NFL's Other Go-To Guys; in the Competitive World of Agents, Only a Handful Share Most of the Power
Frenette, Gene, The Florida Times Union
Byline: GENE FRENETTE
When Ernest Wilford decided midway through the 2005 season to part company with the agent who negotiated his rookie contract, the Jaguars' wide receiver hooked up with arguably the profession's biggest name: Drew Rosenhaus.
Besides his notoriety for representing Terrell Owens during the receiver's highly publicized divorce from the Philadelphia Eagles, Rosenhaus is a dynamic force in the Jaguars' locker room. That's because he represents nine Jacksonville players, including running back Fred Taylor and defensive tackle Marcus Stroud, the most by one agent with any of the 32 NFL teams.
Wilford's switch to Rosenhaus is a textbook example of a follow-the-leaders game among NFL players. They tend to go with agents who have large client bases and more experience in contract negotiations.
This personal services industry, where competition often is cutthroat because agents are chasing a cut of the annual $3 billion worth in cumulative salaries, has become a borderline monopoly.
Led by Rosenhaus (79 players) and Tom Condon (68 players), who's part of the Creative Artists Agency conglomerate in Beverly Hills, 15 agents represent 730 players currently under contract with NFL teams. Depending on how many of those players make the final 53-man rosters in September, those 15 agents will control approximately 25 to 40 percent of the NFL clientele and the maximum 3 percent cut from their paychecks.
"It's a tough business," said Jacksonville agent Paul Healy, who represents Houston Texans linebacker Sam Cowart and Oakland Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski. "If you haven't done deals in the past, why would any player trust you to be their guinea pig? The stakes are too high. Players like big names, and agents like Drew Rosenhaus are popular go-to guys."
Wilford, who's entering his third NFL season and will become a restricted free agent in 2007, was satisfied with his first agent, Tony Agnone. Wilford just believed that with his career potentially setting up for a big contract, providing he has a breakout season, he preferred an agent who had negotiated big deals with the Jaguars' front office.
Many players change agents at the slightest whim, but Wilford did his homework. He talked to Owens and several teammates about Rosenhaus before coming aboard.
"Drew's name came up a whole lot when I did my research," Wilford said. "He had so many clients and dealt with the Jaguars, so it made for a perfect scenario and a perfect mix. I felt like [Rosenhaus] would get me to a point where if I perform, hopefully, I can become a lifetime Jaguar."
Rosenhaus, who authored a book titled A Shark Never Sleeps about his agent experiences, has drawn criticism from fellow agents over the years for allegedly tampering with their clients. He attributes his success to customer satisfaction, not unscrupulous methods.
"The key in this business is your clients selling you," Rosenhaus said. "Anybody can sell themselves. Most of us are good self-promoters. When a player talks to four or five prospective agents, all the agents can say they're the best. The difference [with players] is when your clients go to bat for you.
"It's not a race to see who is going to sign the most players. I'm not trying to build my client base in numbers so much as trying to continue to represent the blue-chip players. I'd rather have three [rookies] drafted in the first two rounds than 10 guys in the later rounds."
Over 800 agents are certified by the NFL Players Association, and 300 more took the test Friday in attempt to join the ranks. However, many of them struggle to make a living while a small number control a large portion of the client base.
Athelia Doggette, the NFLPA's assistant director of salary cap and agent administration, says that with more stringent rules in place for agents, almost as many are being forced out as there is new blood coming into the league. …