Pasquarelli's Around the League
Friday, May 9
IMG Football wins agent draft derby
By Len Pasquarelli
Given the seemingly limitless resources of its parent company, IMG Football should annually recruit and negotiate more contracts for draft prospects than any other accredited agent or representation firm, its competitors characteristically suggest.
Perhaps that is the case and, no doubt, being a significant component of the world's most encompassing sports marketing and representation conglomerate provides IMG Football an exponential advantage over other agents in the NFL market. That advantage certainly abetted IMG Football as it trounced the competition in the annual ESPN.com agent draft derby, an accounting of each agency's selected prospects, and where they were chosen.
2003 agent draft derby
The annual ESPN.com draft agent derby awards points, on a descending basis, for each player selected. A first-round choice is worth seven points to an agent or firm, a pick in the second round is worth six, down to one point for a seventh-rounder. The runaway winner this year was IMG Football, with 69 points, but 17 individuals or agencies had 20 points or more. Here are those that scored 20 points or better:
Agency Players Pts.
IMG Football (a) 14 69
Sportstars (b) 15 52
Octagon (c) 7 42
CSMG (d) 7 40
Priority Sports (e) 10 33
Neil Cornrich 5 28
All Pro Sports (f) 8 27
Athletic Resource Mgmt. (g) 6 26
Joel Segal 5 24
ProFiles Sports Mgmt. (h) 5 23
Athletes First (i) 5 23
Strategic Sports Group (j) 7 23
Rosenhaus Sports (k) 4 22
Leigh Steinberg (l) 6 22
Marvin Demoff 4 21
Momentum Sports (m) 4 21
Gary Wichard 6 20
Notes: (a) Principle agents are Tom Condon and Ken Kremer; (b) Alan Herman, Brian Mackler, Jason Chayut, James Ivler and Bill Heck; (c) Mike Sullivan, Ken Landphere, Andre Colona and Doug Hendrickson; (d) Kennard McGuire, Fletcher Smith and David Ware; (e) Mark Bartelstein, Rick Smith, Kenny Zuckerman and Mike McCartney; (f) Lamont Smith and Peter Schaffer; (g) Jimmy Sexton and Kyle Rote Jr.; (h) Pat Dye and Bill Johnson; (i) David Dunn, Joby Branion and Brian Murphy; (j) Vann McElroy and Jeff Nalley; (k) Drew Rosenhaus and Jason Rosenhaus; (l) Leigh Steinberg and Bruce Tollner; (m) Jack Scharf and Jeff Griffin.
Yet in a business that has seen the recent entry of sports marketing and entertainment giants like Octagon and SFX into the arena, and where even some so-called "boutique" agencies remain remarkably competitive, officials at IMG Football insisted this week that their edge is still in the details and not solely the fancy logo on their business cards.
"Look, this business is about personal contact," said agent Tom Condon, who with longtime partner Ken Kremer has turned IMG Football into one of the most influential entities in the league. "Sure, it's great to have the resources we do, and that IMG name means a lot. I'd be lying to say otherwise. But you still have to build rapport with players and their families, service your clients, take care of people at the personal level. I mean, if a client gets traded, and suddenly he has to uproot his family, all of the corporate stuff means nothing to him. The formula is still built around relationships."
It is a formula that, obviously, served IMG Football well again this year.
The agency parlayed the 14 clients it represents in the 2003 lottery into 69 points in the fourth annual agent derby. That was 17 points more than the next closest competitor, the Manhattan-based Sportstars, which had a league-high 15 clients drafted two weeks ago. It marks the third time in four years that IMG Football has claimed the crown in a ranking that some agents now refer to as "The Lenny's," but which we refuse to re-name.
Points in the agent draft derby are awarded in descending order, for each player chosen, with a first-round selection netting an agency seven points. A second-round selection, for instance, earns six points, down to one point for a prospect chosen in the seventh round. The scoring is based on NFL Players Association documents which list representatives for each of the 262 players selected.
Once again, the agent draft derby reflected not only the competitiveness of the business -- some would term it the cut-throat nature of a pursuit that seems to become more tawdry and excess-riddled every year -- but also the evolving state of the NFL agent game.
In increasing numbers, agents who once competed against each other are now partnering up, primarily to counter the giant entertainment conglomerates in the market. This year, for instance, Atlanta agent David Ware became partners in CMSG, which also includes veteran representatives Kennard McGuire and Fletcher Smith, and their combined efforts earned the group a fourth-place finish, with 40 points.
"It serves us all well," Ware said. "What's that old saying about strength in numbers?"
Emerging agencies like Sportstars and Priority Sports and Entertainment now number four or five representatives each under their corporate umbrellas and the merged efforts have paid off handsomely. Both groups finished in the top five this spring. Sportstars, which has dramatically increased its national reach in recent years under the principle direction of Alan Herman and Brian Mackler, had the most clients drafted for the second consecutive year.
But even with the continued compression of the business, the 2003 draft again showed that there remains a spot, albeit a shrinking one, for the "boutique" agencies. That is the term frequently applied to individual agents, those who have no more than one partner, and which operate well outside the scope of the conglomerates.
Nineteen of 32 first-round selections are represented by smaller agencies. And a select group of those agencies still scored well in the agent draft derby.
The ubiquitous Drew Rosenhaus, ably assisted by brother Jason Rosenhaus, was one of just five agents with multiple first-round selections. Lone wolves Joel Segal and Neil Cornrich both scored top 10 finishes in the agent derby. ProFiles Sports Management (Pat Dye Jr. and Bill Johnson) and Athletic Resource Management (Jimmy Sexton and Kyle Rote Jr.) annually finish in the top 10 and did again this year. Vann McElroy and Jeff Nalley of Strategic Sports Group had two second-round picks, seven overall, and nudged their way into the top 10.
Agent pioneer Marvin Demoff, who has scaled back his efforts over the last few years, nonetheless represents a pair of first-round choices. Despite the specter of bankruptcy and a continuing legal battle with Leigh Steinberg, his mentor, David Dunn and his partners at Athletes First had five clients, including top overall selection Carson Palmer.
Many of the so-called "little guys" demonstrated a survivalist ability to remain viable in the industry, no small feat anymore, they acknowledge.
"There's always the fear that the (conglomerates) are going to gobble everything up," said Segal, a tireless recruiter and tough negotiator. "But that kind of spurs a competitive nature in some guys. I still like being my own boss and doing this my way. Maybe that changes down the road, I don't know, but it hasn't gotten to the point yet where I'm tired of the David-and-Goliath thing. I'm still carrying my slingshot around."
It might take more like a satellite-guided bunker buster, though, to knock IMG Football from its preeminent perch.
In securing their third agent draft derby title, Condon and Kremer didn't equal the record six first-round choices they represented two years ago, but still led all competitors with four clients selected in the opening stanza. They had seven players chosen in the first two rounds, eight prospects in the top three rounds, a typical first-day bounty for them.
By the end of the first day, in fact, IMG Football had accumulated 56 points, enough to capture the title without even holding the second day of the draft. Their 46 points in the first two rounds was more than the totals for all agencies except Sportstars.
The 2003 draft simply continued IMG Football's strong run. Condon and Kremer now have 24 first-round picks over the last six years. The next closest in that same period, Leigh Steinberg, had just 10. In that same timeframe, IMG had 45 players selected in the first three rounds and the runner-up had 18 first-day choices.
Around the league
Ramming speed ahead on negotiations: While the St. Louis Rams convene a rookie minicamp this weekend, the veterans are not due to report for their mandatory sessions until May 16. That gives management one more week to address some pending negotiations, with players currently on the roster and a few who are being pursued as free agents, before assembling for three days of practices. Look for the team to step up talks with free agent Jason Sehorn next week, in an effort to get him into the minicamp, and begin the transition from cornerback to safety.
No one should expect progress in talks with left offensive tackle Orlando Pace, designated as a "franchise" player, and probably still a long way from an agreement. But one deal that the Rams might be able to consummate by next weekend, with very heavy emphasis on the might, is with wide receiver Torry Holt. As noted here last week, there have been some discussions with Holt and agent Greg Williams, but not much progress yet toward an extension. Williams confirmed to ESPN.com this week that his client, who he suggests is only the 44th-highest paid wide receiver in the league, will not report for work until his contract situation is resolved. "I know it's hard for (Rams management), because they say they can't pay Torry what they are paying Isaac Bruce, but we can't help that," Williams said. "So far, we're taking the high road, and we've been reasonable in our proposals to them, we think. But we've also made it clear that, until there is a new deal in place, Torry isn't going back there." Holt, 26, is entering the final season of the original five-year deal he signed as a first-round choice in 1999. He is scheduled to have an '03 base salary of $1.162 million, while Bruce's base salary is $4.3 million.
There are some NFL corners who feel Holt has supplanted Bruce as the St. Louis "go to" receiver. In their four years of playing together, Bruce has 307 catches for 4,817 yards and 34 touchdowns. Holt has 306 receptions for 5,088 yards and 23 scores. Without an extension, Holt could be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring and, given the Rams' current cap structure, the club might not have sufficient wiggle room, assuming it eventually signs Pace, to employ the "franchise" designation to retain him.
Panthers on the defensive: The Carolina coaching staff is trying hard, but failing in some quarters, to contain its excitement over what it feels will be an even better front four unit in 2003. Left end Julius Peppers, coming off a rookie campaign in which he posted 12 sacks despite missing four games because of a league-imposed suspension, reported to a recent minicamp bigger and more mature. But he wasn't the only defensive lineman who demonstrated that better things might lie ahead. The staff is thrilled with right end Mike Rucker and, while the 350 pounds at which tackle Kris Jenkins weighed in might represent a tad too much tonnage, the coaches feel he will be improved over a 2002 Pro Bowl-caliber season. The departure of tackle Sean Gilbert, one of the most overpaid underachievers in recent league history, is also viewed as a plus. "Outside of Peppers, most people don't know who these guys are, but they're going to find out pretty quickly," said one Carolina official. "It's one of the best (front four) groups in the league already and it's going to get better."
Knight in whose clothing? Look for safety Sammy Knight, one of the best unrestricted players still available, to make a decision on his future sometime next week. Knight hasn't found the market as attractive as he felt it might be when he voided the final year of his New Orleans Saints contract, but the six-year veteran does have some options now in Miami and Green Bay. The Dolphins made a modest contract offer last week. Knight will visit with Packers staffers on Monday, having pushed back a previously-scheduled trip, for the birth of his daughter.
The bidding for Knight, whose critics contend has lost a step but who still is one of the game's best ballhawking safeties, probably won't get too high. But both the Dolphins and Packers have broadly hinted to Knight that he will vie for a starting spot and, the truth is, he would be an upgrade for either franchise. The Miami coaches have concluded that Arturo Freeman wasn't as effective as he should have been in 2002, his first season as a full-time starter, and would like to challenge him and perhaps locate a new partner for free safety Brock Marion. The Packers are suddenly down on second-year pro Marques Anderson, who started 11 games as a rookie in '02, and are wary of the injury history of veteran Antuan Edwards, a first-round choice in 1999 but a player who has missed an average of 5.2 games per year in four seasons.
Colts doing the Bratzke shuffle: There could be an interesting experiment in the Indianapolis Colts training camp, where Chad Bratzke figures to still be a starter, but no one knows where on the defensive line. Coach Tony Dungy, coordinator Ron Meeks and defensive line coach John Teerlinck feel that Bratzke, who has played both end spots and also at tackle, might maximize his skills if he is moved around more. So for now, at least, the nine-year veteran is a man without a position.
With the recent decision to move tackle Brad Scioli back to his natural position at left end, and the 2002 emergence of right end Dwight Freeney as an upfield pass rush threat (13 sacks as a rookie), both outside starting spots are filled. Second-year veteran Larry Tripplett will start at one tackle spot. If he is recovered from an injury that limited his playing time in 2002, Josh Williams could vie for the other tackle position. The club has promised that Bratzke won't be relegated to odd-man out but it will be interesting to see how he is used in camp. Bratzke will turn 32 in September and his career might be extended if his snaps are cut back a bit. In his four seasons with the Colts, after five years playing for the New York Giants, Bratzke has averaged 8ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½ sacks. But his sack total has decreased each season in Indianapolis and he had just six sacks in 2002, his fewest since 1997, when he was only a part-time starter for the Giants.
Williams impresses Raiders: During his draft weekend gig on ESPN, a two-day stretch of face-time that certainly seemed more like a job audition for his football afterlife, Oakland Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski fairly gushed about the workout of Sam Williams, a player the club chose in the third round.
Early indications are that the Raiders, indeed, got themselves a steal in the former Fresno State linebacker who will be moved to defensive end. Williams showed up at a recent minicamp weighing 262 pounds, up about 18 pounds from his collegiate playing weight. More important, he still exhibited great quickness and upfield explosion, along with obvious change-of-direction skills. Still raw, but incredibly athletic, Williams reminded Oakland coaches of Simeon Rice when he first came into the league. Same kind of physique, same quick-twitch movement on the snap, same closing speed to the passer. Williams started just 16 games in four seasons at Fresno State and, shockingly, posted just four sacks and three pressures. But for a Raiders defense that got only 11ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½ sacks at the end position in 2002, and had no ends with more than four sacks, Williams could be an intriguing situational player as a rookie.
Front-office shakeups: Some of the moves, like the recent retirements of Carolina Panthers personnel chief Jack Bushofsky and Miami scout and longtime talent evaluator Tom Braatz, were planned well in advance. And others, like the death of San Diego general manager John Butler after his battle with cancer, certainly could not have been anticipated. But to this juncture of the offseason, at least a dozen franchises have undergone personnel department turnovers, in alterations that figure to affect management structure and draft decision making.
There are new general manager-level officials at four franchises -- Jacksonville (James Harris), Arizona (Rod Graves), San Diego (A.J. Smith) and Seattle (Bob Ferguson) -- and several more teams with new college directors or a reshuffled scouting department. For the last few years now, front office movement around the league has quietly outnumbered head coaching dismissals, but the recent shakeups can hardly be ignored. And there are at least two more front office rearrangements still pending. "It doesn't matter much to the fans, or even the media sometimes, but it's become a rite of spring now," said one scout who was recently ousted rather unceremoniously. "It wasn't all that long ago that the coaches were the ones living out of suitcases. Personnel directors, college directors, scouts, were all pretty secure. But it isn't that way anymore."
More personnel news: As noted in this space last week, former Baltimore Ravens scout Terry McDonough, one of the league's best young evaluators, has joined the Jacksonville personnel department as executive scout. On hold, though, is the move of St. Louis Rams pro director Lawrence McCutcheon to the Jags. In fact, what was considered a "done deal," with McCutcheon seemingly set to join old pal James Harris in the Jacksonville front office, might not occur at all now. In other personnel news, the Philadelphia Eagles this week hired well-regarded scout Jason Licht away from the New England Patriots. The assistant personnel director in New England, Licht will take the same post with the Eagles. Steve Keim of Arizona, another talented young bird-dog, is speaking to the Ravens about a position there.
Getting a jump on Robertson negotiations: It may turn out to be just empty talk, but expect the New York Jets to begin serious contract discussions next week with Hadley Engelhard, the agent for first-round choice Dewayne Robertson. "We're ready and I think the Jets soon will be," Engelhard said. In advance of the draft, and expecting to be chosen by Chicago with the No. 4 overall pick, Engelhard did his homework on recent deals signed at the fourth slot. The Jets acquired that spot from the Bears, so Engelhard's preparation will still be valid. New York signed its first-round pick last year, defensive end Bryan Thomas, very early. Jets assistant general manager Mike Tannenbaum, one of the premier cap specialists in the league, may want to get a speedy deal with Robertson as well.
Time is now for Terrell: Seems that remarks by Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo, in which he suggested that rookie wideout and fifth-round pick Bobby Wade might challenge David Terrell for the No. 3 receiver spot, aren't sitting too well with the veteran. Terrell, who hasn't been able to bump Dez White for the starting spot opposite standout Marty Booker, chafed a bit at Angelo's challenge. Bears sources, though, acknowledge it is time for Terrell, a first-round choice in 2001, to step up. In two seasons, the former University of Michigan star who missed 11 games last season, has just 43 catches for 542 yards and seven touchdowns. He has run sloppy routes, displayed inconsistent hands, and some coaches feel he has a dubious work ethic. Terrell may be ticked off at Angelo, who clearly is trying to light a fire under the wide receiver, but it's time to put up or shut up.
Jacobs climbing ladder in Washington: Washington officials would have liked to have landed Ohio State safety Mike Doss with their second-round pick, the first choice they made in the 2003 draft, but opted instead for wide receiver Taylor Jacobs of the University of Florida. And based on their initial minicamp workouts, in which Jacobs made a strong move for the No. 3 wideout job behind starters Laveranues Coles and Rod Gardner, the decision was the correct one. The lithe Jacobs displayed great fluidity in workouts, ran precise routes, and showed deep speed and playmaking skills. A pair of young veterans, Darnerian McCants and Cliff Russell, also had strong performances. But the Redskins were thrilled with Jacobs, who played under Steve Spurrier for three seasons, and seem confident he won't fall victim to the jinx that has plagued other onetime Gators wide receivers.
No Peppi in 'Skins future: On the topic of the Skins, the team has all but abandoned its pursuit of unrestricted free agent defensive end Peppi Zellner, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. Zellner has become difficult for the Redskins coaches to reach and the feeling is he isn't that interested in cashing Snyder-bucks. Zellner is tentatively scheduled to huddle with Cincinnati officials early next week, but there are no assurances he'll show up for that meeting, either. Zellner had been slated to visit with the Bengals on Wednesday, but missed his flight because of poor weather in Atlanta, where he lives in the offseason. Washington, meanwhile, may bring in veteran lineman Bernard Whittington, a nine-year pro who played with the Bengals the last two seasons. The Skins like the fact that Whittington, whose career includes 94 starts, can play tackle and end, is a dependable defender, and a high-character guy.
Replacing Shula in Miami: With the departure of Mike Shula to Alabama as head coach, Dave Wannstedt hasn't yet decided who will take over the duties as the Miami quarterbacks assistant. But the early favorite is offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who would handle both jobs, and works closely with the signal-callers anyway. There is a chance that current running backs coach Joel Collier could take over the quarterbacks, but he might be part of the Shula staff.
No combine, no problem: Proving again that there is life beyond the Indianapolis combine, 43 prospects who were not invited to the predraft workouts in February were chosen in the draft two weeks ago, and that includes four players on the first day of the proceedings. The highest-drafted player not invited to the combine was defensive end Osi Umenyiora of Troy State, who was picked by the New York Giants in the second round, the 56th selection overall. Three non-combine prospects were chosen in the third round: offensive tackle Courtney Van Buren of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (by San Diego, No. 80), defensive end Sam Williams of Fresno State (by Oakland, No. 83) and Marshall cornerback Chris Crocker (by Cleveland, No. 84). On the flip side, of the 308 non-kickers invited to the combine, 218 prospects were drafted, or 70.8 percent. Counting the kickers, 221 of 323 combine invitees, or 68.4 percent, were chosen in the draft.
Crouch's role in Green Bay: In addition to getting a shot at quarterback, former Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch could have a chance to return punts in Green Bay, where the Packers continue to seek some consistency and big-play skills at that spot. Crouch doesn't have the quickness of San Diego return ace Tim Dwight, whom former general manager Ron Wolf wanted to draft in 1998, but he does possess similar toughness and the ability to make tacklers miss in the open field. Green Bay officials confirmed last week that, during the draft, they tried to re-acquire Allen Rossum from Atlanta as a return man. Rossum had been with the Packers but signed with the Falcons as an unrestricted free agent in 2002.
Punts: While rookie defensive tackle and first-round pick Dewayne Robertson was just as advertised, the lineman with whom New York Jets coaches might have been the most impressed at a recent minicamp was Shaun Ellis. A first-round pick in 2000, Ellis has played both end and tackle, but seemed to settle in at the former position last year, and is arguably in the best shape of his career. . . . The Houston Texans, despite signing free agent tailback Stacey Mack and drafting Domanick Davis in the fourth round, still have some interest in trading for Thomas Jones, the former Arizona Cardinals first-rounder. . . . The Giants have signed defensive end John Frank, a sixth-round choice of the Eagles in 2000, but a guy who has never played in a game. Frank retired on the even of his rookie training camp, rejoined Philadelphia in 2001 and was waived, then was released by the Jets last year. . . . Expect the Jaguars, who are still seeking a complement to star wide receiver Jimmy Smith, to have some interest in Antonio Freeman before camp begins. . . . Jaguars tight end Kyle Brady is exploring his options before deciding whether to take a major salary reduction to stay with the team. Brady skipped last weekend's mandatory minicamp, costing him a daily fine of $5,000. . . . The experiment to play Woody Dantzler at quarterback has ended. Dallas coach Bill Parcells is not looking at the former Clemson quarterback, used mostly as a tailback and kick returner in 2002, as a potential safety. . . . Seattle coach Mike Holmgren was thrilled by the performance of quarterback Matt Hasselbeck at minicamp last week. The light bulb seems to have gone up for the veteran passer, who played well after replacing Trent Dilfer in 2002, and he seems to be a far more confident player now.
The last word: "Every time I make a mortgage payment, I think about it, really. No offense to my wife and kids, but this is the most important guy in my life." -- Kansas City offensive coordinator Al Saunders, on the condition of tailback Priest Holmes, who is still recovering from offseason hip surgery and will miss this weekend's minicamp.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.
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