Once, Drew Rosenhaus was not a wunderkind agent for NFL players.
Once, he was just a kid living in Miami. No, that is an
understatement, and to understate anything about Rosenhaus is to
slander him. Rosenhaus won't stand for that, he will shout at
you, WON'T STAND FOR IT! (The shout is his normal speaking
voice.) He was never just a kid. Rosenhaus, 29, has been in
training for his profession practically all his life.
As boys, Drew and his younger brother, Jason, were MANIC Miami
Dolphins fans. They went to every home game and many practices.
Their father, Robert, who sold real estate and manufactured
boats, befriended some of the players, played tennis with them,
had them over to the house for meals. As a 10-year-old, Drew
asked these NFL players questions such as, "What do you guys
really say when you're lining up?" and "Do you curse?"
One day when Drew and Jason were teenagers, they had the
family's housekeeper drive them to watch the Dolphins practice.
A security guard stopped the car and asked the passengers how
they were affiliated with the Dolphins.
"We're Reggie Roby's nephews!" Drew said.
July 14, 1996
Roby, then the Dolphins punter, is black. The Rosenhaus brothers
are not black. They got in, and Drew has been coloring the truth
Deceit is a part of his job. He will not only lie, he will also
scream, cajole, threaten and whine to defend his clients'
interests. For Rosenhaus, clients' needs come before the needs
of a team, the league and even Rosenhaus himself. Which is why
he is the hottest young agent in the NFL. He represents 49
players, 19 of them Dolphins--nearly half the team's roster.
Only three other agents, all much older, represent more NFL
players than Rosenhaus.
His success has had its costs. Other agents despise Rosenhaus,
and some team executives are loath to do business with him. He
has been described as slithering and blindly ambitious.
Rosenhaus knows what people say, and he LIKES it. But he urges
you to see the good, too. "I'M A LIKABLE GUY!" he bellows.
Likable or not, agents are a force to be reckoned with in the
NFL. When unfettered free agency was instituted in 1993, it
altered the balance of power in the league by giving players'
representatives more leverage when negotiating with teams. Now,
as agents seek free-agent riches for their clients, they don't
hesitate to flex their muscles. And no one puts the squeeze on
clubs like Rosenhaus does.
He is a piece of work long in progress. He graduated at 19 from
the University of Miami, where he befriended football players by
tutoring them. Next he attended Duke Law School. In the summer
after his first year at Duke he worked for a prominent Miami
sports agent, Mel Levine, who later served 2 1/2 years in prison
for fraud in connection with a bank loan. On one of his first
days in the office, after doing some cursory research, Rosenhaus
suggested that Levine go after a Syracuse football player named
Tommy Kane, a likely third-round draft pick who didn't appear to
have an agent. Levine said he didn't know how to get ahold of
Kane. Rosenhaus did: "I called up the football office and said,
'I'm Joe Blow, Tommy Kane's tutor. He's got an exam. Can you
give me his number?' They said, 'Sure, no problem.'
"I'd pretend to be a classmate, an NFL scout, a family member to
get phone numbers," Rosenhaus says. "I impressed Levine. But I
soon found out that I was teaching him, he wasn't teaching me."
His methods haven't changed. "I am not 100 percent honest with
teams," says Rosenhaus, who struck out on his own in 1989, a
year before graduating from Duke Law. "It's my job to represent
my clients and use EVERYTHING I can to do right by them. I'm not
going to lie constantly. I'm not a pathological liar. But in
some instances I'll bluff. Teams are not supposed to believe
In March 1995, after the Dolphins had topped all bids for
Pittsburgh free-agent tight end Eric Green with an offer of
$1.88 million a year, Rosenhaus led Miami to believe that
another club had upped the ante at the last minute. Without
bothering to confirm the agent's claim with the NFL's neutral
verifier (the clearinghouse for such information), the Dolphins
raised their offer to $2 million a year. The following day Green
signed with Miami for $12 million over six years, which made him
the highest-paid tight end in the NFL.
Rosenhaus is sitting in his house in Bay Harbour, Fla. He's
wearing cowboy boots, black pants, a white shirt, suspenders and
a belt. Jason, 27, stands nearby, cellular phone in hand,
dressed nearly the same. They are partners--Batman and Robin,
they tell you. In 1990 the Miami athletic department banished
Drew from the football practice field and parking lot, where he
relentlessly courted Hurricane players. Conveniently for Drew,
Jason, then a Miami undergraduate, had unlimited access to the
athletes his big brother coveted. Jason befriended linebacker
Jessie Armstead and cornerback Robert Bailey, among others, and
they eventually became clients. In all, Rosenhaus represents 15
former Hurricanes now in the NFL.
Jason, a Miami Law School graduate and a certified public
accountant who prepares tax returns for some players, is more
reserved than Drew, more cautious. He supplies the little facts
that Drew, in his modesty, overlooks. When Drew tells you he
graduated from Miami in three years, Jason contributes, "With a
3.89 grade point average." When Drew says that as a boy he once
escaped with a football from a Dolphins practice, Jason chimes
in, "By jumping over a six-foot fence, I might add."
Later, as Drew answers a question about the risks of lying,
Jason looks on approvingly, as if to say, Only a fundamentally
honest person like Drew will admit to being a liar! "They're not
going to catch me in a lie," Drew says. "I am an expert in
dealing in the gray area with NFL teams.
"I take pride in my ethics. But I am a relentless, ruthless
warrior. I am a hit man. I will move in for the kill and use
everything within my power to succeed for my clients."
Pity the poor Dolphins executives who must do business with him
regularly. Several agents have told SI that they are afraid to
have their players sign with Miami, for fear that they will lose
the players to Rosenhaus. About all that team officials say in
response is that they hope it's not true. They barred
Rosenhaus--and, as a result, all agents--from the players'
parking area last year, furious that he was using the gated lot
as a recruiting spot. But they did so politely. They silently
suffer preposterous public boasts from Rosenhaus, such as this
one to the Miami Herald in 1994, when Don Shula was the Dolphins
coach: "Don Shula knows that I know this business. He calls me
just to pick my brain." (Shula, through a team spokesman, says
he won't dignify Rosenhaus's claim, which Rosenhaus himself
regrets, with a response. Shula's successor, Jimmy Johnson, also
declined to discuss Rosenhaus with SI.)
The most significant worry the Dolphins have about Rosenhaus is
one that only others, outside the team, will give voice to: the
notion that he has undermined the esprit de corps of the
Dolphins, a team that was expected to be a Super Bowl contender
last season but finished 9-7 and was knocked out in the first
round of the playoffs by the Buffalo Bills 37-22. David Ware, a
veteran NFL agent, says Rosenhaus will stop at nothing to
recruit players from other agents. He will demean not only a
player's representation but also his coaches, general manager
and teammates. "Drew tells a player that he's worth more money,
that his agent is not doing enough for him, that he's better
than the guy starting in front of him," Ware says. "Now the
player is not only mad at his agent, he's mad at the team
management. He sees the guy starting in front of him as a
co-conspirator. That was the problem with the Dolphins last
year. If the only thing players are concerned about is their
next deal, it's not going to produce winning football. Any time
an agent is more important than his players, [a team] is going
to have chemistry problems."
Rosenhaus responds, "I consider myself to be an ASSET to the
teams," he yells. "I take these guys and encourage them to work
out and diet and watch their lifestyle because that's the ONLY
way they're going to make it. That's the only way I'M going to
make it. I DON'T blow smoke up their butts."
Agents' stealing clients from one another has accelerated in
recent years as agents' working lives have become more
regulated. Under players' union rules enacted in 1994, NFL
agents may take, as their cut, no more than 4% of a player's
contract. Free agency has increased agents' importance in the
contract negotiations of veteran players but diminished their
role in bargaining sessions for rookies, because first-year
salaries are largely determined by draft position. The
competition among agents for veterans is now so fierce that the
union's disciplinary committee is devising a grievance process
to handle agents' complaints about thieving competitors. The
agents have a nickname for the proposed regulations: the Drew
"When you look up sleazeball agent in the dictionary, there's a
picture of Drew with his slicked-back hair," says Craig Fenech,
who represented Dolphins kicker Pete Stoyanovich before he
turned up on Rosenhaus's client list. Another agent, Peter
Schaffer, who lost onetime Dolphins lineman Eddie Blake to
Rosenhaus, says, "Drew is the biggest scumbag in the business."
A third agent, Steve Weinberg, who used to represent Dolphins
lineman Jeff Cross, now a Rosenhaus client, says, "Drew is out
of control. He doesn't know how to take no for an answer."
All three men claim Rosenhaus stole the aforementioned players
from them. Rosenhaus responds, "If a guy is unhappy, if a guy
wants to leave his agent, if a guy is in the process of changing
agents, I will strike, and I will go right for the jugular. But
I will not call a guy up and say, 'Hey, you ought to dump your
His competitors say Rosenhaus writes form dismissal letters to
make it easier for players to fire their agents and hire him.
(Rosenhaus denies it.) They say Rosenhaus undermines the
marketplace by cutting his commission. (Rosenhaus says he may
charge whatever he likes. His cut of defensive tackle Warren
Sapp's contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for instance, is
just 1%, a point below Rosenhaus's usual rate and two or three
points below the typical agent's rate.) Other agents say
Rosenhaus is a publicity-seeking egomaniac. (He admits to the
adjective but not the noun.) They say they hate him. (This
Rosenhaus acknowledges happily.)
"They DESPISE me," he shouts. "They hate me because I'm young
and I've broken into this business and KICKED everybody's ASS. I
LOVE the fact that my competitors hate my guts."
Some despised him while he was still at Duke. During his second
year of law school, in '89, Rosenhaus recruited for Levine a
cornerback from North Carolina Central named Robert Massey.
Later, Rosenhaus convinced the player that he, not Levine,
should be his agent. When Massey was drafted by the New Orleans
Saints, Rosenhaus invited ESPN to New Orleans to film him
negotiating with Jim Finks, the Saints general manager (who died
in 1994). Rosenhaus then told the Associated Press and other
media outlets about ESPN's planned piece, forcing Finks to go
along with it or appear to be scared of a 22-year-old agent and
a TV camera.
Watching the ESPN footage is painful. Rosenhaus assaults
Finks--who was considered one of the grand, wise men of football
and a hard-nosed negotiator--with a barrage of hyperbole about
Massey's worth. Talking nonstop for five minutes, Rosenhaus
describes Massey as a first-round pick disguised as a
second-round pick and deserving first-round money. Every so
often the camera pans to the silent Finks, who looks to be in
agony. The Saints gave Massey a two-year contract for $600,000 a
year. He played well. Then they traded him.
"When the time for a second contract arrived, we weren't going
to deal with it," says Bill Kuharich, then the Saints' director
of player personnel and now their general manager. "We decided
to move Robert not solely because of Drew, but [the agent] was
certainly a big factor."
Rosenhaus does not believe that. "If [a general manager] traded
players to teach an agent a lesson, I don't think he'd be a
general manager for long," he says. "You start teaching agents
lessons, you're going to cost yourself a JOB."
As for Massey, he is now with his fourth team, the Jacksonville
Jaguars, and he remains a dedicated Rosenhaus client even though
he has some regrets about having been traded by New Orleans.
"The bottom line for an agent is to get the most money for his
client," Massey says. "That's one thing Drew has done."
Well, not always. Rosenhaus has been accused of mismanaging the
careers of several clients. The most troubling case is that of
the Dolphins' Louis Oliver. By 1993 Oliver was emerging as one
of the best safeties in the NFL. The team offered him, through
his agent, Eugene Burroughs, a three-year deal at $1.4 million a
year. Rosenhaus started whispering in Oliver's ear, telling him
he deserved $2 million per year. He promised Oliver that if he
couldn't secure such a deal, he would negotiate the contract
free of charge. Oliver played another year in Miami at $900,000,
fired Burroughs, signed with Rosenhaus and accepted a two-year
offer from the Cincinnati Bengals at $1.6 million per year--free
of charge. But Oliver missed Miami, disliked Cincinnati and
played poorly. He was waived after one year. The following year,
1995, he returned to Miami. His new salary was the league
minimum: $178,000. Rosenhaus says he committed no malpractice.
He and his player took a risk and lost.
Oliver is still a Rosenhaus client. "Drew's still a friend of
mine," he says. "Whatever you need, Drew will do it for you."
In controversy's face Rosenhaus remains appallingly cheery. Last
year as the NFL draft approached, newspaper articles claimed
that his client Sapp--then a highly regarded defensive lineman
from Miami--had failed a drug test. By draft day Sapp's stock
was in a free fall, but Rosenhaus smiled into every TV camera
pointed his way, RELISHING the attention. In June, when another
client, Brian Blades of the Seattle Seahawks (and before that,
the University of Miami) was convicted of manslaughter by a jury
and then acquitted by the trial judge, Rosenhaus was right
there, fielding questions from journalists, comforting Blades's
family, cheering on his lawyers, THRIVING in the chaos.
He's too busy even for love. "My girlfriend is a renowned
swimsuit model who most guys would want to spend all their time
with," Rosenhaus says of Krissy Braun. "I have to blow her off
all the time. That's probably why she likes me, because I'm a
challenge to her. Some women like the challenge of a guy who
doesn't worship them, doesn't kiss their feet. Eventually, she
would like to marry me. But that would be at least five years
Renowned swimsuit models can wait. Rosenhaus has worlds to
conquer. He figures he already has a near monopoly on Miami
Hurricanes and Dolphins. His next step is to become bigger than
Leigh Steinberg, the most prominent agent in the NFL.
"He's the king right now," Rosenhaus says of Steinberg. "He's
got quarterbacks, he's got more clients than I do, he makes more
money than I do. But he's been at it a lot longer than I have.
Give me the same amount of time, and I'll blow him out of the
According to the NFL Players Association, 17 agents represent a
total of 600 players, or one third of the players in the league.
Here are the top 10 agents based on the number of NFL clients
they had as of May 23, with two of their headline performers.
Agent Headline No.
1 IMG Erik Kramer, QB, Bears
Heath Shuler, QB, Redskins 81
2 LEIGH STEINBERG Troy Aikman, QB, Cowboys
Steve Young, QB, 49ers 65
3 MARVIN DEMOFF Dan Marino, QB, Dolphins
Junior Seau, LB, Chargers 53
4 DREW ROSENHAUS Brian Blades, WR, Seahawks
Warren Sapp, DE, Bucs 49
4 JIM STEINER Leon Lett, DT, Cowboys
Jerry Rice, WR, 49ers 49
6 RALPH CINDRICH Jeff Blake, QB, Bengals
Rodney Hampton, RB, Giants 48
7 FRANK BAUER Henry Ellard, WR, Redskins
Gary Zimmerman, T, Broncos 47
8 EUGENE PARKER Deion Sanders, CB, Cowboys
Emmitt Smith, RB, Cowboys 45
9 JORDAN WOY Robert Jones, LB, Rams
Anthony Smith, DE, Raiders 44
10 TONY AGNONE Dave Meggett, RB, Patriots
Scott Mitchell, QB, Lions 43