SBJ/January 13 - 19, 2003/Labor Agents

Browns' Miller returns to Steinberg after defending Dunn during trial

A few months ago, Cleveland Browns linebacker Jamir Miller was testifying against agent Leigh Steinberg in the Los Angeles trial of Steinberg's lawsuit against a former partner, David Dunn.

Now Miller, who left Steinberg for Dunn when the two agents split in early 2001, has rehired Steinberg, the winner of a $45 million verdict against Dunn and his new agency, Athletes First.

"I am very pleased to have the relationship re-established," Steinberg said, "because Jamir is a quality person."

Miller was one of about 50 NFL players who fired Steinberg and hired Dunn when Dunn left his former mentor to form Athletes First. Miller also was one of a handful of Dunn clients who took the stand last fall to defend Dunn against various claims, including unfair competition.

Miller testified that he chose Dunn over Steinberg because he had a closer relationship with Dunn, and because Steinberg didn't communicate with Miller after the agents' break-up.

"I tried to reach out to Leigh," Miller told the jury. "Leigh didn't reach back."

But Miller was surprised on the witness stand when, during cross-examination by Steinberg's lawyers, he learned that Steinberg had filed a grievance with the NFL Players Association over fees owed by Miller. Not only had his new agency not told him about the grievance, but he also didn't know that Athletes First had answered the grievance for him, denying that Miller owed the fees. (Miller paid the fees he owed Steinberg just before testifying in the case.)

Miller did not return a phone call for this story.

The NFLPA filed a disciplinary complaint against Dunn earlier this month claiming that Dunn's failure to tell Miller of the fee dispute and the denial of liability was an apparent violation of NFLPA regulations.

Athletes First attorney Mark Humenik said Dunn didn't violate any NFLPA regulations.

Steinberg said that a Miller phone call about three weeks ago led to their renewed relationship.

"Jamir's major question for me was why I had never called him in the wake of [Dunn] leaving," Steinberg said.

Steinberg answered that he wasn't allowed to talk to Miller and many other players as part of a deal Dunn made with Assante Corp., parent company of Steinberg's agency, as part of ill-fated negotiations to bring Dunn and his associates back to work for the company.

Humenik, general counsel for Athletes First, said there never was such an agreement. But, he added, "We respect Jamir's decision [to rejoin Steinberg], and as we have said all along, NFL players should have the freedom to choose their representative."

Since re-signing Miller, Steinberg negotiated a $14 million roster bonus for Miller that likely will force the Browns to either re-negotiate his contract or allow him to become a free agent.

  SEXTON: PARCELLS DEAL EASY: Despite media speculation to the contrary, the contract negotiations between Dallas owner Jerry Jones and new Cowboys coach Bill Parcells were neither long nor tortured, said Jimmy Sexton, Parcells' agent.

"It wasn't nearly as difficult as people think," Sexton said. "[Parcells] and [Jones] got along very well, and the negotiations literally took about five minutes."

Sexton was mum on who called whom to set up the deal.

Meanwhile, Sexton, owner of Athletic Resource Management, signed Alabama defensive linemen Kenny King, Kindal Morehead and Jarret Johnson for representation in the 2003 NFL draft.

Sexton also signed Bradie James, the All-American linebacker from LSU.

  SFX FOOTBALL SIGNS THREE: SFX Football agents Jim Steiner and Ben Dogra signed Missouri wide receiver Justin Gage, Northwestern offensive lineman Austin King and Mississippi State linebacker Mario Hagan for representation in the NFL draft.

Contact Liz Mullen at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.com with agent and labor news, tips and anecdotes.

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