The MMQB begins a series of inside-inside, multimedia football stories for the 2017 season with a view into the life of ESPN NFL information czar Adam Schefter on his busiest day of the year: the kickoff day to NFL free agency, March 9. In the series, we’ll spend a full day with an important person in the football world. We’ll have players, coaches and other figures integral to how the game is played and consumed. Give us feedback—and ideas for future 24 Hours subjects—at email@example.com.
Schefter, 50, has been with ESPN for eight years, and has become the gold standard in the increasingly competitive 24/7 business of NFL news. In December he signed a five-year, multimillion-dollar contract extension that is thought to make him the highest-paid information man in the business and will keep him with ESPN through 2021. His influence is wide-ranging. As The MMQB’s Tim Rohan followed Schefter through the first day of free agency, one source of Schefter’s said when stories get hot, “I don’t call the team; I call Schefter. The first call is to Adam Schefter. I mean, it’s like, weird.” But it’s real, and it’s become a critical part of the NFL landscape.
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Thursday, March 9
On the morning NFL free agency officially begins, Adam Schefter wakes up in a hotel room, his heart pounding. He’s had a fitful night of sleep, tossing and turning, his mind racing, anticipating the day ahead. He’s so loaded with adrenaline that a sizable blotch has broken out on his neck. No use lying in bed any longer, he figures.
Schefter gets up and starts working, firing off texts to sources around the league: general managers, agents, front-office people and coaches with whom he has developed relationships over his 27 years covering the NFL. He’s been working the phones for months leading up to this day.
The start of free agency. Christmas morning. The busiest day of his calendar year.
A number of high-profile players will be changing teams today, and each one will count as a major story. Dozens of reporters from around the country will be chasing those stories, and Schefter, ESPN’s lead NFL insider, will be expected to break them first.
All of them.
Over the next hour or so, Schefter sends out 31 texts, checking in on a number of teams and players. At around 5:30 he heads down to the hotel gym. It’s empty. He climbs onto an elliptical machine, watching SportsCenter and monitoring his phone. Already he has broken two stories—kicker Stephen Hauschka likely to sign with Buffalo; tackle Matt Kalil with Carolina—and he’s beginning to hear back from more sources.
“Let’s see who’s going to call back,” Schefter says, going hard on the elliptical, working up a sweat. “Someone is going to call back. Usually the people that are calling back, they want answers, because they’re involved in something. So now you’re involved in something.”
This will continue all day, Schefter texting and calling his sources, gossiping and trading information, building his own stockpile until he has enough to break a story. Then Schefter will send the news to his 6 million Twitter followers, or announce it on TV or radio or any of the other ESPN outlets he’ll appear on throughout the day. The majority of the league will get the news all at once, straight from Schefter’s mouth or from his Twitter account.
At 6:08 a.m., an NFL head coach calls. The coach and Schefter chat for about eight minutes, mostly about teams and players in the cornerback and offensive line markets. As the conversation ends, Schefter gives the coach a reminder that he will repeat to a number of his sources all day: “I’ll keep you posted if I hear anything — and please do the same.”
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Schefter emerges from his hotel room wearing a dark blue suit, light blue tie and dress shirt with his initials embroidered in red on the cuff. Outside the hotel, a large SUV, with a driver and an ESPN security team, is waiting to take him to work—even though his Doubletree Hotel is practically across the street from ESPN.
A few years ago, Seth Markman, the senior coordinating producer who oversees ESPN’s NFL coverage, decided that Schefter shouldn’t drive anymore. Markman thought his reporter should be freed up to call and text at all times, so he could break more stories and avoid the hazard of texting while driving. Schefter’s so locked into his phone that producers have had to warn him at times when he’s approaching a staircase. Whenever Schefter travels to Bristol from his home in the New York City area, either he hires a driver or Markman dispatches a member of the ESPN security team to pick him up. Like today.
In the short ride to the ESPN campus, Schefter receives a call from his daughter Dylan, 8. Schefter’s wife, Sharri, is driving their daughter to school. Dad tries to sneak in these calls as much as he can, in between his calls to sources. “How’re you doing, Dyl?” he asks.
“I’m doing gooood,” she says. “Anything happening with Romo today?”
Even Adam Schefter’s daughter loves a scoop.
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Schefter stops at the Starbucks inside ESPN, orders “the usual”— soy chai latte, extra hot, no foam—and settles in at table to make some calls. He takes out his notes, pages and pages on the top free agents, picking out and carefully examining two sheets in particular. It’s a numbered list of 50 NFL players. The Markman 50 — a list of the top free agents and trade targets that Markman wants Schefter to focus on.
This year’s top 10:
1. Tony Romo
2. Alshon Jeffery
3. Adrian Peterson
4. A.J. Bouye
5. Brandon Marshall
6. DeSean Jackson
7. Dont’a Hightower
8. Jamaal Charles
9. Stephon Gilmore
10. Terrelle Pryor
Markman started the list a few years ago simply to give Schefter some guidance, but since then they’ve turned it into the focus of a game. Each player has a point value assigned to him, inversely related to his ranking—the number one player is worth 50 points, number two 49, and so on—and Markman awards Schefter points if he breaks the news on that player. If Schefter doesn’t, Markman tallies those points, too, awarding them to the reporter who did break the news. Bonus points are in play for anyone who breaks news about a unforeseen trade.