weeks later, Grbac signed with the Baltimore Ravens for a contract worth a reported $30 million, or so it was reported in USA Today at the time. But Grbac never saw $30 million dollars and not because he never reached year two of his five-year deal. He didn’t receive an $11 million signing bonus either, as was widely reported by media. In truth, he received a $5 million dollar signing bonus and $5 million in salary in his first and only year in Baltimore. His $6 million dollars due to him by the Ravens in 2002 was a club “option,” even though it was not reported that way in the media. It was one the Ravens ultimately chose not to pick up. Therefore, no $30 million, no where even close.

Sylvester Morris

Sylvester Morris was the 21st pick the 2000 NFL draft and, to the Star’s Jeffrey Flanagan’s thinking, or so he wrote in a September 14, 2000 article, a big pay day was just around the corner for the Chiefs number one selection. But the facts of the Morris contract, as housed in the NFL offices in New York, were at odds with Flanagan’s speculation.

In Flanagan’s account, he implied Morris “will pick up an additional $1.2 million” his rookie season if “he reaches 801 receiving yards.” The truth, however, was that Morris would not cash in that year, the following year or the year after that. What Morris had was what is known as an “escalator” clause. His salary would increase from $413,000 (the minimum salary for a player with four accrued seasons at the time) to as much as $3.5 million in the fifth year if he had more than 801 yards of receiving in each of the proceeding four years.

Morris’s chances of reaching those lofty heights were near to impossible. At that time only two NFL receivers since 1993 had more than 800 yards in receptions in four consecutive years: Keyshawn Johnson and Joey Galloway. Morris eventually finished his first year with the Chiefs with 14 starts and played in 15 games accumulating 578 yards. He sustained a serious knee injury the following off-season and never returned to the field of play.

The lengths to which one member of the media went to promote the agent representing Sylvester Morris defy explanation. Most media make an attempt to at least act unbiased in such matters, but in an August 7, 2000 article in the Kansas City Star, columnist Jason Whitlock said that Morris’s agent had been deeply damaged by the “desperate” acts of fellow agents. Their desperation resulted, so said Whitlock, in failing to gain fair contracts for the players selected just ahead of Morris in the draft driving down his fair market value.

What can you do, lamented Whitlock, when “inexperienced agents mess up the slots.” Drafted players’ contracts routinely fall into line – slots – in the order in which they are drafted. “You can’t expect a seasoned agent and a prestigious firm (representing Morris) to allow desperate agents to set the standards.” Whitlock agonized over the agent’s dilemma, implying that teams like Kansas City “prey on inexperienced agents who lend clients money and need their draft picks to sign so they can recoup” their money. Morris’s agent and his company “don’t have to play that game,” Whitlock wrote. Apparently the notion that an agent just as easily might prey on a team never crossed Whitlock’s mind, or that the agent and company in question would somehow be above advancing money to prospective clients. Truth be told, agents and agencies routinely advance first round clients money in the neighborhood of six and sometimes seven figures. How do you suppose the same agencies continue to land the first round picks year after year?

As to when it was established that all other player agents had to check with this particular agent before arriving at a value of their clients is unknown. Morris’s agent wouldn’t be the first to turn to the media to plead his case. That someone in the media would be such a willing advocate is another matter.

John Tait

John Tait’s representative was caught up in language that today is still not part of an NFL’s standard contract. A professor by trade with limited experience in the agent business, he wanted language in Tait’s contract to guarantee the player his entire signing bonus should he die in an off-the-field accident, or so he said in a radio report at the time. There was no precedent for such language and, indeed, the idea that a team would guarantee the entire amount of a first round signing bonus if such player died, say in an automobile accident or any number of ways other than on the field, was on face value ridiculous.

When the team refused to change the language of the NFL’s standard contract for this one player, the agent exploded and immediately called a press conference to express his outrage at such a decision. Tait later signed with the team but not with the language the agent had originally insisted.

Ryan Sims

Ryan Sims was the highest drafted player the Chiefs had selected since Derrick Thomas in 1989. At first, negotiations moved quickly for a top 10 pick, according to a sampling of media reports. Sims’ agent wasn’t one of the better known names in the agent community so little knowledge can be gleaned from published reports of his negotiating reputation.

Training camp opened with Sims still at home in North Carolina and as weeks passed it became obvious that it might be a while before he came to Kansas City. Drafted players around him continued to sign and join their respective teams in camps but Sims, at his agent’s urging, stayed away.

Sims signed at the start of the 2002 season and was promptly injured in his second game as a starter and was lost for the season – appearing in only six games his rookie campaign. After devoting weeks of coverage to the contract scrap, little was said by an agent who had had so much to say for the weeks leading up to his signing. Was the client now no longer a concern since the agent already had his money and was in search of a new one? Before the year was out, so was the agent. Sims dumped him and the agent’s one-time partner is taking him to court.

Agent pawn or just lazy

Granted the higher math of contracts and player salaries do not lend themselves to any form of excitement, but they certainly excite the media if the above examples are any indication. Agents love to talk and media love to listen, but too few with a discriminating ear. By becoming the pawn of agents members of the media surrender their objectivity and elect to become part of the story and not reporters of it.

Or maybe it has something to do with laziness. According to Cynthia Cross of The Wall Street Journal and author of Tainted Truth: the Manipulation of Fact in America, statistical exaggeration is a problem found in many media stories. One of the reasons she gives for this is: “reporters can be very lazy about fact checking; they don’t want to take the time and effort to track the numbers down.” That would be the right numbers, not those provided by people who have a stake in their inflation. But John Leo of US News and World Report sees another reason, “the tendency not to be checking facts that you agree with” – a case of being led only where you want to go.

But if you need any further evidence that agents play the media, take this favorite story from two years ago into account. In involves Drew Rosenhaus, who has fashioned a bit of a reputation for having a good number of the University of Miami players as clients.

Turn on ESPN’s coverage of any draft and you’re sure to see Rosenhaus lurking in the background with a cell phone pressed firmly to his ear. How certain can we be that media are played by agents? Rosenhaus has said so. Two years ago, he admitted that his hyping of his client, Willis McGahee, the top-rated University of Miami running back who it was reported was making a remarkable recovery from a serious knee injury, was a stunt.

“Everybody bought into this idea he was making this remarkable recovery,” Rosenhaus admitted after the draft, unable to control his glee. “The media made it easy – make it so easy – by repeating what I was saying about him being a first-round pick.” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel, April 27, 2003).

So easy, in fact, that you’ll be hearing more from Drew and his confederates in the months to come. You can be sure of that.


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Excellent article.

I never understood why, especially high picks and good veterans, teams and agents can negotiate honorably and that the agent and player have to understand that in a salary cap era you will not get whatever you want. Nor should the bar keep getting raised to top someone else.

But at minimum be honorable in negotiations. Don't pull "stunts" like Rosenhaus hyping of McGahee, that's pretty much equivalent to FRAUD and insisting on a different slotting like the Postons might do with Winslow is another outrageous act.

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Guest SkinsHokie Fan

If I am not mistaken I believe the Postons also wanted to have Lavar slotted as the number 1 pick rather then the number 2 pick and this was a reason why he held out. However Snyder held firm and told Lavar that if he held out any longer 100k would be deducted per day from the offer.

I believe that is what happened

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