Watching the Draft Through Agents’ Eyes
It’s the seventh round, three picks to go, and the Panthers are on the phone with the agent for one disappointed tight end. He thought he’d be drafted, and despite all the pre-draft indications to support that he’s sliding right out of Round 7. Carolina is interested in bringing an undrafted rookie tight end to minicamp, and the agent wants to know just how interested they are. In mid-conversation, the Panthers scout goes silent.
“Wait a minute…”
* * *
The MMQB spent the better part of three days with a pair of transitioning agents with a diverse rookie clientele to answer the question, What do NFL agents do during the draft? I’ve had this question for years, and I found the answer in an Atlanta boardroom turned war room for the newly-formed Element Sports Group, an agency run by 36-year-old Michael Perrett and 34-year-old Kevin McGuire. The short answer: They pace and fret, make and take calls, eat, drink, laugh, negotiate and celebrate and console.
For agents, the draft begins in earnest on Wednesday, when the NFLPA traditionally hosts an invite-only party in a restaurant or hotel ballroom with about 40 prospects and their certified agents and representatives. It is annually the largest gathering of NFL leadership that is not employed by the NFL, with PA executive director DeMaurice Smith making the rounds. In Chicago, at RPM Steak on the near north side, sharply-dressed buffet minders served shrimp the size of toddler’s fists. Meanwhile, players (many wearing their first and only tailored suits) sat and whispered amongst themselves in perimeter booth seating as their representation mingled around a center bar.
Said former Auburn wide receiver Sammie Coates: “I’d never been to anything like that before.”
Coates’ agents, Perrett and McGuire, were enjoying the agent scene for the first time since leaving Sports Trust Advisors and headliner agent Pat Dye Jr. last July. They started Element with 18 players who choose to go with them, including Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward and Denver Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby. Perrett and McGuire left Sports Trust Advisors with a mission to offer big-league resources with the personality of a boutique agency.
Marcus Lattimore, the former South Carolina running back, was one of Perrett and McGuire’s clients. Despite being taken by the 49ers in the fourth round of the 2013 draft, Lattimore never made it back to the field after a devastating knee injury in his final game at South Carolina. Nevertheless, Lattimore’s family made a lasting impression on the pair and the player helped them recruit their first rookie class, one that included three Gamecock players.
“He and his family are South Carolina royalty,” McGuire says.
Both agents attended the first round of the draft a year ago with Roby, the former Ohio State corner, who complicated his first-round stock when, two weeks before the draft, he was cited with operating a vehicle under the influence (he has since been a model citizen in Denver). Roby, along with his family and agents, waited in the green room at New York’s Radio City Music Hall until pick No. 31. The television broadcast was so far behind the actual draft, NFL and ESPN producers asked Roby and family to recreate their reaction to being drafted for the TV moment.
“Going to the draft can be overrated,” McGuire says. “It’s a very cool thing for the player to experience, but that green room is a small space and nobody in there is having fun unless you are a surefire top pick.”
The preferred venue is a quiet office building in the Vinings area of Atlanta, with barbeque on the table, laptops cued to the quickest draft trackers and a projection screen showing NFL Network’s live feed. Perrett holds a football between his hands as he gives a final speech to McGuire, Director of Client Services Jaclyn DeBacco, and associate Alex Goldenberg, a recent University of Florida grad, before Thursday’s first round begins and before the wives arrive.
“To be in this setting,” Perrett says, “having not only veteran but rookie clients, to have those guys believe in us and to be able to help them; it’s a blessing.”
For agents who don’t have clients slated for the very top of the draft, the slow tick of the first round is a time for checking off boxes. Perrett spends the offseason communicating with reps from each team and building from those conversations a road map for his clients. He creates a spreadsheet for each of his seven clients with feedback from all 32 teams. What round grade did that team give the player? Do they need him? Do they like him? Perrett figures his offensive guard from South Carolina, A.J. Cann, is the client with the best chance to go in the first round, so he’s tracking the teams that need offensive linemen and whether they’re addressing those needs early.
La’el Collins’ precipitous fall from potential first-rounder to UDFA certainly helped Cann. As did Washington taking Brandon Scherff No. 5 overall. While McGuire sits and follows online, Perrett wears holes in the carpet, handling a football and spouting out picks before they happen.
Kevin White to the Bears. Vic Beasley to the Falcons. Todd Gurley to the Rams. Danny Shelton to the Browns. Perrett’s hit rate is near-immaculate. Cann and Sammie Coates text him for updates on his thinking. Coates is likely a Day 2 pick, but Cann is in play for the Saints and Patriots at the end of the round, according to Perrett’s sources, so they wait.
“These guys are used to going between the white lines and affecting change,” Perrett says of his clients. “Now they have to sit back and watch. It can’t be easy.”
For each player, Element prepares a pre-draft profile with three groups of teams: (1) Those who have a strong interest and a need at their position, (2) Those with moderate interest and/or need, and (3) Those with little interest or need. It helps the players relax through at least a portion of the draft, Perrett hopes.
In gauging team interest, he’s also answering questions. Explaining a bad stretch of tape is a high priority in the early spring.
“With talking to teams, they’ll have concerns and you can help point them in the right direction,” he says. “They’re looking at film and they don’t know if a guy was dealing with an injury or what was going on at home or in their life at the time. You mess up one time and lie to a team and you lose all credibility.”
Cann’s chances of going in the first round get a boost with the first honest-to-God guard getting picked—Duke’s Laken Tomlinson to the Lions at 28. But the Saints and Patriots go with defense and the round is over. Perrett takes a call from a general manager. His team likes Cann in the first half of the second round tomorrow, and does Perrett think he’s going to be available? It’s a rare occurrence—a decision maker calling an agent for such an opinion. It’s in the agent’s best interest to convey urgency, but he has to be honest above all else. Perrett takes the question on a balcony overlooking suburban Atlanta.
* * *
All seven clients got a call on Thursday night from Element, but only six of them were anxious for an update. McGuire and I spend Friday morning visiting with the unfazed one: former Florida center Max Garcia. A native of Norcross, Ga., Garcia lives with a handful of relatives in a one-story home guarded by a muscular black and gold pit bull. McGuire wants to drop off a marketing check from a trading card company (yes, there’s still money in trading cards) and to check on Garcia’s demeanor. Last night, all Garcia did on the phone was gush about his two UF teammates selected in the first-round.
There was a bigger development possibly concerning Garcia Thursday night. Denver traded away veteran interior lineman Manny Ramirez and two fifth round picks to move up to No. 23 from No. 28. During a March 31 visit to the Broncos facility, an assistant coach told Garcia not to be surprised if the team drafts him in the second or third round.
Garcia, who is bilingual and doesn’t curse, needs no reassurance. McGuire asks if he has any questions and Max pans his brain for something, anything…
“When do I send the Verizon tweet?”
McGuire, former marketing guru for Sports Trust Advisors, says he’ll let him know.
“This will be a big couple of days,” McGuire says. “Don’t even worry about that.”
Perrett has communicated with two-thirds of all clubs by the second-round kickoff at 7 p.m., and the second round looks to be going according to plan. Perrett’s wife, Jenifer, asks if Michael thinks Team X will take Cann.
“Yes,” he says. “As sure as I can be with the draft.”
As if on cue, the team deals out of the pick and moves back in the round. That’s when things get tense. From the middle of the second round on, the only sounds in the room are coming from Perrett’s cell phone. Who’s gonna grab A.J.? The Chiefs take Missouri guard Mitch Morse 49th overall. Team X passes on Cann a second time. The Bucs draft fast-riser Ali Marpet, out of tiny Hobart, 61st overall. The second round is over, and McGuire grabs a beer from the nearby kitchen in hopes of reversing the mojo. Three picks later, Cann is pacing through the hallway of a Courtyard Marriott in Columbia, South Carolina when he gets a call that drops him on his butt. It’s the Jaguars. He’s the 67th overall pick.
Perrett gets a text at the same time and the room bursts into woops and applause.
“Alright! Lets get some smiles in here?” Perrett says. “We were on life support!”
Says McGuire: “We get the first ever draft pick for Element Sports right after I drink my first beer. What does that tell you?”
Cann is crying when he answers Perrett’s FaceTime call minutes later.
“It was very emotional, stressed out,” Cann says. “I was supposed to be late-first, and definitely, definitely second round. I was all prepared to celebrate in the second round, and then it was over, and I thought, I’m about to leave everyone and just go watch in my room. And then right when I said that I got the call from Jacksonville.”
Back in Atlanta, the seal is broken for Element. Twenty picks later, Coates goes to the Steelers and DeBacco goes to work organizing a 9 a.m. flight to Pittsburgh for the third-rounder to be introduced in a press conference. McGuire deals with a memorabilia buyer, who is suddenly interested in Coates because he’s landed in a major memorabilia market (Dallas, Green Bay, New England, Pittsburgh, and New York are the big ones). Perrett had a hunch it would be Pittsburgh because his Steelers source stopped answering texts: “You get a relationship with a guy and all of a sudden they stop talking? Then you know something is really good or really bad.”
On the NFL Network broadcast, Charles Davis’ analysis that Coates doesn’t have “natural hands” doesn’t dampen the mood. “Sammie, that is an awesome pick,” Perrett tells him over the phone. “You’re going to be competing for championships.”
As the third round ends, it’s clear Garcia and Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne will wait one more night.
Perrett gives a frazzled Artis-Payne a briefing on the running backs yet to be drafted: “I’m not saying these guys are ahead of you. 32 different teams are going to have 32 different draft boards. This is your last night unemployed.”
* * *
The trouble isn’t getting clients; it’s getting the right ones. Perrett and McGuire would prefer players who meet two criteria: Guys who don’t cause trouble and guys who will get drafted. Playing the undrafted game is tricky because the end of the draft is a bum rush. Once more than 200 players are drafted, UDFAs often have only minutes to decide whether to accept an offer, and cases of agents calling teams back to accept offers that no longer exist are commonplace.
“When the draft is over it’s a free for all,” Perrett says. “Negotiating all that stuff is bananas. We need to take those moments in the sixth and seventh and figure out where guys want to go.”
On Saturday, Element clients continue to find homes; Doran Grant (Ohio State corner) goes to the Steelers in the fourth, and the Broncos finally tab Garcia in the fourth, two picks after the Patriots take a different center. The fifth bleeds away and a punter and a fullback are chosen before Artis-Payne gets the calls. After the Panthers take him 174th overall, McGuire asks him how he feels.
“I never want to do this again,” he deadpans.
Says McGuire: “I know this is tough. Michael and I have never been in your shoes. Now you can breathe.”
Element has two clients left unclaimed: Rory “Busta” Anderson, tight end out of South Carolina, and his college quarterback, Dylan Thompson. In the sixth round, Thompsons seems to already have a home. His preference is San Francisco. He’s 6-3, 218, with a powerful arm and one year of starting experience, and the 49ers call Perrett as it becomes clear he won’t be drafted. By rule, the teams can’t talk money yet, but Perrett can talk and listen.
“No QBs are being drafted, so you don’t want to be left out in the cold,” Perrett says. “It’s about supply and demand at some point.”
Anderson’s case is more complicated.
Busta suffered a torn triceps in spring practice before his senior season and tore his other triceps in the fall. He suffered a Grade 2 hamstring strain on March 30, two days before his pro day. He has been unable to work out for teams at full capacity ever since. He was at 75% at his own private pro day on April 21. The medical red flag is a tall obstacle for a third-day tight end with eight games and 22 catches as a senior, so he’s falling hard. San Francisco had been a late-round candidate, but they took a tight end in the fourth—Blake Bell out of Oklahoma.
Perrett’s phone is ringing nonstop now, more frequently than during any round prior. The Panthers and Saints want Busta, and Busta wants to be more than a camp body. The calls are typically from area scouts, who are given a budget for signing bonuses and salaries and told to round up priority targets at the end of the draft.
“He’s interested,” Perrett tells New Orleans, “but he wants to get a lay of the land. There’s interest there if it’s mutual. Do you want to talk to your TE coach and let me know?”
The Panthers assure Perrett they’re using Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess as a wide receiver, not a tight end.
“Busta really likes your TE coach so can you have him reach out?” Perrett says.
The Chargers are up front with Element: Busta is their second choice at the position. Midway through the seventh, the Panthers call a third time to check in. They have Greg Olsen and Ed Dickson, but they say they have room for Busta.
Perrett rings his dejected tight end: “No disrespect but you’re not replacing Olsen and Dickson, but they took four into the regular season last year. The Saints are lukewarm. San Diego has a guy ahead of you. We’ve just gotta get you healthy.
“On top of frustration this needs to be motivation. I hope you have the biggest chip on your shoulder possible.”
Carolina calls back again with three picks remaining in the draft. It’s the 60th phone call to Perrett’s cell on Saturday. Perrett is asking depth chart questions when the voice on the other end interrupts him.
“Wait a minute… your guy just got picked.”
It’s a first for Perrett in 15 years; getting notified of a seventh-rounder’s selection by a different UDFA suitor. Kevin, Michael, Jaclyn and Alex are cheering as hard for Anderson as they were for Cann, harder even, when Mrs. Perrett comes through the conference room opening with Perrett’s two young sons and daughter.
Just then, McGuire gets a text from Marcus Lattimore’s mother, Yolanda Smith: “I know things are super crazy for ya’ll right now. Just wanted you to know that I am Proud of you and Thankful you are true to who you are. Love ya’ll. Joshua 1:8 NIV. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
For two new partners, Draft No. 1 is in the books.
Photo credits for top image: Robert Klemko/The MMQB (2); Stacy Revere/Getty Images; Joe Robbins/Getty Images (2); Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images; Bill Frakes/SI; Dave Martin/AP; Grant Halverson/Getty Images
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