As the draft free-for-all heats up, Jay Z’s presence in the agent game could have a huge impact on Jadeveon Clowney and other top prospects
Editor's Note: The weeks between the end of the college football regular season and the start of bowl games are "go time" for agents looking to represent members of the 2014 NFL draft class. Former agent Andrew Brandt detailed that recruiting process Thursday on The MMQB. Today he completes the two-part series with a look at how a rapper changed the game for him, and how another could change the game for everyone else.
‘You want me to work with P?’
During my last couple of years as an agent, a good bit of my time was spent with Ricky Williams. I met Ricky when he was playing minor league baseball the summer before his junior year at Texas. He became an elite football player that season and decided to forgo his senior year to enter the 1998 NFL Draft. We filled out the necessary paperwork and had it notarized, and I was poised to send it to the NFL. Had I done so, it would have irrevocably ended his career at Texas, and he likely would have been selected fifth overall by the Bears (who instead took Curtis Enis).
Ricky, however, could be a bit fickle, so I made sure to check with him again before sending in the papers. And after going home to San Diego and talking with some NFL players, Ricky decided to stay at Texas. He loved Austin and wasn't ready to leave. I advised him of the injury risk in staying another year and of money he was passing up, but he was adamant. I sometimes think about how he, the Bears, the Saints and perhaps other teams would have been influenced had I sent in those papers without checking with Ricky one last time.
As a senior Ricky became the hottest player in football. I spent that year becoming part of Ricky’s family on game weekends, strengthening the relationship with his family and fighting off many agents, including all the biggest ones, who were trying to loosen my grip on Ricky. Finally, after watching him accept the Doak Walker Award, the Heisman Trophy and play in the Cotton Bowl (in the driving rain), I formally signed him, securing the watershed client of my career.
Or so I thought.
After signing him, I was at Ricky’s side wherever he went, trying to protect my asset. At some point on the road with Ricky, I noticed a different set of people hanging around, and eventually confronted Ricky about it. He revealed that they worked for No Limit Sports, a new sports management agency being started by rapper and music impresario Master P. Ricky wanted to be part of the venture and wanted me to negotiate his contract with the group.
I asked, You want me to work with P?
Ricky said, Yes, you’ll love him. He’s cool.
With my head spinning about what to do next, I was getting calls from the Green Bay Packers, although I didn't know why. I represented third-string quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, but he didn't need a new contract. Caught up with Ricky and Master P, I ignored their calls. When we finally connected, they asked me to switch sides—to join their front office and handle contracts and football administration. After much deliberation (and negotiation with my wife to move to Green Bay) I ultimately chose the Packers over Master P and left the agent business behind.
My experience with Ricky, who is still the most interesting football player I have known, showed the commitment required to secure and handle players at the top of the draft. It was—and still is—a whirlwind, with the player owning all the leverage in the relationship.
Master P, of course, had another negotiator work on Ricky’s contract, and its deficiencies have been well documented, causing fodder for agents to warn against a certain new entry into the agent business.
A new rapper enters the game
Despite the lack of success by Master P, I have long thought that Jay-Z would be a formidable presence in the agent business. And he already is, fresh off the negotiation of a stunning 10-year, $240 million baseball contract for Robinson Cano with the Seattle Mariners.
The NFLPA inquiry into Jay-Z predictably went nowhere. The NFLPA represents players, not agents, and players want Jay-Z in the business.
Although Jay-Z will not be negotiating any $240 million NFL deals (twice the amount of the largest NFL contract ever), he already has secured two NFL players in New York with strong potential—the Giants’ Victor Cruz and the Jets’ Geno Smith. And there will be more.
To be clear, Jay-Z is not sitting down with negotiators and data analysts poring over contract specifics, guarantee language and salary cap impact. That is the job of the on-the-ground agents working with him—CAA in baseball and his hired negotiators in football. Jay-Z is the name, the presence, and the draw. As to an NFLPA inquiry into Jay-Z’s recruitment of Smith, spurred by rival agents, that predictably went nowhere. The NFLPA represents players, not agents, and players want Jay-Z in the business.
There are now far more top players desirous of Jay-Z’s interest than vice versa. One likely top pick in the upcoming 2014 draft, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney, reportedly has made inquiries about his representation. Jay-Z provides players an A-list presence and a role model from modest roots with proven success in a variety of high-profile businesses. And, of course, the “wow” factor is important: Roc Nation (his sports management company) clients might have unprecedented access to events, introductions to entertainers and, perhaps most tempting of all, the possibility to meet Jay-Z’s better half, Beyoncé.
The agent community has certainly taken notice. Some try to negatively recruit, pointing to previous failings of Master P and similar artists to briefly enter the industry, including MC Hammer and Jermaine Dupri. The smarter agents, though, will self-assess this threat and pay closer attention to players who might be potential targets for Jay-Z. One prominent agent said to me, Every agent with high-profile players, especially ones in New York, is showering those guys with service right now. Another said wistfully, I hope he doesn’t want one of my guys.
I do wonder, though, whether Jay-Z will at some point lose interest in a business he hardly needs. The financial impact to Jay-Z’s expansive portfolio is relatively minimal, and he can certainly have an audience with any athlete he chooses without having to actually represent them. Perhaps the allure is simply that if Jay-Z can’t actually be a professional athlete, managing his private selection of elite players will satisfy that want for him.
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In talking to scores of young people wanting to get into the sports business—as well as professionals wanting to make a transition to sports—there is no aspect of the industry more intriguing to them than the agent business. While it can be a fun and exciting roller coaster of a life, especially for a young person, it is hard work for sometimes demanding high-profile clients. And with the margins being reduced every year by downward competitive pressure, it is a difficult way to make a living.
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