The head coach as agent

In 2003, I was talking to another well-known agent when he suddenly took a call from a first-year head coach. The conversation went something like this:

Head coach: “Where is my first-round pick?”

Agent: “Your owners are dragging their feet. I don’t think you’ll have him signed in time for camp. You may want to let them know how badly you need him or he may not be signed until late August.”

The agent went on to play victim to the coach, who was motivated to make sure he had all his weapons for his inaugural season.

When the agent hung up the phone, he looked at me with smile and said, “The owners are scared to death of this guy and will give him anything he wants.”

Basically, what the agent was doing was recruiting the coach to apply pressure to ownership to get the deal done. Believe it or not, this happens more frequently than most people realize.

The agent and coaching communities are growing closer all the time. Many player agents, large and small, are also representing a lot of head coaches throughout the NFL. Can you say “conflict”?

Maybe, maybe not. It’s not uncommon to see the icons of the NFL throwing ‘em back with top agents at the Combine or the Senior Bowl. As head coaches become more involved with front office decision-making, they can play important roles in getting deals done on time.

If the head coach absolutely needs his draft pick to contribute right away, he will want to be kept in the loop regarding negotiations.

Sometimes, he works through the media by saying, “Player X is missing valuable time. He’s falling behind and will have a tough time winning a job.” This usually prompts a panicked call from the player or his family to the agent to please get the deal done. The agent then calms the player and/or the family and explains that the head coach doesn’t always care about the business side of things and just wants his players in camp.APBill Parcells

Twenty years ago, it wasn’t uncommon for head coaches to call rookies directly and tell them they “better tell their agent to get the freaking deal done.” I once had the Patriots’ Bill Parcells call me and my player, Todd Rucci, a second-round pick, and try to intimidate us to get a deal done. I stood up to him, telling him never to call my client until the contract was done, and asked him to hear me out on the issues. Ten minutes later, Bill opened up to me and actually told me he that he had inherited the team’s negotiator, didn’t like him and that he would probably be gone by the end of the year.

After I hung up with Bill, an angry Patrick Forte, the Pats’ negotiator, called me and reluctantly gave me what I needed to get my client into camp. Like Bill said, he was eventually let go.

An NFL head coach can sometimes be the best agent for a player. If he surreptitiously leans on the GM and owner to get his player into camp on time, the front office and ownership will do whatever it takes to get the player signed.

On the contrary, if the head coach doesn’t need the player to contribute right away, the front office may take advantage of this and try to save ownership some money. The result: leverage for the team and an extended negotiation late into camp. A three-week impasse may save the owner $3 million.

With the competition among mega-agencies for first-round picks, different priorities and philosophies within a team, the amount of money at stake and the media attention in today’s information society, the young, hungry rookie may be a victim of some invisible politics of window dressing, power and money – none of which he knows or cares anything about.

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