SBJ/Jan. 24-30, 2011/Labor and Agents

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  • In wide-open draft, Condon-Dogra unlikely to repeat at No. 1

    Liz Mullen
    Agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra have represented the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft either together (as co-heads of CAA Football) or individually (for their former agencies) for six of the last seven years, but they might lose the honor this year.

    Condon, who left IMG to join CAA in May 2006, and Dogra, who left the former SFX Sports to merge his practice with Condon’s new one at CAA that same year, have represented the first player to have his named called at the draft every year since 2004 with the exception of 2007, when quarterback JaMarcus Russell was picked No. 1 by the Oakland Raiders.

    CAA Football announced its latest draft class last week, and NFL talent experts say that although two of its clients, Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert and Georgia wide
    CAA clients Green (top) and Gabbert stand to be high picks, but probably not No. 1.
    receiver A.J. Green, may be top 10 or top five picks, neither is expected to go No. 1 overall. Then again, with this draft, it is unclear who will be picked first.

    ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said that normally if there is no consensus No. 1 pick, there are two or three players vying for the top spot. This year, there are more like four or five players, he said.

    McShay last week had Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers ranked No. 1 for the draft, with Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley No. 2 and LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson No. 3. He had Green ranked No. 4 and Gabbert No. 5.

    The Carolina Panthers have the No. 1 pick this year.

    “Had Andrew Luck been in this draft, I think it would have been a no-brainer; they would have taken Luck at No.1,” McShay
    said of the Stanford quarterback,who decided to return to school.

    “Carolina, they need a defensive end and a defensive tackle, and depending on what the new [Panthers coaching] regime thinks of [Panthers quarterback Jimmy] Clausen, they may need a new quarterback,” McShay said.

    Both Bowers and Fairley had outstanding seasons, but in 2009, neither was a “good starting player” for his team, McShay said. He added that leading up to the draft, “the term ‘one-year wonder’ is a term you will hear over and over again.”

    Also in CAA’s class this year are Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith, Boston College offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo, Texas cornerback Aaron Williams, Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, TCU offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and Boston College linebacker Mark Herzlich.
    FLETCHER LEAVES CSE: Athlete, coach and broadcast agent Molly Fletcher, who worked at Atlanta-based Career Sports & Entertainment for 15 years and most recently held the title president of client representation, has left the company to form her own firm. The new company is called Fletcher Digital and will focus on digital marketing for athletes. Like CSE, the company is based in Atlanta.

    “I formed this company to service athletes, celebrities and agencies in order to allow them to capitalize on the social media and digital space in an effort to create their own personal media properties,” Fletcher said. “My focus is no longer on athlete representation but on helping athletes and other personalities monetize athletes’ social media and digital platforms.”
    GAYLORD SIGNS GOLFERS: Gaylord Sports Management has signed two-time golf major winner Angel Cabrera and up-and-coming Chinese golfer Mu Hu for representation. Agent David Yates, president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Gaylord, will represent Cabrera and Mu.

    Mu, 21, is the youngest player from mainland China to have made the cut at a European Tour event. He was previously unrepresented. Cabrera has been and will continue to be co-represented by Manuel Tagle, his longtime business manager who is based in Cordoba, Argentina.

    “This represents a great opportunity for us to use our many resources to help them develop worldwide business plans,” Yates said of Cabrera and Mu, in a statement. “With the 2016 Summer Games being staged in South America and the burgeoning growth of golf in China, we’re very excited about their many marketing possibilities.”

    Liz Mullen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @SBJLizMullen.

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  • Bucking the big agency trend: Agents with modest résumés get first shot at top of NFL draft

    For the first time that anyone in the business of representing NFL players can remember, three players who are seen as possible No. 1 overall picks have signed with agents who have never negotiated a contract for a player selected in the top 10 slots of the draft.

    In fact, Patrick “Whitey” Lawlor, the agent who recently signed LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, has never represented a drafted player before and was just recertified in October to represent players by the NFL Players Association. He was previously certified from 1999 through 2007.
    Lawlor, a 49-year-old Deerfield Beach, Fla., personal injury attorney, said he has litigated 170 cases but has represented only three players who have made NFL rosters.

    Joe Flanagan of BTI Sports, who signed Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, has represented two first-round draft picks, but they were late-round picks: New York Jets center Nick Mangold, the No. 29 pick in 2006, and San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason, the No. 27 pick in 2008.

    Chicago-based BTI, co-owned by Brad Leshnock, represents more than 100 clients, and at least one major agent said BTI was looking like an up-and-coming player in the agent business.

    Brian Overstreet, a Houston-based NFL agent who signed Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley, has represented a 19th overall pick in an NFL draft, but that was back in 2001, when the client, nose tackle Casey Hampton, was selected by Pittsburgh. Overstreet represents 15 clients.

    The news that not one but three high-profile prospects have signed with agents without prior experience negotiating high-first-round deals has left longtime, prominent NFL agents across the country buzzing. “It’s never happened,” said one. Another top agent noted that while top prospects have signed with virtually unknown agents in the past, “I have never heard of this happening with three players of this caliber in one draft.” Several other high-profile players this year have chosen or were said to be leaning toward signing with agents with little experience negotiating top deals.

    For about the past decade, a dozen or so agencies have represented the majority of the top five picks in the draft. Although many of those agents are fierce competitors, most agreed last week that having so many top prospects represented by lesser-experienced agents was not good for the business.

    Agents offered several possible explanations.

    The NFL has proposed a rookie wage scale in the ongoing negotiations for a new collective-bargaining agreement that, if put in place, would pay players a set amount based on the slot in which they are drafted, presumably leaving little room for negotiation. Even if such a deal were put into place — the NFLPA has proposed an alternate system — agents want their rivals to be experienced and negotiate good contracts because that causes the market value of their own player clients to rise.

    Some agents attributed the wave of signings to the current labor uncertainty in which players could be locked out upon expiration of the CBA. That has led some major agencies to pull back on recruiting because they don’t know what their rookie clients will be paid or when they might report to work. Other agents noted that as a result of NCAA agent scandals in recent years, college football coaches are not talking to players about agents at all or the need to pick an experienced agent. A number of agents also cited the NFLPA’s “junior rule,” which prohibits agents from talking to players three years or less removed from high school, noting that the rule has not given experienced agents enough time to recruit underclassmen.

    Agents requested anonymity in their comments for a number of reasons, including that historically, top draft picks who have signed with lower-profile agents have later fired them. The more experienced agents might want to sign such players.

    Another explanation is that it is a changing of the guard. Both Lawlor and Overstreet said that Peterson and Fairley, respectively, liked the fact that they were signing with smaller firms. Said Lawlor, “The players out there and their families want personal attention.”

    Overstreet said Fairley and his family “weren’t looking for a huge firm with over 100 clients.”

    “All I can say is we worked really hard,” Flanagan said of himself and his partner, Leshnock. “I don’t think it’s a fundamental shift in attitude,” he added. “I think this is just the way it worked out this year.”

    Related story: CAA Football, a regular atop draft, probably won’t have No. 1.

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  • NFLPA assets up 18% as CBA deadline nears

    The NFL is not the only side in football's bitter labor dispute stockpiling financial reserves for a potential work stoppage. The NFL Players Association's assets, including those in its marketing arm, jumped 18 percent in its last full fiscal year to $340 million, according to the union's tax return, which was filed with the Internal Revenue Service last week.

    While that amount pales next to the NFL's $900 million lockout pool, and not all of the union's assets are liquid, the two sums, when taken together, suggest that the brewing battle between the NFL and the union looks to be far and away the best-funded sports labor fight ever.

    "Never in the history of sports labor negotiations have both sides had so much money available to fight the battle," said Marc Ganis, a sports consultant with ties to management in the NFL. "Both sides have an unprecedented, huge war chest to spend relatively unlimited funds on lawyers, public relations and for ongoing operations during a work stoppage, if it comes to that."

    Year* AMOUNT
    2010 $339.6 million*
    2009 $287.3 million*
    2008 $214.9 million
    2007 $185.1 million
    2006 $164.5 million
    * Fiscal years ended Feb. 28 Beginning with the 2009 return, the NFLPA began disclosing in its tax return the assets of its for-profit licensing arm, NFL Players. Without this unit, the figure for 2010 is $245.8 million and for 2009 is $204.9 million.
    Source: NFLPA tax returns

    The NFLPA could not be reached for comment on its tax return, which covers the 12-month period ending Feb. 28, 2010, meaning the assets could be even greater at this moment.

    Two factors appear to have driven the asset increase: a healthy investment portfolio and a more than doubling of the players' dues. On the latter, dues rose to $42 million from $19 million, according to the two most recent returns. Investment in securities and cash investments rose to $237.1 million, a 25 percent increase, reversing a decline in investments the previous year.

    The union also owns its headquarters building, an asset it values at $56 million, which bring the union's full value to nearly $400 million, according to the tax return. The union unit that owns the building is accounted for as a for-profit entity so it is not formally reflected in the union's assets. Neither is NFL Players, the licensing and marketing arm, where assets jumped 13 percent to $93.7 million. That gain was likely fueled by investment growth, however, because revenue for the unit dropped from $99.7 million to $75.5 million, according to the tax return.

    The return also serves to provide the first glimpse of the compensation of DeMaurice Smith, who assumed the executive director role in April 2009, one month into the fiscal year. He earned $1.96 million in the 12 months ended Feb. 28, 2010, of which he would have served 11 months. NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen earned $1.7 million in the time period; Clark Gaines, the union's assistant executive director, earned $864,470, according to the return.

    The union also has a somewhat modified travel policy. Only Smith is allowed to travel in first or business class, according to the policy listed in the most recent return. Previously, all management could travel business or first class, but now Smith has to approve anyone else traveling other than in coach. The travel policy also allows Smith to offer airline charters to anyone providing a "legitimate business purpose" to the union.
    Costs at the union rose slightly after factoring out a huge jump in players dues rebates. Legal costs jumped $2.1 million to $7.1 million largely because of an increase in payments to outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler's firm, which took in $4.5 million in the time period, up from $2.4 million in the year-before period, according to the last two tax returns.

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