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Agents? Who needs 'em

Catching up with the agent for Venus and Serena Williams

Chat Day: Interact with top agents and Arli$$ producer Robert Wuhl

Sound off: Readers react series, show


Chat wrap: Arli$$ star Robert Wuhl

Chat wrap: No Limit Sports agent Leland Hardy

Chat wrap: Drew Rosenhaus

Chat wrap: ESPN.com's Greg Garber


Agent Drew Rosenhaus makes his pitch to Team Edgerrin.
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 Edgerrin James explains why he prefers not to have an agent.
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 Rosenhaus offers to tone down his act if James picks him.
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 James advisor Pierre Rutledge offers the best way to pick an agent.
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 Drew Rosenhaus explains why he recruited Edgerrin James so heavily.
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This four-part, online series is a companion piece to the Outside the Lines television show.

April 22, 1999
Agents? Who needs 'em?

Greg Garber, Special to ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Drew Rosenhaus, the slick, self-advertised shark who never sleeps, is moving in for the kill. Or so he imagines.

Here, three weeks before the NFL draft in the office at his South Beach waterfront home, the (self-advertised) most feared and loathed agent in the NFL, wearing his trademark pinstriped suit and cowboy boots, makes his pitch to University of Miami running back Edgerrin James.

Upcoming on ESPN
Outside the Lines examines the world of agents and their impact on sports in a one-hour Peddling the Pros: Agent$ and Athletes Saturday at noon ET.

Among the topics explored: The rise of rap artist Master P as an agent; how relationships between agents and teams can determine where a baseball player signs; whether NBA agents are needed anymore; and emergence of agent-based shows such as HBO's Arli$$.

James, who set a school record with 242 carries for 1,416 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, is one of the draft's top prospects.

"I don't believe there's been a better player to come out at his position or from the University of Miami," Rosenhaus booms in his unique, over-the-top delivery on this day. "Or a better person, surrounded by better people, and it's not just that he's in a position to get a great contract.

"I can tell you what I've done with you, in our relationships, and what we've built up ... this is totally unique, in history."

Well, at least he's right about the history.

James, who was chosen No. 4 overall in the NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts, is the only major player without an agent.

The meeting with Rosenhaus was the 13th and final agent briefing attended by James and his advisers. To this point, against all convention, they have survived, even thrived, without an agent.

Team Edgerrin is comprised of James' brother Ed German, a medical student in Nashville, Tenn., and two college friends, Tyrone Williams and Pierre Rutledge. This is not your classic brother's keeper scenario, where a clueless NFL neophyte wanders into the murky waters of negotiation. No, these guys are sharp. Williams is a lawyer and Rutledge is a lobbyist.

Team Edgerrin has this nouvelle notion that the agent's standard three percent fee -- that would amount to a cool $300,000 to $400,000 of James' expected monster contract -- is a bit pricey. Like Ray Allen of the Milwaukee Bucks, who avoided the standard agent's percentage by paying his attorneys an hourly wage to negotiate his big deal, Team Edgerrin is looking to minimize the damage.

"It could," said Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN's NFL Draft expert, "be a trailblazer."

 Edgerrin James
Agents pursue Edgerrin James as doggedly as any defense he faced at Miami.

Team Edgerrin downplays this aspect of their approach.

"It's not about history, it's all about Edgerrin," Williams said. "It's all about putting him in the best position, giving him the best advice we can."

Said Rutledge, "It has not been easy. We've had a lot of forces coming. Everybody has the right formula, but sometimes you have to go with what people call their old mother's wit -- gut feeling. And along the way, we may have made some mistakes, but it doesn't seem that way at this point."

When agents offered James cars, credit lines, a ringside seat at Mike Tyson's most recent fight and other things we can't mention here, he said he politely declined.

"Basically, anywhere you want to go, you can go," James said matter-of-factly. "Anything you want to do, you can do."


"Anything," said James, flashing his gold front teeth.

When agents told James he needed someone to sell him up to NFL teams, Team Edgerrin didn't flinch. The advisers began researching the top agents, looking for those who maximized signing bonuses yet left escape clauses for lucrative second contracts, where the really big money is.

When agents told James he needed someone to help him navigate his way through the crucial NFL combine, Team Edgerrin made a few calls and decided to send James to Indianapolis by himself. He performed impressively. When agents told James he needed their experience in preparing for his personal workouts with scouts, Team Edgerrin did all the advance work. All without an agent.

With the restrictive slotting that goes on with rookies, there is only so much room for an agent to maneuver an NFL team. This, Team Edgerrin knows. The week before the draft, the three advisers had narrowed their search to three or four agents. They were (and are) in the process of negotiating with them, attempting to extract a one- or two-percent fee strictly for the contract negotiation, something that could save James more than $200,000. They expect to announce a decision later this week.

For the record, German, Williams and Rutledge say they won't charge James a nickel for the hundreds of hours they have collectively put in.

The question remains:Will a visible, big-time agent take less than the standard three-percent cut? Quite possibly.

I put the question to Rosenhaus, who represents 12 former University of Miami players in the NFL and wants James very badly.

"I'd be very flexible, as long as it's fair in conjunction with my other clients," said Rosenhaus in a measured tone. "If I charge all my other clients a percentage and then, all of a sudden, I change that for one individual, that wouldn't be fair. Now, if it's a unique situation, and my duties would be different than the norm, I'd have to look at that."

This is quite a concession from the bombastic man who graced a 1996 cover of Sports Illustrated, the man who was one of the models for the movie "Jerry Maguire."

Rosenhaus, who represents Warren Sapp, Zach Thomas, Jessie Armstead and about 50 other NFL players, even agreed to tone down his act if that was what Team Edgerrin wanted.

"A lot of my notoriety I've generated, I thought it was beneficial for both myself and my clients," Rosenhaus said in his pitch. "But I'd also work for you guys. So what you guys say, goes. If you don't want me to have a high profile, I will not. It's up to you."

Team Edgerrin, a tough room to work, to be sure, was not visibly moved by the high-energy performance.

"It's like buying a car," Williams said afterward. "You go to a salesman and they will tell you, 'The Ford Explorer is the best truck ever made.' Then you go right up the street and the other guy will tell you, 'The Dodge Caravan ... I promise you, I'll give you the best deal. No one's going to give you a deal like this.'

"And then you go up the street and someone beats the deal."

Greg Garber is an ESPN.com columnist and regular contributor to ESPN's Outside the Lines. Send comments on his article and the Peddling the Pros series to espnet2@espn.com.

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