Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated :: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
Simon Bruty/Sports Illustrated :: Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Who’s Gonna Represent?

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

By
Andrew Brandt
· More from Andrew·

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.

ricky-williams-texas-800
After deciding to return to Texas for his senior year, Ricky Williams won the 1998 Heisman and became one of the hot properties for the ’99 draft. (Bob Rosato/Sports Illustrated)

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.

ricky-williams-master-p
Ricky Williams’ incentive-laden rookie deal, negotiated by Master P’s agency, is now seen as a disaster, and could serve as a cautionary note for 2014 prospects looking at non-traditional agents. (Judi Bottoni/AP)

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

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Jay Z’s Roc Nation has inked Victor Cruz and Geno Smith; more NFL players could be on the way. (Simon Bruty/SI :: Damien Strohmeyer/SI)

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.

Jay Z’s appeal for young athletes might go beyond his agency’s ability to negotiate top dollar. (Kathy Kmonicek/AP)
Jay Z’s appeal for young athletes might go beyond his agency’s ability to negotiate top dollar. (Kathy Kmonicek/AP)

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.

* * *

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. 

Still want to be an agent?

10 comments
jbayeaux
jbayeaux

i don't remember these concerns about interests and portfolios when IMG got into the business. of course they weren't black owned. master p gets slammed when talking about ricky williams, but he was always an eccentric player who ended up quitting football. what about how ari emanuel mismanaged the decision? costing lebron an immeasurable amount of goodwill and perhaps undercutting his entire legacy? but he's jewish and connected, so it never gets mentioned. this is a protectionist article meant to scare these athletes, and it's sad that SI would publish it. but when you consider the disparate treatment they gave barry bonds and mark mcgwire, i shouldn't be surprised.

EarlMartyPrice
EarlMartyPrice

He got Cano a bunch of mponey but at the end of the day Cano left a team that will probably be playoff bouond year in and year out for the Mariners who will drag the bottom of the American League West. Playoff's, World Series that is how you get known. So now he has  alot of money and will be able to stay home and enjoy his money every October.

rheffero
rheffero

Comparing Jay Z to Master P is a bit unfair, Master P never had the same star power.


But, the wake up call for the players will be when they realize that Jay Z is not on their beck and call like you typical agent.


That will be where the players realize, having Jay Z's phone number does not mean he will pick the phone up.


End of the day, this is one of the more boring conversations. Celebrities chasing athletes to get a piece of the athlete's star power and the athletes looking to get into their world. End of the day, all a agent does really is facilitate the process to empty their bank accounts which is nothing new.


Clowney has all of the signs of the next SEC defensive superstar to flame out of the NFL. Signing with Jay Z will confirm that this guy is about the celebrity, which every team should be wary of.

checkcallfold
checkcallfold

Great read Andrew.  I was curious as to the actual qualifications of sports agents?  Would you say most, if not all, have law degrees?  Maybe some MBAs?  Putting aside all of the "sexy" things related to the celebrity-aspect of pro sports, you have to think that you have to have some professional certification and/or area of study to be an agent (the obvious exception being if you are the face of an agency like Jay-Z.)

MidwestGolfFan
MidwestGolfFan

The more I read about this stuff, the more it seems to me that the agent business is nothing more than an upscale cattle call.

francorooy
francorooy

@jbayeaux^Absolute rubbish. You're looking to interject race where it isn't needed(and I say that as a person of colour). 

What does Ari Emannuel and The Decision have to do with NFL, Ricky Willams, Master P and JayZ?  What does IMG have to do with this? IMG have been a major player in sports business, media and player representation for decades so not sure why there'd be any need to discuss them even when they got into the business.

You sir are an idiot and a major one for trying to bring race into this. The article is about Jay-Z entering the business, the positives and negatives of that as well as comparing that to Master P's foray into the business. Let us know when Eminem enters the player representation business and I'm pretty sure there will be many articles about that as well.

Go take a seat dude, with that racial bs.

Mike26
Mike26

@EarlMartyPrice So what if he never sees the playoffs in Seattle?  To most baseball and basketball players nowadays, it's 95% money, 5% competition.  The exception is the Heat, where those 3 were to timid to try and win on their own so they all took "less" money to form a "superstar"  team - much like Magic, Bird, Jordan and Erving did in the late 80's....

Mike26
Mike26

@rheffero Comparing Master P to Jay Z is COMPLETELY fair - both are rappers/celebrities looking to get into a field in which they knew/know nothing and will be farming out all of the real work to other people.

Mike26
Mike26

@checkcallfold Each professional league, especially players' associations, have their own set of rules for becoming a certified agent, player investment representative, etc.  To me, it's most important to football players to have good representation.  In baseball and basketball, you get paid for breathing once a contract is signed, as most of it is all guaranteed.  In football, only the signing bonus is guaranteed.  I've never been impressed with "Flash and Dash" when it comes to selling me a product or service, because any business that needs to constantly do that to get/keep clients usually isn't capable of doing the job well in the first place.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@MidwestGolfFan   There are good and bad in every profession.  Cops, teachers and agents.  What has changed is people over the yrs, the money and now the internet, twitter and fame from early on.  These kids (athletes are on TV picking a hat to show the world which college they will be attending).


It was NOT like this before.  Good agents were/are needed.  Now things have changed more to the flash, the pop, the wow factor... for some.  Not all.


It's just a lot more complicated now.  There are really good agents out there who work very hard for their clients.  Some kids today think they CANNOT or will NOT fail and that millions upon millions will continue coming to them.


They WON'T be like the others who blow through their money or don't receive the next mega contract for $110 million.


It's getting harder to just be an agent.  There are many more than their used to be.  Not as many as their are lawyers obviously but agents are beginning to have to ambulance chase now too.

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