Exhilarating day to net agent big commission

At 1:16 a.m. on Sunday morning, Todd France is in a room at the Renaissance Hotel in Plantation, Fla., lying motionless on his bed, his cell phone resting freely on his chest.

He's had a long day. Then again, so has his cell phone.

But the sports agent from Atlanta doesn't want to close his eyes just yet. The past 24 hours have been the most exhilarating of his life.

Thanks to television, NFL fans have the chance to see potential top draft picks sweat through each selection. An equally interesting waiting game is being played out through the eyes of high-profile sports agents, whose own fortunes lie in how soon the names of their clients are called.

France's relentless recruiting yielded three potential first-round picks: Auburn running back Ronnie Brown, his teammate cornerback Carlos Rogers and Georgia safety Thomas Davis.

Heading into Saturday morning, all seemed to be in good shape. But while Brown was unanimously picked by pundits to be the first running back selected in the draft, predictions on Rogers ranged from No. 9 to No. 26. Davis was projected as a mid first-rounder by some, though others had him falling into the second round.

"You want to be in a situation where you are completely in control," France says. "In a normal puzzle, the pieces only fit in one way. But here, so many of the pieces fit in so many different ways."

Millions of dollars in signing bonuses are hanging in the balance for the players, as is a healthy commission for France.

Earlier in the week, France traveled with Brown and his family to New York, where they shopped, partied and circled around the media tour. But Saturday was the day of reckoning.

At 8:45 a.m., on the opening day of draft weekend, the Brown caravan enters the buffet room on the third floor at the Westin Hotel in Manhattan. Brown seems easygoing, joking and singing songs over his cell phone with the other half of the Auburn running back tandem, Carnell "Cadillac" Williams.

France is more nervous. His cell phone is blowing up with calls. Team executives are calling to verify his players' cell phone numbers or to try to get information from him.

"I hear so many things, man," France says into the phone to an unidentified team official, while eating granola out of his hand as if it were bird seed.

Minutes later, he's ripping pieces of bagel before putting them into his mouth, and when he's not eating or talking he's fidgeting with the cell phone antenna. Pulling it up. Pushing it down. Pulling it up. Pushing it down.

France is understandably jittery. Although he represents Buffalo Bills linebacker Takeo Spikes, Chiefs linebacker Kendrell Bell and Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, he's never had a first-round pick before. If all goes well in the first round of the 2005 draft, France could be negotiating contracts with cumulative signing bonuses of $30 million – worth $900,000 to him at the standard agent cut of 3 percent.

After breakfast, France heads up to Brown's room and gives him a pep talk. He tells him not to look disappointed if he doesn't get picked by the Miami Dolphins at No. 2. On the way to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, the site of the draft, he calls Rogers and Davis to give a similar pep talk.

By 11 a.m., France and Brown are sitting with family members backstage in the green room. France is on the phone most of the time, but there's really not much he can do now. He talks with his client, who at one point asks him for a piece of gum.

"He almost broke the pack trying to get it out," Brown says.

The only action that takes place while waiting for the draft to start is a call from the Chicago Bears. They suggest that if Ronnie is available at No. 4, there's a strong chance they will take him.

At 12:25 p.m., Utah's Alex Smith is selected as the first overall pick by the San Francisco 49ers.
France's reaction: He takes deep breaths and clasps his hands as if to pray. He knows the numbers. The second pick last year, Robert Gallery, received $18.5 million guaranteed.

The Dolphins are on the clock. France reminds Brown to keep his head up. Don't be surprised, he says, if they take Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards.

"We were just trying to keep an open mind to all the situations and the different things that were possible happening between No. 2 and whatever it is," Brown said.

But there won't be any more waiting. Brown gets selected by the Dolphins. France, shedding a few tears, is both excited and relieved as he hugs Brown and all the others at the table.

France's gamble to recruit Brown instead of his teammate, starter "Cadillac" Williams, has paid off. France thought the two players wouldn't go with the same agent and believed that his Georgia roots would help him with Brown, a native of Cartersville, Ga.

For the next 45 minutes, France follows Brown around to his obligations, including a slew of media interviews. As he stands in the background, he's trying to get updates – asking around about the latest pick.

Edwards, Cedric Benson and Williams are selected Nos. 3, 4 and 5.

As France is interviewed by Dolphins beat reporters, who ask him if Ricky Williams' limbo status will serve as leverage against Brown in contract negotiations, he stops every couple of questions, asking if Tennessee made the sixth pick yet.

The first five players are all on offense. France needs some cornerbacks to come off the board. He knows that his cornerback client, Rogers, is ranked behind West Virginia's Adam "Pac-Man" Jones and Miami's Antrel Rolle. Sure enough, Jones is selected sixth and Rolle is picked eighth.

"I want this to go by fast," France says. "I'm not going to go to Miami with Ronnie if my guys aren't called."

With Brown still holding court with reporters in the bowels of the convention center, France leaves his client so he can watch commissioner Paul Tagliabue announce the ninth pick.

"He could go here," France says. "Washington really liked him. I'm just hoping that there are no trades."

At 2:09 p.m., when Tagliabue, announces the Redskins have taken Rogers, France pumps his fist and screams, "Yes, yes, yes." He calls Rogers and the two have a brief conversation.

"I'm so, so, so, so happy for you," France says to Rogers.

But for a while, France's joy is temporarily interrupted. On his way back to Brown, France finds out that his 89-year-old grandfather had a heart attack earlier in the morning. It adds drama to the emotional day, but France is relieved to find out he's resting comfortably in stable condition.

As Brown takes part in a Sports Illustrated photo shoot, France heads back to the green room. He's only one of two agents, along with SFX's Ben Dogra, who has two clients chosen in the top 10, but he's still nervous for his third player, Thomas Davis.

In the green room, France eats two bags of Doritos and two packs of peanut M&M's in less than 10 minutes. He takes a bite of a turkey sandwich and puts it down, but somehow he can't find it when he goes to finish it.

"I'm hyped up, but I've never lost a sandwich before," France says. "Someone must have stolen it."

It's 2:44 p.m.

Brown is almost done with his media obligations, and France knows that if he wants to go to Miami, he can only stay around for one or two more picks. A car is waiting to take France and Brown to LaGuardia International Airport to board a US Air flight to Miami. But France is going only if Davis gets picked in time.

After a trade with the Houston Texans, the New Orleans Saints are on the clock with the 13th pick. That's when France learns that Davis is No. 1 on the board of the Panthers, who will pick next. He calls his marketing agent, Bruce Callis, who is at a party in Shellman, Ga., with Davis.

Once the Saints take offensive tackle Jammal Brown, France leaves the green room and moves closer to where Brown is having pictures taken. France stares at the flat-screen television mounted on the wall. Since there's no volume, he's just waiting to see Davis' name by the Panthers' logo. At 3:02 p.m., France sees Tagliabue walk up to the podium. From the auditorium next door, France can hear the commissioner say "Davis."

He perks up as he sees his client on the screen.

After he speaks to Davis, the magnitude of the day starts to soak in. He puts his head against the wall as tears start to well up in his eyes.

"We got [number] two," France says. "We got nine. We got fourteen. I'm fired up. But I'm absolutely drained."

There's no time to be tired. Ten minutes later, Brown is done taking pictures. France and Brown quickly walk out and head to the car. After a five-minute stopover at the hotel to gather their belongings, they head to the airport. The flight takes off on time, but bad weather forces a stop in Raleigh, N.C., before the flight continues to Miami.

Nine hours after his first client is selected, France walks into the Dolphins' training facility and meets general manager Rick Spielman and new head coach Nick Saban. After waiting for Brown to address the media one final time, the two arrive at the hotel at about midnight.

Before closing the door to their connecting rooms, the two recap the day.

"Ronnie, you have the chance to be the face of the Miami Dolphins," France says.

Answers Brown: "I'm only one first-round pick. You've got three."

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.