SBJ/November 17 - 23, 2003/Labor Agents

NFL.com writer Kirwan says he’s no longer working with agents

NFL.com writer Pat Kirwan, who has a deal with agent David Dunn to get 40 percent of the agent fee on No. 1 NFL draft pick Carson Palmer's multimillion-dollar contract, says he is no longer working with any agents.

Quite a few eyebrows were raised in the agent community earlier this month when Kirwan gave a speech to players on the USC football team, warning them to stay away from agents.

"I told the underclassmen, 'You don't need an agent now,'" Kirwan said. "If you are a senior, you should find out the agent you want to use, but after the season is over."

As previously reported by SportsBusiness Journal, Dunn's attorney, Mark Humenik, testified under oath that Kirwan was to receive 40 percent of the 3 percent fee that Dunn's firm, Athletes First, will get on Palmer's six-year, $49 million contract. Humenik was testifying in a creditors hearing in the Athletes First Chapter 11 bankruptcy case.

If Palmer were to earn the entire $49 million, Kirwan could get as much as $588,000. At the very least, Kirwan would get $120,000 on Palmer's $10 million signing bonus, which is guaranteed.

Kirwan said he helped ready Palmer for the draft last year, but told the USC players he no longer does that kind of work.

Some agents wondered whether Kirwan could provide objective advice on agents when he is set to receive so much money from one particular agent. Kirwan wouldn't discuss his deal with Dunn.

Agents, too, said it is common to begin talks with prospective top NFL draft prospects well before the college football season ends. College-eligible athletes may talk to agents but cannot receive anything of value from them under NCAA rules.

One agent, who asked not to be named, said that agents who wait until the season is over to begin talking to college players "have no shot" at signing them.

AGENTS DESCEND ON ROETHLISBERGERS: Virtually every major NFL player agent who has represented a quarterback taken in the first round of the NFL draft has either called or flown to Ohio to meet with Brenda and Ken Roethlisberger, the parents of Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in the past few weeks.

Dunn and his former partner, Leigh Steinberg, have both traveled to the small town of Findlay, Ohio, to begin interviews in case Roethlisberger decides to declare himself eligible for the 2004 NFL draft, said Brenda Roethlisberger.

She said that among the other agents who have either called or visited are Mike Sullivan, director of football for Octagon; James "Bus" Cook, agent to Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre; and SFX Football agents Jim Steiner and Ben Dogra.

SOURCES: DUNN, ASSANTE IN SETTLEMENT TALKS: Dunn is in talks with Assante Corp. about settling the $44.66 million judgment against him and his company, Athletes First, sources say.

A federal court jury in Los Angeles found a year ago that Dunn had breached a contract with his former partners, Steinberg and baseball agent Jeff Moorad, and that his new company, Athletes First, competed unfairly against them. That verdict led to Dunn and Athletes First both filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Dunn's attorney, Humenik, wouldn't comment. An Assante spokeswoman also declined comment.

Assante Holdings Inc. board Chairman Harvey Schiller said he does not know if there are current settlement talks, but he said investors in Dunn's company had previously approached Assante about a settlement and those talks went nowhere.

But if Dunn does settle with Assante, his troubles may not be entirely over. The NFL Players Association disciplinary committee voted to suspend Dunn as an agent for two years, based on testimony in the Steinberg case.

The NFLPA, however, has been thwarted from moving forward with disciplinary proceedings against Dunn by his bankruptcy judge, who has denied the NFLPA's request to lift a stay against all administrative hearings against Dunn.

Richard Berthelsen, NFLPA general counsel, said a settlement of the case could affect the union's action.

"Assuming settlement means the end of Dunn's bankruptcy, which it almost certainly would, we would be able to proceed immediately with our disciplinary proceedings against Dunn," he said.

Staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this column. Contact Liz Mullen with agent and labor news at lmullen@sportsbusinessjournal.

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