MINNEAPOLIS -- Brian Murphy -- the agent whose clients occupy more than 20 percent of the cap value on the Minnesota Vikings' current roster -- is asked to identify the biggest benefit of working on so many lucrative contracts with one team.
"Are you married?" he responds.
Well, yes, but what does that have to do with anything?
"When you first do a negotiation with a new person, you're very careful in everything you say. You don't give up an inch until you know you can get an inch back. It'd be like in marriage, you don't say you're going to take out the trash on Thursdays unless you know they'll load the dishwasher on Fridays," Murphy said. "As you negotiate more and more deals, my whole philosophy is, there's no room for bluffing. There's certainly no room for lying. ... I think that (Vikings VP of football operations) Rob [Brzezinski] is very, very good in that, in terms of saying what he means. And we say what we mean. But it takes a couple negotiations to realize, 'Hey, when he said this, he really does mean this.'"
Murphy represents Harrison Smith, who just signed a five-year, $51.25 million deal with the Vikings on Monday. He represents John Sullivan, who has done two deals beyond his rookie contract. And Kyle Rudolph, who signed a five-year deal in 2014. He also represents Everson Griffen, who received $42.5 million over five years after 2013. 2014 first-round pick Trae Waynes is a Murphy client, too.
Former Vikings Matt Cassel and Charlie Johnson were Murphy's clients with Athletes First. All told, the agent has led negotiations with the Vikings on roughly $180 million worth of deals since Rick Spielman became the team's GM in 2012.
Any relationship involving that much compromise regarding players at various stages of their careers requires a foundation of honesty and trust. Considering the clients Murphy currently has on the Vikings' roster, there might not be another agent with whom the team has a more important relationship.
Maybe the marriage analogy isn't so farfetched.
"With Harry's deal, they're not starting with a super-low offer, and we're not starting with an incredibly high offer," Murphy said. "We trust each other. We both know what we're doing. He wasn't going to pay Harry $14 million (a year), and we weren't going to take $8 million (annually). When I say $10 (million), I really mean $10 (million)."
In Murphy's time at Athletes First, the David Dunn-led firm has had clusters of prominent clients on other teams. It represents Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and linebacker Clay Matthews -- who signed extensions within 10 days of each other in 2013 -- and also has Packers defensive backs Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Quinten Rollins, as well as former Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji. Athletes First had Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Nate Solder and Shane Vereen with the Patriots. The Vikings relationship, though, is somewhat unique in that it was started by the team's affinity for players from a certain football factory.
Murphy did his undergraduate work at Notre Dame, as did Athletes First's general counsel Mark Humenik. The agent's relationship with the university helped him make inroads with potential draftees -- "Having John Sullivan helped us get Kyle Rudolph; it helped us get Harrison Smith," Murphy said. As the Vikings selected the three players from 2008 to 2012, while also taking Griffen in 2010, Murphy established a cadre of clients in Minnesota.
The two deals Sullivan signed with the Vikings in 2011 and 2015, Murphy said, were the ones that proved the relationship was structurally sound. The first one gave Sullivan $10 million guaranteed over five years months before he was set to hit free agency; the second took the rare step of extending a player's deal two years before it was set to expire.
"There were some strong feelings on both sides as to what should be done," Murphy said. "Both sides had to do things they didn't want to do, trusting that would lead to a result that works for everybody. ... I think those were the negotiations where both of us realized, 'OK -- if we don't sit on opposite sides of the table, if we sit on the same side of the table and work together, we can accomplish things and make everyone happy.'"
Smith's deal seemed to have an air of inevitability about it for a year or two, but when Spielman told reporters in February that he expected a contract extension for the safety would be "coming down the pike" soon, "It sent a strong message to us that, 'Let's get going,'" Murphy said.
Athletes First's 12 certified agents met together three or four times while working on Smith's deal, looking at his prospects on the open market, the value of playing a year (or two) on the franchise tag and myriad different contracts he could sign. Cameron Hahn, an Athletes First advisor who also worked on Rudolph's deal, helped Murphy put things together. If the process sounds more actuarial and less "Arli$$", it should.
"We analyzed 50 different cash scenarios, and then we compared those cash scenarios to the offers from the Vikings," Murphy said. "It's very disappointing to all the fantasy football fans out there, or even my brother, who's a big football fan. He's like, 'So, did you tell them Harrison had more interceptions in his third year (than all but two safeties in the league)? I'm like, 'No -- we don't actually do that.' It's like boring insurance work. We're basically trying to figure out the way to maximize the probability Harrison puts the most cash in his pocket as early as possible."
That doesn't mean there's no room for some intrigue. Smith's camp made it clear to the Vikings he wouldn't sign a deal that didn't make him the highest-paid safety in the league, given what Smith would be giving up in a spiraling free-agent market. And, Murphy said, "We know that Rick's going to call and yell at us at least once per negotiation."
The familiarity, though, hasn't bred contempt. In fact, it has produced the opposite. While building a NFC North championship team primarily through the draft, the Vikings have found it's prudent to develop a fruitful relationship with the man who spearheads negotiations for many of their key players.
"We were very intent on getting a deal done [for Smith]," Murphy said. "(People say), 'Why wouldn't you guys wait until training camp, and get more money?' I think it goes back to the trust. We're able to trust (we're getting the best deal), and not have fake deadlines."