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Volume 21 No. 2

Labor and Agents

NHL players across the league have been praising NHL Players’ Association Executive Director Don Fehr for his leadership in the weeks since the NHL lockout ended. But Fehr, who took over as NHLPA chief in December 2010 after serving as executive director of the MLB Players Association for 25 years, has been quiet since announcing with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in the early morning of Jan. 6 that the players and the league had agreed to the framework of a new collective-bargaining agreement.

Last week, Fehr agreed to grant SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Liz Mullen a brief interview on the topic of his future, but he declined to discuss the negotiations, details from the 113-day lockout or the new CBA. Speaking by telephone from his office at NHLPA headquarters in Toronto on the morning of Jan. 16, he laughed when he was asked about his future at the union, chuckling when saying, “Is there some rumor? Are they firing me?”

Don Fehr, who led NHL players in their labor negotiations with the league, says he has no plans to retire any time soon, although “executive directors don’t get guaranteed contracts.”
Photo by: AP IMAGES
You retired from the MLBPA before taking this job. What are your plans going forward? What is your deal at the NHLPA?

Fehr: The short answer is, my deal was as follows: I never had a long-term agreement. I have never had any security of any kind and never asked for any. The deal was I would continue in this role, as the players wanted me to, through the negotiations. And then everybody would take stock afterwards and see where we were. I certainly don’t have any plans to change. I have come to respect the players both individually and as a group, more and more, every day, through this process. I have really enjoyed working for them — which is not to say the negotiations were fun, but hopefully you know what I mean. Now we have to put things in place to implement the agreement and plan for the future, and I will discuss the future with the players this summer. But you shouldn’t infer anything from that. It’s just a discussion that needs to be had. But at the moment I don’t have any plans except to stay here and implement this agreement. And we will see what the future brings.

Your deal doesn’t really have a term, is that right?

Fehr: That’s right. It doesn’t have a term. It never did. It basically says I can be terminated on 60 days notice, I think it is. It’s always been like that. And I told them I could continue so long as I have lopsided majority support of the players, but that is true of any executive director. I can’t imagine anybody who would want to continue if you didn’t have that support. And that is sort of the way it is. Executive directors don’t get guaranteed contracts, you know; it’s only players.

How long do you want to do this?

Fehr: Oh, I haven’t even thought about it … about … the future. You know, I am going to be an old fart this summer. I will be 65. I will figure it out, but I don’t have any plans to retire and stop working any time soon. I am still reasonably healthy. I don’t look like I am becoming decrepit yet, or at least nobody is telling me that I am. The short answer is there is no change in my status here. It’s no different than it was a month ago or a year ago.

What about a succession plan? Do you want to look for a successor? Or is that something the players do? Prior to you coming to the NHLPA, there were a number of executive directors who were fired. What about the future of the PA?

Fehr: Anybody in a position like mine needs to pay attention to the future, to discuss it with, in this case, the executive board and to think about those things — and to make sure that if I retire, or I get fired, or if I get hit by a bus, that the organization goes on. And I told the players a lot of times the only people in this entire industry who are indispensable are the players. That’s it. Of course we will be discussing things like that.

Why don’t you want to talk about the collective-bargaining agreement or the negotiations in this interview?

Fehr: The focus has to be to be on the game. It has to be back on the performances of the players. What I think needs to happen now is that people who are not playing hockey need to be out of the spotlight. And I intend to get out of the spotlight.

What is the job of the union right now, now that there is an agreement?

Fehr: It’s three things. You have to finish writing it. We have a memorandum of understanding, but we have to flesh out the agreement. We will do that over the next few weeks. At this point, I don’t think that will be a major problem. We then have to educate, obviously, the players and the agents, about it. And then we have to begin to implement the new agreement that we’ve made because we have to operate under it. But it is a normal process. There is not anything unusual about it.

Liz Mullen
It’s hard to predict which players NFL clubs may take with their first-round picks this year, but with most of the top-rated prospects signed as of last week, it is likely that CAA Sports will have a big draft.

As of last week, CAA Sports agents Ben Dogra, Jimmy Sexton, Tom Condon and R.J. Gonser had signed eight players who are projected as first-round draft picks by Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner, USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and Alabama center Barrett Jones.

Rob Rang’s mock draft at ranked Joeckel No. 1, Werner No. 5, Barkley No. 7, Wilson No. 8, Richardson No. 10, Te’o No. 15, Eifert No. 19 and Jones No. 26.

CAA Sports represented seven first-round picks last year and has had the most first-round picks of any agency for the last several years. In 2009, the agency represented nine first-round picks, a record for any single firm.

Agents and draft analysts say this year’s first round may be the hardest to predict in years, including the No. 1 pick.
Other firms with notable signings for the draft, which will begin on April 25:

LAGARDERE: Signed Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones. Lagardère Football President Joel Segal will represent him. Jones was ranked No. 3 by but No. 1 by draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

PROSOURCE SPORTS MANAGEMENT: Signed LSU outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. ranked Mingo No. 9 on its mock draft last week.

ProSource also signed LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan and Louisiana-Lafayette cornerback Melvin White. Jeff Guerriero will represent the players.

Guerriero has been an NFL Players Association-certified agent since 1997 and has negotiated 127 contracts but has never represented a first-round pick. His previous highest-drafted player was cornerback David Pittman, taken in the third round by the Ravens in 2006.

IMPACT SPORTS: Signed Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, ranked No. 13 on last week.

Impact also signed West Virginia wide receiver Stedman Bailey, Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence, UCLA defensive end Datone Jones and Florida Atlantic wide receiver Duron Carter. Carter is the son of former NFL wide receiver Cris Carter.

Additionally, Impact has signed Buffalo Bills linebacker Nigel Bradham.

Impact agents Sean Kiernan, Mitch Frankel and Tony Fleming will represent the players. Bradham was formerly represented by Perennial Sports & Entertainment.

NC SPORTS: Signed Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. Neil Cornrich will represent him.

RELATIVITY SPORTS: Signed Florida State defensive tackle Everett Dawkins and Mississippi State cornerback Darius Slay.

Agent Roosevelt Barnes will represent Dawkins and agent Eugene Parker will represent Slay. “He is going to be a sleeper,” Parker said of Slay. “You will hear about him. He will be at the combine; will he ever.”
ROSENHAUS SPORTS: The firm owned by brothers Drew and Jason Rosenhaus signed Florida International safety Jonathan Cyprien, who was invited to play in this year’s Senior Bowl. “He is the first player from FIU to play in the Senior Bowl,” Drew Rosenhaus said.

> WASSERMAN SIGNS SMITH: Wasserman Media Group has signed Portland Trail Blazers guard Nolan Smith for representation. Agents Arn Tellem and B.J. Armstrong will represent him. He was formerly represented by Bell Management International.

> ICON SIGNS STENSON: Icon Sports Management has signed Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson, a veteran of both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, for representation.
R.J. Nemer, president of Stow, Ohio-based Icon, will represent him. Stenson was formerly represented by the Stockholm-based agency Sportyard.
Icon specializes in representing golfers, and its clients include Ian Poulter, Ryan Moore and Bud Cauley.

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

Need more proof that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league? Look no further than the coming NFL draft.

There is no Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III in this year’s class, and the quarterback group is rated as one of the poorest in memory. Regardless, look for many teams to use their first-round picks on much lower-rated quarterbacks because of the success of last year’s draft class and the pressure to win immediately.

Football talent experts, including former general managers, cite the success of Luck and Griffin, who were drafted No. 1 and No. 2 by the Colts and Redskins, respectively, as well as Russell Wilson, who was drafted in the third round last year by the Seahawks, as driving the mindset in an uncertain draft class.

“The fact that Russell Wilson can do what he did as a third-round pick and then a first-year starter — that changes the landscape for every team in the league,” said Phil Savage, former general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who is now executive director of the Senior Bowl.

At the same time, Savage and other former general managers cite the increased pressure on general managers and head coaches to win, as evidenced by the record number of firings of head coaches and general managers after this year’s regular season.

“There is no longer a five-year plan for NFL teams,” said Michael Lombardi, NFL Network analyst who served in an executive personnel position for a number of clubs, including the Oakland Raiders. “If you don’t win and produce and get your team better in the first couple of seasons, there are going to be changes.”

And the quickest way to win is by landing a quarterback, and most personnel executives say the best way to do that is through the draft, not free agency. Multiple agents said there is only one franchise quarterback who will be an unrestricted free agent in March — the Ravens’ Joe Flacco — and they expect that team to either re-sign him or franchise tag him.

Heading into the 2013 NFL draft, Lombardi estimates there are at least six clubs looking for a franchise quarterback. “There are more teams that need quarterbacks than there are quarterbacks,” he said.

But finding such talent through the draft may be difficult, as this year’s class has been disparaged as the worst in years and talent experts are divided on which of a group of four to six quarterbacks may be the best.

Gil Brandt, former head of personnel for the Dallas Cowboys who writes for and decides which players the league invites to New York for the draft every April, says that USC’s Matt Barkley, N.C. State’s Mike Glennon, West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson have a chance to be a first-round pick. But he adds that Oklahoma’s Landry Jones and Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib are possibilities as well.

“I don’t think it’s like last year, but there are some talented quarterbacks out there,” Brandt said.

Brandt doesn’t think a quarterback will be taken No. 1 overall, but he does think that up to three quarterbacks may be selected in the first round.

Some of the agents who represent the quarterback draft prospects, including CAA Sports agent Ben Dogra, who represents Barkley, and Select Sports agent Jeff Nalley, who represents Smith, expect multiple quarterbacks to be taken in the first round.

It may not be surprising that agents who represent quarterbacks feel that way. But club personnel executives, including two recently fired NFL general managers, agreed with that assessment. “The expectations and the pressure is much higher,” said one former general manager. “[Quarterbacks] will go higher.”

A second general manager, who was also recently fired, said quarterbacks are ready to play and win in the NFL coming out of college rather than taking two or more years to develop, which automatically drives up their value. “The league is changing very fast,” this ex-general manager said.

A number of public draft prognosticators have recently moved quarterbacks up in their mock drafts, including CBS Sports senior draft analyst Rob Rang, who had two quarterbacks ranked as first-rounders in late 2012 and now has four projected to go in the first round. The biggest reason is because of the overhaul at clubs around the league.

“New regimes like to bring in quarterbacks,” Rang said. “The quarterback class is not very good, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that teams are not going to take quarterbacks.”