Rosenhaus' success draws cries of foul play

Drew Rosenhaus is making his clients happy by negotiating lucrative deals, but he's gradually growing a list of detractors.

Originally Published: June 7, 2005
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. – The gleaming Ferrari 360 Spider, a red soft top, sits on the wide brick driveway, flanked by a black Hummer H2 and a pair of Cadillac Escalades. Palm trees, ruffled by a steady breeze off the water, frame the opulent Key Biscayne home.

Inside, Drew Rosenhaus, wielding a pair of black and chrome Treo 650s – high-tech phones combining e-mail access, a digital camera and MP3 player – is handling two calls at the same time.

Another lone wolf
In the enigmatic and ironic world of NFL player representation, a universe that has expanded to include a record contingent of agents but contracted in terms of the number of agencies because of mergers and acquisitions, Joel Segal is a one-man band.

OK, so Segal does have attorney Aileen Gingold on hand to help keep the sheet music in order. And he has access to experts in pertinent areas such as contract law, tax codes and the like. But when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the agent business -- identifying and then recruiting draft prospects, negotiating contracts and extensions, applying pressure if needed to some reluctant general manager, persuading a team to sign his client or even, in some cases, to cut him free -- Segal occupies first chair in every instrument grouping.

And since he has rebuffed overtures from "runners" (men who procure clients for agents) who want to join him, and from some bigger companies who wanted to buy him out over the last several years, Segal obviously embraces the lone wolf image.

"It's not really about volume, it's more about quality, about the results," said Segal, who, with megadeals like the $130 million contract extension for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick six months ago has hustled his way into the elite subset of NFL agents. "I mean, there are firms with five, six, seven agents now … and here I am, one man, right there competing with them. The way I see the big conglomerates, hey, they're just like everyone else. Players ultimately care about one thing, results, and I'll willingly put my track record out there for (scrutiny)."

Known more for his recruiting skills earlier in his career, and admired largely because of his intrepid approach to chasing prospects, Segal has matured into an adept negotiator. And in some cases, such as the Vick contract and an extension for Oakland wide receiver Jerry Porter, Segal crafted contract language that other agents will emulate. Yeah, even in this business, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and Segal has become so notable a presence in the agent community now that others would love to duplicate his success.

Short of cloning themselves, though, it might be difficult for any of the Segal wannabes to keep pace with the original. Segal possesses a boundless energy and enthusiasm and, in this era of contraction, represents the ultimate "boutique" agency. One man, him against the rest of the agent world, pretty much doing it his way.

"The thing is, I never really think of it that way, honestly," Segal said. "People say, "Well, you're the only boss you've got.' Nope. I've got dozens of bosses, because my (clients) are my bosses, since I work for them. In my cases, those players become like family to me, but there's a very real fiduciary responsibility I've got to them and to their families, and that's uppermost, even before the friendships and the bonds you make. When I look in the mirror every morning, I don't just see my face, I see the faces of every guy I represent. And I know I'm one guy who can make a difference for them."
-- Len Pasquarelli

"Yeah, buddy, let me get right back to you," the NFL's most powerful agent said, rolling his eyes and switching to the other phone. "Sure, man, we'll do it next weekend in Atlanta. Yeah, I'll be there."

He signs off and looks up from his cluttered mahogany desk.

"T.O." he said simply.

That would be Terrell Owens, the Philadelphia Eagles' gifted wide receiver. Owens has been the most talked about NFL player this offseason. After signing a seven-year contract worth $49 million last spring, he caught 77 passes, scored 14 touchdowns and helped the Eagles make the Super Bowl. Owens then promptly fired his longtime agent David Joseph and hired Rosenhaus to get him even more money.

It's all a part of the crazy carnival that is Rosenhaus' life in South Florida.

In a span of 36 hours: Buffalo Bills running back Willis McGahee stops by Rosenhaus' house/office to navigate his way through the apocalyptic landscape of Xbox's Halo 2 … Rosenhaus hosts a lively lunch at a local Italian restaurant (the crab raviolis are superb) … Carolina Panthers linebacker Dan Morgan and wife Ashleigh drop in to discuss strategy for obtaining a long-term contract … There's breakfast with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson in Overtown, just north of Miami's downtown … Clinton Portis, the Washington Redskins running back, visits to chat … Chicago Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye, driving an outrageous powder-blue Bentley, takes the Rosenhaus power boat for a spin … Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James, another high-profile player looking for a long-term contract, hangs out in the airy room that overlooks the water; you can see Pudge Rodriguez's house and yacht across the canal.

And through it all, the phone is the constant. Drew Rosenhaus never stops talking. Jason Rosenhaus, Drew's brother and the number cruncher, takes the calls when Rosenhaus is on the line. Former NFL cornerback Robert Bailey, the marketing expert, wearing a headset, is working the Miami Heat for the tickets his clients are hot for.

No wonder Spike TV, among others, approached Rosenhaus about a reality series. He declined, saying it might compromise his ability to service his clients. His private motivation might have been to hold out for a more lucrative offer from a major network.

No, Drew Rosenhaus couldn't be hotter. His NFL client roster has nearly tripled in the last two years and now exceeds 90. No other agent, or company for that matter, has that many NFL players. In the last year, Rosenhaus has signed more than one-half billion dollars worth of deals. Subtract his standard three-percent commission and you have a pretty good chunk of change.

His success in securing mega-contracts for Portis, Eagles defensive end Jevon Kearse and Ogunleye has brought more high-profile players into the fold. Owens, James, Johnson and the Green Bay Packers' Javon Walker are all currently under contract, but seeking new long-term deals that will compensate them at a level they believe is commensurate with their contributions last season.

In a league where contracts are not generally guaranteed, Rosenhaus argues that there is no such thing as the sanctity of a contract. If teams can cut his players or force them to restructure their contracts, Rosenhaus said, he's within his rights asking for more money when their performance exceeds expectations.

It is, even considering the volatile source, a fairly reasonable business argument.

"A team can call me and say, 'Hey, Drew, we know that we have your client under contract for another four or five years, but he's hurt and we're going to cut him,' " Rosenhaus said. "But it's sacrilegious, it's outrageous for me to ask for more if a player outperforms his deal. That's a joke. That stinks."

With these last two sentences, Rosenhaus' voice rises to something approaching a scream.

"This week, the Cincinnati Bengals approached me about [linebacker] Nate Webster," he said. "We just did a five-year contract for Nate. Last year he popped his patella tendon. They go out and draft another guy to replace him, he's not doing well and they want to cut him. But for me to go to them and ask them to redo Chad Johnson's contract – who's sorely underpaid – that's unbelievable. Why? Why?

"If contracts can be cut, why can't they be raised? Explain that to me."

While the players embrace Rosenhaus' modern-day version of Robin Hood, the league's teams and, particularly, his fellow agents are not happy with the recent turn of events.

"He's left a bloody swath of hurt feelings in his path," said one prominent West Coast agent. "Sure, he works his ass off, but he's crossed the line. A year ago, he decided his ambition would know no bounds – that he'd target every star in his grasp. As the practice grew, he said to himself, 'I'm going for it. I'm going to be the king.' "

"He's Colonel Kurtz stepping off his boat in Heart of Darkness. He's become megalomaniacal, consumed by greed."

Hero or villain?
The horror, the horror – from some people's perspectives -– has been evident for some time. The title of his autobiography, published eight years ago, was "A Shark Never Sleeps." Rosenhaus, clearly, relishes the parallel.

Agents – do a better job. It's just that simple. Quit complaining, quit gripping, quit being a wimp. Work and get it done the way I do it. If you can't hang with me, if you can't swim in the waters with me, too bad.
Drew Rosenhaus

"If there were one animal that I would like to pattern myself after, it would be a great white shark," he said. "An eating machine, a hunter, indestructible, feared, respected, fast, swift, strong, intimidating. I admire those qualities. So am I a shark? A shark in a good way.

"In this business, it's kill or be killed. You're either going to sign the player or somebody else will. You're either going to get the money from the team or you're not You gotta go for it.

"The bottom line is, if there is a player who does not want to retain his agent, I will be the first guy there."

Perhaps it is more revealing that Rosenhaus, 38, has always identified with superheroes.

They occupy an entire wall of his upstairs bedroom: Spiderman, Batman, The Incredible Hulk, etc. Thousands of Marvel Comics are stacked neatly in his closet.

"Why am I infatuated with them?" Rosennhaus asked. "Because they do good. They do great things. Duh! That's what I want to do. That's what I'm trying to do.

"How big is my ego? It's pretty big. But what feeds my ego is doing good things."

One fellow agent suggests that Rosenhaus is actually something more along the lines of Darth Vader.

"I'm the most powerful guy in the NFL!" the agent said, imitating Rosenhaus' high-pitched pitch. " 'Drew's the man, he'll get you the coin!' "

"For right now, he's on a hot roll. His name has a great resonance as a gold standard. But when your name starts appearing in the paper, emotions replace rational thought. This adds to the concept of grandiosity. Drew's there. I've seen it. If you don't check it, your judgment becomes clouded. You behave differently."

ESPN.com spoke with six agents who have publicly and privately had issues with Rosenhaus. Four of them recently lost clients to Rosenhaus. The off-the-record feeling in the fraternity of agents is that Rosenhaus sometimes breaks the NFL Player's Association rules by directly contacting clients signed with other agents. He and his players deny this charge. Several agents, from behind the shield of anonymity, claim that Rosenhaus uses players to actively recruit other players (indirect contact is also against union regulations). Further, they speculate that Rosenhaus rewards them with them finder's fees.

"I have never stolen a client. I have never initiated the contact. I don't have to break the rules. I do it off our performance, our dedication and our passion. That is sour grapes when an agent says I stole his client. It's a cop-out, it's cowardly. They're not doing their job. If they did their job they would not lose their players.

"Agents – do a better job. It's just that simple. Quit complaining, quit gripping, quit being a wimp. Work and get it done the way I do it. If you can't hang with me, if you can't swim in the waters with me, too bad."

Jason Rosenhaus, added: "How do you steal a client? Do we run in and kidnap them and force them to sign a contract with us? Of course not. It is ridiculous. If their client is not happy, they are going to be around our clients, who are happy. And they are going to become our clients and come to us.

"That is what happens, and if that is stealing a client, then too bad."

According to the NFLPA, he has never violated the rule. Still, questions remain.

Back on Feb. 26 Ken Sarnoff, a Chicago-based agent, quietly filed a grievance with the NFLPA that claimed Rosenhaus illegally initiated conversations with his former client, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Anquan Boldin, at the scouting combine and eventually signed him last August.

"It's hard to prove," Sarnoff has said. "The league looks the other way. I've got nothing to lose."

"Nine times out of 10, he didn't steal the client – the client wanted to come to him," said Buffalo running back Willis McGahee, in a curious vote of confidence.

Players have approached McGahee – who was drafted No. 23 in the 2003 NFL draft after suffering a career-threatening knee injury in his final college game at Miami – about hiring Rosenhaus. What does he tell them?

"Come on over to the dark side," McGahee said, smiling.

At an agents' meeting in Indianapolis eight years ago, agent Tim Irwin called the Rosenhaus brothers "a cancer" on the profession. Contacted recently, he confirmed the incident, but declined to comment further.

"I am not interested in doing anything to give Mr. Rosenhaus or his brother any publicity," he said from his Knoxville, Tenn., office.

Rosenhaus said Irwin's comments motivated him to work harder.

"Thank you, Tim Irwin," Drew Rosenhaus said. "You made me better. You made the fire hotter, bud. You think I wasn't driven? I'm driven even more.

"Anybody that knocks another agent for their success is a crybaby. Keep crying, guys."

After the poaching charge, the one heard most often about Rosenhaus concerns the ability of his three-man staff to adequately service 90-plus clients.

"I would have a concern about that," said Richard Berthelsen, the NFLPA's general counsel. "If I were Drew, I'd be hiring some people to help."

"Unless you have an infrastructure to take care of all those players, the jilted ones will revolt," said another agent. "The big boys will get taken care of, but the lesser players will become disenchanted."

Ambitious beginning
Growing up in South Florida, Drew Rosenhaus was the kind of kid who pored over the NFL transactions – in that tiny six-point type – in the back of the Miami Herald sports section.

His father, Robert, was a Dolphins season-ticket holder and by the time he was enrolled at the University of Miami, Drew knew what he wanted to do with his life. He asked his brother Jason to pursue a degree in accounting so they could be a team.

At the age of 22, in his second year at Duke Law School, Rosenhaus had an idea for his first official contract negotiation. He had the audacity to approach ESPN about televising his showdown with then-New Orleans general manager Jim Finks. Sensing "good television," ESPN agreed to bring the cameras. Finks, who was considering a run at the commissioner's job, agreed to the idea after Rosenhaus' intentions became public.

Robert Massey, a relatively unheralded defensive back from North Carolina Central, had been the 46th overall choice in the 1989 NFL draft. Rosenhaus successfully portrayed Massey as a first-round quality player and extracted a two-year contract worth in excess of $600,000 per season, at the time, one of the richest second-round contracts ever negotiated.

Rosenhaus/Parrish
AP Photo/Alan DiazDrew Rosenhaus, left, has had no problems inking players over the last two years.

The one thing no one challenges is Rosenhaus' work ethic. The phone never stops ringing. Rosenhaus and his brother say they speak to all of their 90-plus clients in a cycle of two days. Sometimes, they'll speak to high-maintenance players three or four times a day. The reason that gorgeous $200,000 Ferrari has an automatic transmission?

"You can't talk on the phone with a stick shift," Jason says, sighing.

"I am probably the only man in America who spends a considerable amount of money on air phones," Drew said, laughing. "I can't live without a phone."

As Jason explained, "I think his paranoia is what makes him so great."

There is no secretary at Rosenhaus Sports. When you call the main number, Drew or Jason almost always answers the phone.

"A secretary does nothing for me but get in the way," Drew said. "I want direct access to me. I don't want to deal with any middle people. This is me, Jason and Robert – period."

The NFLPA's Berthelsen said, "Drew calls our legal department almost every day with questions – he calls as much as anyone."

Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi, who has negotiated some big contracts with Rosenhaus – for tight end Jeremy Shockey and, just this offseason, two $25 million deals for wide receiver Plaxico Burress and linebacker Antonio Pierce – also praises Rosenhaus' work habits.

"The way he does it," Accorsi said, "if there were 28 hours in the day, he would work all 28 hours. He never stops working. He is a whirlwind."

Rosenhaus averages four or five hours of sleep per night. He says he works seven days a week and never takes vacations. Even when he's in the shower, he parks his two cell phones within easy reach. He concedes he doesn't have much of a personal life.

His father, Robert, was asked what was his oldest son's greatest strength. "He never quits," Robert said. "He stays focused, stays positive, never allows himself to get down. He just remains positive and works through things."

And his greatest weakness?

"Well, he's making me wait a hell of a long time to become a grandfather," he said.

A new direction
Rosenhaus has seen his client roster nearly triple in the last two years. Attention to detail is a consistent factor in the evolution of his more complicated and convoluted contracts. Take Clinton Portis.

After his first two seasons in the NFL, in which he gained more than 3,000 yards and scored 31 touchdowns, Portis wanted a lucrative long-term contract. He hired Rosenhaus in September 2003 and six months later he was traded to the Redskins and received the richest contract ever (valued at $50.5 million) for a running back – after just two years in the league.

On the same day that Portis signed, March 3, 2004, the Eagles signed defensive end Jevon Kearse to an eight-year, $63 million deal that included $20 million in bonuses; the Rosenhaus-negotiated deal gave Kearse the biggest deal ever for a defensive lineman.

For sheer muscle and guts, consider what he did for defensive end Adewale Ogunleye. After Ogunleye's spectacular 15-sack effort in 2003, the Dolphins asked him to sign a tender offer of $412,000. After six months of maneuvering, bluffs and counterbluffs, threats and counterthreats, Ogunleye was traded to the Bears, who promptly signed him to a six-year, $34 million contract that included $15 million in bonuses. It was the biggest contract ever for a restricted free agent and it opened the eyes of players around the league.

The Ogunleye deal, consummated in August 2004, brought Rosenhaus a glittering stable of new stars: Edgerrin James, Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, Javon Walker, Anquan Boldin, Marcus Stroud, Dan Morgan, Tra Thomas – all Pro Bowl players.

Edge and the Colts
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Drew Rosenhaus and Edgerrin James are chilling on the couch, talking about a glorious, life-securing contract.

Technically, the Indianapolis Colts' running back is under contract for one more season, having signed a one-year franchise tender in March worth $8.081 million. With another $1 million in incentives, James is likely to take home more than $9 million for his trouble.

James is standing in line with some other high-profile Rosenhaus clients -- Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson and Javon Walker -- for a long-term contract, and there are fears in Indianapolis that this might lead to a holdout, damaging the Colts' chances for a Super Bowl. Worry not, James said.

"I honor my contract," James said. "The season hasn't even started yet. I never said I wasn't going to play. I'm going to play, regardless."

That's because James, who carried 354 times last year for 1,548 yards (4.6 yards per carry, a career-high), believes a new deal won't get done before the season kicks off in September.

"Man, nothing [is] getting done," he said. "It ain't going to happen."

Said Rosenhaus: "If he has to make $9.1 million for one year and then become a free agent, when a lot of people are projecting a new collective bargaining agreement where the salary cap would be astronomical -- look, we're not going to lose in this situation.

"We're going to fight and scratch and claw to get a long-term deal done, all the way up until he has to play for his team. They've said they're not in a position to do the kind of long-term deal that would make sense for us.

"I'm confident something is going to happen. When it will happen, that's yet to be determined."
-- Greg Garber

And, as training camps approach, the drama will build. Owens, James and Walker all skipped minicamps with their teams. Will Rosenhaus, who has not traditionally held players out of training camp as a ploy, keep Owens, Walker, Johnson and James from working out with their teams? How would that impact the Eagles and Colts' chances of reaching the Super Bowl?

"I feel like I've kind of overperformed my contract," Owens said on Saturday in Atlanta. "My situation is sort of unique; there's a lot of things factored into how I got involved with the seven-year contract. A lot of people don't understand. Everybody sees a big number.

"I know that I have a lot of leverage, I know that I have a lot of power and things that I can do. And with Drew, it's sort of a one-two punch, a two-headed monster, so to speak."

Rosenhaus, more than anyone, is responsible for changing the dynamic between NFL teams and their most talented players. He is essentially forcing them to give, as well as take. But is this for better, or worse?

"It's entirely fair to ask teams to renegotiate," says one successful agent who has been in the business for nearly 30 years. "But holding guys under contract out of training camp … it's not fair to make it a public issue. It's a dangerous game. The way to do these contracts is to play the inside game.

"Javon Walker is in a fight with Brett Favre. Terrell Owens is in a war of words with Donovan McNabb – these guys are supposed to be playing catch on the same team. These guys are hurting their public image and their teams' image with the fans. When you feed the fans, those folks making an income of $40,000, you're damaging the sport and, ultimately, your client's well-being."

There is nowhere for Rosenhaus to go, some of his fellow agents believe, but down.

"What will happen," one agent said, "is that he'll start to get fired. There's nothing more bitter than a player who was a former believer and who feels cheated. And that will spread like a toxic poison through the locker rooms of the NFL. Drew Rosenhaus will be left with his finger in the dike, rushing around to put all the fires out.

"Hell hath no fury like an agent scorned. They'll start poaching him. Agents are unhappy. Owners are unhappy. Players will be unhappy. The long knives will come out. Mark my words, he'll be taken down somehow."

Rosenhaus has been hearing this kind of stuff since he got into the business. Seventeen years later, he's not just surviving – he's flourishing.

"When you're unique and do things your own way and blaze new trails, people are going to be jealous or they're going to be critical," Rosenhaus said. "I don't really buy into what other people's conceptions of me are, of what's right and wrong, except for my own morals. I think that other agents misunderstand me, they fear me, they dislike me – they may hate me.

"If I can get my opponents to hate me, be emotionally distraught over me, I'm winning. I'm gaining an edge. I'm better than they are, so I welcome that. I'm being myself. And if someone doesn't like it, that's too bad."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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