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Volume 20 No. 42

Labor and Agents

Bus Cook knows what people in the NFL agent business are saying about him, but he doesn’t very much care.

“I heard I am trying to sell my business,” Cook said last week in a telephone interview from his office in Hattiesburg, Miss. “I am not trying to sell my business. I don’t know who brings all these things up. I guess there are a lot of agents selling their businesses these days, or they are merging more than selling.”

Cook said he also has heard people are saying, in light of his recent high-profile signings that he is cutting his agent fees. That is not true, either, he said. Cook wouldn’t discuss the financial terms he has with clients, but said, “As far as cutting fees to represent players, I don’t need to do that.”

What Cook, owner of BC Sports, is doing is having one of the best, if not the best, years of his 23-year career as an agent.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a Cook client, was scheduled to play in the Super Bowl Sunday. (Agent Mark Rodgers represents Wilson for marketing, but Cook can negotiate an extension for him starting at the end of the 2014 regular season.)

In early January, Cook negotiated a seven-year, $127 million deal, $53 million of it guaranteed, for another client, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

He also has one of his biggest draft classes ever, representing 12 players (see chart) with BC Sports agent Don Weatherell and his daughter, Madison Cook Howard, who received certification from the NFL Players Association last year to represent players. BC Sports represents about 30 NFL players, in addition to the draft prospects.

That dozen includes South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who could be the No. 1 pick overall in May.

Clowney’s signing was a

Eric Ebron
Jadaveon Clowney
shock to many, as it had been widely reported that Jay-Z’s Roc Nation Sports was expected to land Clowney. In a brief interview in early January, Cook said he didn’t know what those reports were based on. “I think they are friends; I think they are acquaintances,” he said last week. “I don’t know how actively — if at all — he tried to recruit Jadeveon.”

In addition to Clowney, Cook signed Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, both projected first-round picks, and Auburn’s Tre Mason, who could be the first running back taken.

Cook has represented high draft picks before, including Cam Newton, who was taken No. 1 in the 2011 draft, but his usual draft class is about half the size of this one.

Cook always works hard, Howard said, but working even harder on recruiting players, and a bit of luck, helped create all of the signings.

“In September, he was barely here,” Howard said. “He was out there, really seeing these guys, spending time to see them and see them in games, and I think it really came through for him in the end.”

Cliff Stein, vice president of football administration and general counsel for the Chicago Bears, said that he doesn’t know why Cook signed so many players this year but that the eight-year, $132 million deal Cook did for client Calvin Johnson with the Detroit Lions last March, as well as the Cutler deal, could have something to do with it.

Stein has been on the other side of the table from Cook in the Cutler deal as well as others and enjoys negotiating with him. “He brings a unique and refreshing style to the agent business,” Stein said.

Stein describes the agent as always calm, never angry, down to earth and full of Southern charm. Stein has met with Cook in Hattiesburg, where he lives and works. Cook puts people at ease, but at the same time Stein notes that he is a sharp attorney who has negotiated some big deals for his clients.

“I think ‘the small-town country lawyer from Hattiesburg’ is a tool in his arsenal,” Stein said. “It’s disarming.”

Cook was practicing law in Hattiesburg when he signed Brett Favre as his first client in 1991.

Cook is now 65. His long career has seen highs, such as 2001, when he did big contracts for Favre, Steve McNair and former client Randy Moss, and lows, the lowest of which came in 2009 when McNair was murdered.

But Cook says he has no plans to retire. “I feel great, am in great health, no problems at all,” he said. “I am continuing on for years.”

Cook doesn’t know whether this year was his best year ever, but he says, “It’s been pretty great.”

Liz Mullen
Wasserman Media Group has signed New York Knicks point guard Raymond Felton and basketball hall of famer/broadcaster Scottie Pippen for representation.

Agents Thad Foucher and Makhtar Ndiaye will represent Felton, who formerly was handled by Dutt Sport Services. Felton is under contract with the Knicks through a three-year deal signed in 2012.

Felton (left) moves from Dutt Sport Services; Pippen was not repped by an agency.
Debbie Spander, vice president of broadcasting, will represent Pippen, who was not previously represented by an agency. While Pippen has worked as an analyst for ESPN in the past, he does not have a broadcast deal now.
“We are going to work with Scottie to build and expand his brand, especially in the Chicago market,” Spander wrote in an email.

The signings come after Wasserman late last year added Houston Rockets center Omer Asik to its roster of players. Wasserman Vice Chairman Arn Tellem is representing Asik, who formerly was represented by ASM Sports.

Asik is under contract until the summer of 2015, but he has asked to be traded after the Rockets last summer signed Dwight Howard, relegating Asik to being Houston’s backup center.

> LAGARDÈRE SIGNS NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS: Lagardère Unlimited has signed a number of top prospects for this year’s NFL draft, including linebacker Khalil Mack from the University at Buffalo and Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Mack was rated the No. 8 prospect in the draft by last week; Dennard was rated No. 9.

Lagardère also has signed University of Mississippi wide receiver Donte Moncrief, Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, University of Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson, Kent State wide receiver/running back Dri Archer and Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle.

Lagardère Unlimited Football President Joel Segal and agents Chafie Fields and Greg Barnett will represent the players.

> CAA SPORTS SIGNS DRAFT PROSPECTS: CAA Sports has signed several top prospects for the NFL draft, including Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan.

CAA Sports also signed Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin. last week ranked Lewan No. 10 on its list of the top 25 NFL draft prospects with Martin at No. 12, Mosley at No. 15, and Gilbert at No. 22.

CAA Sports also signed Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, Stanford linebacker Trent Murphy and Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum.

CAA Sports agents Jimmy Sexton, Tom Condon, Ben Dogra and R.J. Gonser will represent the players.

> KELLEY DRYE SIGNS DRAFT PROSPECTS: The sports and entertainment group of national law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, headed by agent Adisa Bakari, has signed several players for the NFL draft, including Auburn outside linebacker/defensive end Dee Ford and Wisconsin running back James White.

Bakari also signed Florida State outside linebacker Telvin Smith, Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo, Louisville safety Hakeem Smith, Appalachian State wide receiver Tony Washington, and Texas A&M linebacker Nate Askew.
New York-based Kelley Drye & Warren got into the NFL player representation business last year when it hired Bakari from law firm Dow Lohnes.

> CAA SIGNS GARDINER: Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner has signed with CAA Sports’ hockey division for representation.

CAA Hockey co-head Pat Brisson along with CAA Hockey agent Chris Lacombe will represent Gardiner, who was named to the NHL All-Rookie team after the 2011-12 NHL season. He was formerly represented by Octagon.
“Jake has a lot of upside as a young defenseman,” Brisson said. “He could burn a lot of minutes in each game and could be pretty dangerous offensively.”

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

The NFL Players Association significantly cut expenses in its fiscal year 2013 compared with the prior 12-month period, but it also recorded a sharp decline in revenue for that time, according to an analysis of the union’s recently filed tax return.

The period covered in the return is the 12 months ending Feb. 28, 2013.

The $40.7 million in reported expenses is the lowest recorded sum in the last seven years of returns, and the $60.5 million in revenue is a shade higher than the level reached in that same fiscal 2007 return — suggesting a streamlining at the organization in the first full year removed from the NFL lockout, which ended in August 2011.

A union official declined to comment on the financials.

“Thanks for your ongoing interest in our organization,” NFLPA general counsel Tom DePaso wrote in an email responding to questions about the return. “At this time, we have no further comment.”

DeMaurice Smith earned $2.82M in compensation, down from $3.5M the year before.
The return provides a separate accounting for the NFLPA’s for-profit licensing and merchandise arm, NFL Players (the former Players Inc.). According to the return, revenue for NFL Players for fiscal 2013 was $90.6 million, up from $77.4 million the year earlier — a period that included the lockout.

The union’s revenue dipped sharply from the prior year in part because players’ dues were halved, accounting for $19.1 million of the $60.5 million total. Most of the remaining revenue came from category royalties, accounting for $31.6 million. Traditional licensing categories for the union include trading cards and jerseys.

Expenses dropped sharply primarily as a result of a large payout to players the previous year of licensing income that had been held back prior to and during the lockout. But there were other contributors as well, including a 27 percent drop in employee compensation, to $15.2 million. Legal fees also were down, to $7.8 million from $11.1 million.

The lower expenses allowed the NFLPA to book a $20 million surplus and start replenishing asset reserves that had diminished in the years before and during the lockout. Assets had fallen from $215 million on March 1, 2010, to $166 million two years later, according to the group’s returns. As of March 1, 2013, assets were $190 million.

One expense the union reported in the most recent return that appears to have increased is for investigative services. The NFLPA since fiscal 2009 has listed its top five outside contractors on its returns, and those contractors have been either accountants, consultants or lawyers. The latest return shows the NFLPA paying Hillard Heintze of Chicago $1.8 million, the second-highest amount paid to an outside contractor. (The highest is to outside counsel Winston & Strawn at $3.6 million.)

A source familiar with the union said Hillard Heintze does the background checks on agents applying for certification with the union, though the amount cited in the return suggests other duties as well.

The return also shows NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith earned $2.8 million in compensation, down from the $3.45 million he received the year before.