SBJ/January 30-February 5, 2012/Labor and Agents

Record number of early entries confirms agents’ predictions

Liz Mullen
The NFL is without explanation for why a record number of underclassmen declared for this year’s draft, an increase that did not come as a surprise to NFL agents.

The league announced earlier this month that a record 65 underclassmen had declared for this year’s NFL draft, up from the record of 56 last year and marking a third consecutive annual increase.

“We do not know that there are any precise reasons for this year’s increase,” said Greg Aiello, NFL senior vice president, public relations. “It may be a one-year spike. Perhaps there are more talented football players than ever. Next year’s numbers could be very different.”

NFL agents have been saying for months that more underclassmen would come out early than ever before — pointing to the new collective-bargaining agreement that the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to last summer. That deal cut in half the amount of money first-round players could get.

Agents said the new rookie pay system makes it even more important for players to get to their second contract as soon as possible and have a chance at lifetime financial security, virtually extinguishing the incentive for players to stay in school to improve their draft status.

Three of those 65 players played in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl all-star game at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., on Jan. 21: University of Miami wide receiver Aldarius Johnson, Miami offensive lineman Brandon Washington and Boston College defensive end Max Holloway. None of the three had a reason for the overall uptick in players entering the draft, with each saying he made his decision based on what he thought was best for him and his family.

CFL SCOUTS AT NFLPA GAME: While the NFL did not allow its team scouts to attend the NFLPA game — scouts cannot attend all-star games that feature college underclassmen — scouts and a general manager from the Canadian Football League were at the game and its preceding practices.

“We have been here all week, and the talent is actually pretty impressive for a game that came together so quick,” said Joey Abrams, a scout from the Montreal Alouettes. The game was announced in November.

Uzooma Okeke, another Alouettes scout, said he thought a number of players in the game could be late-round NFL draft picks or premium free agents in the NFL. “Maybe guys who don’t get picked up in the NFL, that we have the opportunity to bring to Canada — those are the guys we are looking for,” Okeke said.

Toronto Argonauts general manager Jim Barker was also at some of the practices. 

The absence of NFL team scouts doesn’t mean they won’t be aware of what happened during the week. “They are going to look at the film, I’ll guarantee you that,” said longtime NFL coach Jim Hanifan, who coached the offensive line of one of the teams in the game. “It’s their job. You have to look at every possible kid. You just don’t know where you are going to find a nugget.”

Hanifan said he thought two of the eight offensive lineman he was coaching, and maybe more, could make it in the NFL.
 
BC SPORTS, NOVO AGENCY SIGN PROSPECTS: BC Sports, the NFL player rep firm owned by veteran agent Bus Cook, signed LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne, who last week was projected as the No. 6 overall pick by website NFLDraftScout.com. Cook also signed Troy University offensive lineman James Brown and Mississippi State running back Vick Ballard. … The Novo Agency, the firm started by veteran agent Jeff Sperbeck in 2010 after he left Octagon, signed Oregon running back LaMichael James. Novo also signed defensive linemen Billy Winn from Boise State and Christian Tupou from USC. In addition, Sperbeck said he will co-represent Wisconsin wide receiver Nick Toon with veteran agent Ralph Cindrich. Cindrich represented Toon’s father, former Pro Bowl wide receiver Al Toon.

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

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