That’s what the informative sports blog ProFootballTalk.com is reporting. And I think they make a compelling case for it. Especially when only 15 to 20 agents represent 700-plus players under contract with NFL teams. Depending on how many of those players make the final rosters in September, that handful of agents control as much as 40% of the NFL player salaries. But while the NFL Players Association limits agents’ earnings to a maximum fee of 3% on player contracts, marketing contracts are not capped. So the lucrative endorsement deals for high-profile players are gravy, as are the signing bonuses from high-pick draft choices. Repping top NFL draft picks is a very cutthroat biz, so any diss gets magnified, especially since CAA is repping the top 3 candidates who might go No. 1 in the 2008 NFL draft and maybe all 3 in the Top 5.
But let’s not forget that, under Condon’s guidance, primo draft picks Brady Quinn and Matt Leinart plummeted to No. 22 in 2007 and No. 10 in 2006 respectively, losing many millions of dollars as a result. (Lucky for Quinn, he’d already signed a bunch of endorsement contracts. Not Leinart, who a year later fired CAA.) As you know, I’ve reported extensively on CAA’s very costly 2-year-old sports division. So just how costly? Well, CAA Sports hires former NFL assistant coaches as tutors for its football clients and pays pays for meals, lodging and all the golf the coaches can play. Little wonder I just heard that CAA renegotiated with Condon’s former boss IMG to keep paying back commissions for only 2 years instead of 3… This latest slam against CAA Sports is by PFT.com’s Mike Florio about 2008’s NFL draft set for April 26-27:
“There’s a mounting buzz in [NFL] league circles that the agency representing Michigan left tackle Jake Long, Ohio State defensive end/linebacker Vernon Gholston [photo below], and Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan is mired in multiple layers of conflict of interest regarding the potential negotiation of a contract with the Miami Dolphins for the first overall pick in the draft. Tom Condon of CAA represents Long and Ryan; Ben Dogra of CAA has Gholston… The problem, as we’ve mentioned a couple of times (or more) in the past, is that there is a natural tension between the player’s desire to maximize his rookie contract and the agency’s desire to avoid doing what is perceived in agent circles to be a bad deal. Agents are notorious for their negative recruiting tactics. Condon and Dogra would be haunted for years if either of them does a contract at No. 1 that results in less money than what the first overall pick received a year ago.
“For Jake Long, who has gotten the first crack at doing a deal but whose window of opportunity will at some point slam shut, he needs to assess the situation from the perspective of what he’ll get if he doesn’t take the offer at No. 1. But this presumes that Long even knows what is going on. Because the team is required per the Collective Bargaining Agreement to deal exclusively with Condon, the Fins have no way of knowing for sure that the agent is communicating the offers to the kid, or that the agent is explaining the situation to Long with Long’s interests first and foremost in mind.
“And what if the Fins pull the plug on talks with Long and move on to Gholston? Dogra will be in a tough spot, too. If he does a deal, Long might ask some tough questions on the back end about why an agreement was reached for Gholston and not for him. If Dogra resists, Gholston (like Long) then stands to make a lot less at No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, etc.
“It is accepted in agent circles that firms will shy away from representing the top players at the same position. It’s virtually impossible in such situations for the agent to promote one of his clients to a team that has a need at that position, because he’ll necessarily be hurting his other client in doing so. Those same concerns should apply generally at the top of the draft. The problem is that, when the agents are lining up the clients, no one knows who the top prospects will eventually be. By the time the consensus top five or six picks come into focus, it’s far too late for the agent to pick only one horse.
“That’s why we think that the NFL Players Association needs to modify the so-called five-day rule as it relates to pre-draft agent changes. Under the current rule, a player who terminates his agent must wait five days before hiring a new one. If, for example, Jake Long were to decide to dump Condon today, Long (through his new agent) and the Fins wouldn’t be able to resume talks until Tuesday, April 22, at the earliest. With Miami intent on getting a deal done before Saturday, April 26, that leaves too little time. But if Long were able to dump Condon today and hire a replacement from a firm that doesn’t also represent Gholston and Ryan, then Long’s new agent could step right in without missing a beat.
“Eliminating the five-day rule prior to the draft also would address the more fundamental conflict of interest that Condon would be facing even if CAA had none of the other high-end prospects. If Condon simply refuses to have his name attached to a contract at No. 1 that pays out less money than the contract paid to the No. 1 overall pick a year ago because of the potential damage that it would do to Condon’s efforts to recruit clients for the 2009 draft and beyond, then Long could find someone who will take the deal.
“That scenario isn’t far-fetched. In 2004, Condon refused to be a party to a six-year deal for Patriots tight end Ben Watson. Recognizing the conflict of interest, Condon parted ways with Watson, and another agent negotiated the six-year package. On one hand, it’s admirable that Condon stepped aside. On the other hand, he should do the deal without deserting his client, if the client wanted to do a six-year contract. After all, the agent works for the client, not the other way around. The fact that Condon would walk away on Watson proves, in our opinion, that these conflicts of interest are very real, and that Condon surely will do anything he can to avoid being the agent who agreed to a contract that resulted in an unprecedented drop in dollars. If that’s true, and if Jake Long nevertheless stands to make more money as the No. 1 pick even with less money than JaMarcus Russell got a year ago from the Raiders, then Condon should stand down.
“And the NFLPA should change the rules so that, in the days leading up to the draft, the players who are in line to possibly be the first overall pick can hire another agent who’s not afraid to do the right thing by his client, without waiting five days. The more likely outcome is that the next CBA will ban any pre-draft negotiations, in order to insulate Condon and other agents from the very real conflict of interest that arises when picking door No. 1 is good for the player, but bad for the agent.”
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