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CAA Football adds another monster draft

When Creative Artists Agency brought Tom Condon and Ben Dogra together to form CAA Football in 2006, rival agents said it wouldn’t work. Condon, who at IMG had long been considered the most powerful agent in football, and Dogra, who had begun to show signs of becoming a superstar at SFX, wouldn’t get along, they said.

Three years in, that judgment appears to be incorrect. Now the question in the industry is whether the practice can build on its new high-water mark, representing more than one-quarter of the top talent in this year’s NFL draft.

CAA Football made history in last month’s draft by representing nine of the first 19 players selected overall. That’s the most dominant performance by a single agency ever, besting its own record of six first-rounders from last year’s draft. It had the No. 1 and No. 2 picks overall, Matthew Stafford and Jason Smith.

Stafford (with Roger Goodell) is
the second straight overall No. 1
for CAA Football.

“There is no question that having nine picks of the first 19 selected is very good,” Condon said.

“I wouldn’t say it was the best. We had drafts such as when we had Peyton Manning, Kyle Turley, Grant Wistrom and R.W. McQuarters and they all played at a high level in the NFL for a very long time,”  Condon said, referring to the 1998 draft, when he was head of football at IMG.

“You can’t really tell what is your best draft,” Condon said.

This year, rival agents explained CAA Football’s success away by saying, in effect, that Condon and Dogra were basically good for four or five first-round picks each, and that makes nine. In their best year prior to merging, Condon had represented six first-rounders at IMG and Dogra had represented four first-rounders at SFX.

“They are two people,” said a rival agent who did not want to be identified because he competes against CAA. “I count them as two practices. Ben Dogra is one practice and Tom Condon is a second practice.”

But it’s a turnabout from the early days of CAA Football, when agents and others in the industry said Condon and Dogra would never be able to recruit together as many players as they recruited separately.

In their first draft after merging, 2007, they represented five first-round picks. The next year they represented six first-rounders, including No. 1 and four of the top eight selections.

As to whether CAA Football can repeat this year’s success, Dogra said, “I don’t think its reasonable to have the expectation that you can sign nine [first-round] players in a given year.”

A number of agents noted that it is common for top agents to have a great draft one year, followed by a not-so-great draft the next. Veteran agent Leigh Steinberg said, “Among the high-quality agents, recruiting trends tend to be cyclical based on where the top players are located and what positions they play.”

Strength in numbers
CAA Football had nine first-round picks in the 2009 draft, a record for the NFL.
No. 1 Matthew Stafford QB Lions
No. 2 Jason Smith OT Rams
No. 7 Darrius Heyward-Bey WR Raiders
No. 12 Knowshon Moreno RB Broncos
No. 13 Brian Orakpo DE Redskins
No. 14 Malcolm Jenkins DB Saints
No. 15 Brian Cushing OLB Texans
No. 17 Josh Freeman QB Buccaneers
No. 19 Jeremy Maclin WR Eagles

But some in the industry think CAA Football’s success is based on the Hollywood factor and the fact that CAA represents the top film and television actors, writers, producers and can get clients access to concerts, premieres and entertainment projects.

“I am not taking anything away from Condon, and Ben Dogra is becoming a monster,” said an executive at a rival sports talent firm who did not want to be identified talking about a rival. “But they sell their sexy real well — the Hollywood, the TV, the commercial opportunities, the premieres and all of that.”

Condon says CAA has turned away projected first-round picks who have called them because they didn’t think those players would fit with their philosophy. “We are looking for great players,” he said. “We are looking for character and intelligence. We like them for a reason and we sign them.”

Nine first-round picks represented by a single agency is not a record in all sports. In 2001, NBA agents David Falk and Arn Tellem represented 10 first-round picks while both worked at the now defunct SFX Sports. But while Tellem and Falk worked out of different offices, Dogra and Condon work together in St. Louis. And unlike Falk and Tellem, Condon and Dogra recruit the vast majority of players together.

Falk said last week that CAA’s success is the result of when you “put two really good” agents together and not surprising.

“I did believe when we got together, I thought we would be successful, because I believed we were the top agencies competing against each other,” Dogra said.

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