The Draft: A Year Inside the NFL's Search for Talent

The Draft: A Year Inside the NFL's Search for Talent

by Pete Williams

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An explosive look at the NFL Draft from the inside out that exposes the multilayered feeding frenzy that swarms around America's top college players.

The Draft follows a handful of NFL hopefuls through the ups and downs of the 2004 college football season and the predraft process, culminating with the 2005 draft. Among the prospects are Virginia defensive end Chris Canty, who overcomes a devastating early-season knee injury to reestablish himself as a top draft hopeful, only to suffer a detached retina in a nightclub skirmish; and Fred Gibson, a talented but rail-thin Georgia wide receiver who struggles to put on the weight needed to go over the middle in the NFL.
It's a complex environment, with college coaches attempting to protect their "student-athletes" from exploitation (while fully aware that they can only remain competitive if they attract NFL-caliber players to their schools), along with sports agents and NFL scouts trying to stay a step ahead of their competition.
These parties provide a multi-angled view of the world of emerging NFL talent. The reader follows the season through the eyes of a host of power players and scouts, from veteran agent Pat Dye Jr. to Jerry Maguire clone Jack Scharf, to the coaching divisions of Florida State University and the University of Virginia---headed by longtime Bill Parcells disciple Al Groh. Also central to the narrative are the Atlanta Falcons and executives Rich McKay and Tim Ruskell (now with Seattle), who use a character-based evaluation system to set their draft board. These parallel stories weave together, culminating in draft weekend, to create a gripping and fascinating look at a world few see from the inside.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429910019
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Pete Williams writes about the business of sports for such publications as USA Today and Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal. He is the author or coauthor of six books, including the business motivational book Fun Is Good (with Mike Veeck). Williams lives in the Tampa Bay, Florida, area with his family.

Pete Williams is a contributing writer to Street&Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal and is the author or co-author of eight books, including the Rodale titles Core Performance, Core Performance Essentials, Core Performance Endurance, and Fun Is Good. He lives in Safety Harbor, Florida.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One First Contacts Ed Hawthorne and Ed Walsh looked at the young football agent sitting across the table from them and chuckled. Jack Scharf seemed right out of central casting. With a lantern jaw, bleached-white teeth, and jelled dark hair, he looked like a taller Tom Cruise. The forty-five-hundred-dollar, custom-tailored Armani suit, cuff links and white monogrammed shirt he wore covered a lean physique, shaved to accentuate the muscles. Scharf’s rented Jaguar XJ8 sat outside Walsh’s law office in New Haven, Connecticut. “Say it, Jack,” Hawthorne said. Scharf shook his head. “C’mon guys.” Hawthorne raised an eyebrow. “Jack?” “All right,” Scharf said, taking a deep breath. “Show me the money.” Walsh and Hawthorne laughed. “Not bad,” Hawthorne said. “Louder.” “Show Me the Money!” Scharf yelled, channeling Cruise. “Show . . . Me . . . the . . . Mon-ey!” The Eds cackled. It was early September 2004, and Scharf was among the first agents to make a presentation in the hopes of representing Hawthorne’s nephew, Anttaj, a 312-pound defensive tackle at the University of Wisconsin, for the 2005 NFL Draft. There was little resemblance between Ed and Anttaj. Walsh, the family attorney, liked to greet agents in a conference room first and then introduce Ed Hawthorne to gauge the response. Most agents showed little reaction, though the recruiting process did have its amusing moments. Whenever agents reached Anttaj on his cell phone in Wisconsin, he directed them to Uncle Ed. One agent called Uncle Ed and immediately dealt the race card. “You know, Ed,” the agent said. “All of our brothers are coming out of the NFL today and they’re broke. Why? Because of the white agents, that’s why; and I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen to ’Taj.” Hawthorne paused. “Do you realize I’m white?” Ed’s sister, Eileen, had raised her biracial son alone. “Well, you know,” the agent said after an awkward pause, “I’ve got white family, too.” That agent never got a meeting with the Eds, who vetted potential representatives for Anttaj, allowing him to spend his senior season focused on football and not on who might guide him through the NFL Draft in April. The Eds liked what they saw of Jack Scharf, who beneath the slick, Jerry Maguire veneer had, at thirty-five, established himself as a legitimate player in the brutal world of football agents. He had flown from his office in San Antonio to New Haven armed with binders full of spreadsheets and contract information, showing how his company—Momentum Sports—had skillfully landed contracts for its clients at better than the market rate. Scharf’s presentation included testimonials from clients such as Nick Barnett, a linebacker drafted in the first round out of Oregon State by the Green Bay Packers in 2003. There were DVDs outlining the marketing efforts Momentum would undertake on behalf of Anttaj, and the trainers the company would employ to get Anttaj ready for the February NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where draft hopefuls are tested physically and psychologically by NFL teams. The Eds flipped through Scharf’s literature. His clients from the previous year were a mix of third- and fourth-round selections, though the Denver Broncos selected Tatum Bell, a running back from Oklahoma State, in the second round. “You do all of this for a third-round pick?” Hawthorne asked. Anttaj Hawthorne was considered, at this early stage, a likely first-round choice. “Absolutely,” Scharf said. The meeting, which had begun late in the afternoon, continued for three hours. At this early juncture, the Eds had met with only a few agents and were still in the information-gathering stage, learning how contracts were negotiated and what the process leading up to the NFL Draft entailed. In the coming weeks, the Eds would investigate Scharf and the rest of the agents they interviewed. They would start on the Internet, searching through Google, and follow up with calls to the NFL Players Association to determine if any agents had been disciplined or engaged in unethical activity. For now, they liked what they saw of Jack Scharf—or “Show Me,” as they would call him throughout Walsh’s firm. The ladies in the office would become fond of Show Me, though the older ones tended to prefer Tom Condon, the former Kansas City Chiefs lineman-turned-lawyer and agent, who, at fifty-two, looked like an older version of Jack Scharf. NFL playing experience was the least of the advantages Condon held over Scharf, a graduate of UCLA and the Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles, who had been a licensed NFL agent for less than three years. As head of the football division for the International Management Group (IMG), the world’s largest sports agency, Condon was the most powerful agent in football, with a lengthy list of clients that included Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and his brother Eli, who had been the top pick in the 2004 draft. Condon also was a New Haven native whose high school, Notre Dame of West Haven, was a rival of Anttaj’s Hamden High. Condon had scored a July meeting with the Eds that included Anttaj, who had not yet returned to Wisconsin. For now, Condon was the leader in the race to secure Anttaj, though the Eds had other agents to interview. There would be more to learn about contracts, marketing, and the NFL draft process. But as they said good-bye to Jack Scharf, sending him on his way in the Jaguar XJ8, they concluded that “Show Me” definitely was in the running. On a late afternoon in mid-September, Pat Dye Jr. looked out the window of his sixteenth-floor office overlooking Lenox Square in Atlanta’s upscale Buckhead district. Already the city’s notorious traffic was beginning to thicken on the surrounding arteries. Though it was just a week after Labor Day, the recruiting season for the 2005 NFL Draft was well underway, and already Dye knew his ProFiles Sports Management firm was in a dogfight for talent in its own backyard. The son of the former longtime Auburn football coach, Pat Dye Jr. had over the previous seventeen years parlayed a childhood spent around college football and his dad’s vast network of connections into a lucrative agent practice. Now Dye Jr. and his business partner, Bill Johnson, represented forty NFL players, nearly all of which attended college in the southeast. Almost half of their clients had played at Auburn or the University of Georgia, located an hour away in Athens. Atlanta had become a popular base of operations for sports agents. The NFL Players Association counted forty-seven registered agents from greater Atlanta. Most of the schools in the football-rich Southeastern Conference were within a four-hour drive, along with much of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Three prominent precombine training centers are based in Atlanta, along with the NFL’s Falcons, who train out of palatial digs in the northeastern suburb of Flowery Branch. Auburn and Georgia figured to be the nation’s most fertile agent-recruiting grounds for the 2005 NFL Draft. Auburn had three players projected as likely first-rounders—running backs Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, along with defensive back Carlos Rogers. Quarterback Jason Campbell’s stock also was rising. At Georgia, fiery defensive end David Pollack had surprised many people by not turning pro after his junior season. Dye, like other agents, had conceded Pollack to IMG and Tom Condon, who made inroads with the player as a junior. Pollack, under NCAA rules, could not commit to an agent, even orally, but the rest of the field knew better than to waste their time. Dye was in the hunt for Pollack’s roommate, quarterback David Greene, along with Georgia’s two wide receivers, Reggie Brown and Fred Gibson. But the player Dye and his competitors lusted after was Thomas Davis, a 220-pound safety who NFL scouts projected as a future All-Pro linebacker in the mold of Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens star. Davis and linebacker Odell Thurman were juniors, but, like Pollack a year earlier, they faced the tantalizing prospect of turning pro early. Dye organized his recruiting by starting with a list of thirty to forty prospects in May. Some, such as Greene, Brown, Rogers, and Williams, he had recruited for more than two years. From there, he contacted twenty players via phone or mail, figuring he would have a serious shot with a dozen and sign five or six. At forty-two, Dye came across as younger, with a thick mane of light brown hair, a slight Southern drawl, and a perpetual smile. “If agent recruiting was a beauty contest,” said agent Ken Harris, a friendly rival based in Tampa, “Pat Dye would win every time.” Dye didn’t fit the profile of a football agent, at least not in the Jerry Maguire or Jack Scharf sense, but his route was not an unfamiliar one. After graduating from Auburn in 1984 and Samford University’s law school in 1987, he went to work at the Birmingham firm of Burr and Forman, serving as an attorney while building a football representation business on the side. Two months after receiving his agent certification by the NFL Players Association, Dye traveled to Mobile, Alabama, for the Senior Bowl, the annual postseason meat market of draft-eligible talent. He arrived at the hotel lobby conservatively dressed in a pinstripe suit and wingtips, and encountered every sleazy stereotype he’d feared. There were agents dressed like pimps, openly paying players. There were agent “runners” promising women and even drugs to potential clients. It was everything Pat Dye Sr. had warned him about and more. “There’s nothing a college football coach hates more than dealing with agents,” Dye Jr. says. “They distract the player, potentially jeopardize eligibility. And, I told my father, for those reasons I wanted to go into it. The industry needed more honest, reputable people, and I know that sounds self-righteous. He warned me. ‘If you did it the right way, and I know you will, it’s going to be a long uphill battle getting players, because I know the kind of things that go on in this business.’ And he was right.” Dye almost got back in the car and returned to Birmingham. Instead, he stayed, vowing to build his business aboveboard. His name helped, along with his father’s network of contacts. Within eighteen months, Dye Jr. had built a practice of about a dozen clients. Recognizing that the process of recruiting NFL clients was akin to solicitation in the law field, Dye took his clients to Atlanta and the sports entertainment division of Robinson-Humphrey, a major financial services firm. There Dye worked under Richard Howell, who represented just one NFL player, former Georgia Tech linebacker Pat Swilling of the New Orleans Saints. Howell was better known for his NBA clients, and over the next four years Dye helped Howell land Tech point guard Kenny Anderson, Clemson center Elden Campbell, and Tom Gugliotta, a forward from North Carolina State. The football practice also thrived. Dye and Howell signed running backs Emmitt Smith and Garrison Hearst, defensive end Tony Bennett, and defensive tackle Kelvin Pritchett. Soon the entrepreneurial bug bit Dye, and in January of 1994 he and an assistant left Howell, setting up shop on Dye’s dining room table before dividing his basement into two offices. Dye signed everything away to get a bank line of credit. Within two months he had negotiated nearly $20 million in new contracts, including a $12 million deal for Bennett with the Colts that included a $3 million signing bonus. That enabled Dye to lease office space in Buckhead. It was an amicable departure; Dye had, after all, brought a football business to Robinson-Humphrey. Swilling stayed with Howell. So did Smith, who was in the midst of a long-term deal with Dallas. Hearst joined Dye two years later after his contract expired. Now, nearly a decade later, Dye’s client list included few superstars, but plenty of solid veterans such as Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Brooking and defensive tackle Rod Coleman, Minnesota Vikings running back Michael Bennett, and Dexter Coakley, the Dallas Cowboys linebacker. Dye represented Jon and Matt Stinchcomb, offensive tackles out of the University of Georgia who, during the 2004 season, played for the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers respectively. Dye loved his work, though it was a brutal business, especially for a father of two children under the age of four. Many of his competitors were single or had a staff of young agents to handle the bulk of the recruiting. Dye still was struggling with the transition to fatherhood while working in a business where clients demand round-the-clock attention. “I had my first meeting with a recruit and his family this past weekend,” Dye said. “I can always be called slow out of the gate. May and June are the only months to catch your breath. I have two young kids, and obviously we’re here for existing clients, but I try not to beat the bushes in those months. Then July comes and we have rookie negotiations. In August, you’re just monitoring players and hoping they make their teams. Yeah, you’re assessing your recruiting list, but I don’t get out personally until September.” Dye knew better than to take any business for granted. Larger agencies such as Octagon and SFX had increased their presence in the southeast in recent years. Condon and IMG would swoop in for a high-profile client such as Pollack or Eli Manning, the Ole Miss quarterback taken first the previous year. But as Dye mapped out his intense fall calendar of recruiting, a more low-profile opponent was taking aim at Dye’s home turf of Auburn and Georgia. Copyright © 2006 by Pete Williams. All rights reserved.

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