Team execs utilizing skills from past careers

A few former agents have given up negotiating on behalf of players and are now making deals as front office personnel.

Updated: June 7, 2005, 10:53 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Having worked the other side of the street for nearly two dozen years, Atlanta Falcons executive vice president Ray Anderson acknowledged, helped pave the road for his speedy success in NFL management.

Anderson is one of at least four one-time player agents now working in NFL front offices. While the career path has been a bit unusual for Anderson, Tampa Bay general manager Bruce Allen, Green Bay VP of player finance Andrew Brandt and Patriots chief administrative counsel Jack Mula, the group hasn't exactly struggled in the transition to the management side of the negotiating table.

To the contrary, their experiences as agents have been a major plus for the four men, who are all involved to varying degrees with contract negotiations. Never mind that their former jobs, by definition, entailed trying to squeeze every potential dollar out of a team. Or that their current calling demands saving a buck here or there.

There are times, when I'll kind of try on my agent shoes again. I'll step back from a contract and think, 'OK, is this a deal that I would accept for my client if I was back on the other side?' It does provide me some perspective.
Green Bay VP of player finance Andrew Brandt

The convergence of seemingly disparate mind-sets, Anderson said, doesn't necessarily make the two jobs totally incongruous. The ultimate motivation – to arrive at an agreement that adequately and fairly addresses the issues of all parties – remains a shared incentive.

"If anything, I think my background [as an agent] helps streamline the process, to tell the truth," said Anderson, who after 23 years of representing high-profile players and coaches moved to the Falcons front office in June 2002. "I can come into the process with some understanding and sensitivity, and not silliness, when it comes to the player issues. That should mean there's an absence of the usual nonsense, the dancing around that normally takes place [in negotiations], and we can cut a lot faster to the chase."

That doesn't always translate into an expeditious resolution to every negotiation. But agents admit having someone like Anderson or Brandt across the table, a guy who understands your position and the subtle nuances of negotiating NFL-style, is characteristically a plus.

Certainly little is lost in translation. And, in the ritual mating dance that accompanies the NFL bargaining process, at least both sides are familiar with the basic footwork. Even if someone's toes are stepped on occasionally.

Making the transition from an agent to team management, where you're trying to reach an equitable compromise, and attempting to relate to those still doing your old job, wasn't designed to be an easy makeover.

"Sure, there are going to be times when [an agent] says something like, 'C'mon, Andy, you were in my shoes once, give me a break, huh?' " said Brandt, who once represented NFL and NBA players, was a general manager in NFL Europe, and hosted a radio show on the business side of sports. "And, really, it does help a lot of times that there is some common ground."

There is a commonality, too, in what motivated the men when they were agents and what drives them now. Some owners have acknowledged that similarity, which helps explain why they have welcomed one-time agents into their board rooms.

Obviously, there was a time when agents were regarded almost universally as representing the tawdry side of the football tracks. And, in some cases, they still are. However, there are also owners who understand the benefits of employing an experienced negotiator who possesses big-picture perspective.

Allen, whose time as a football administrator now outdistances his stretch as an agent, a few years ago cited the "basic competitiveness" as a common denominator in both jobs. Agents view their primary task as "winning" at the negotiating table, being able to walk away with a completed contract, confident that there wasn't a cent left on the table. That same kind of energy, while perhaps focused differently, is inherent in the job as a team negotiator or administrator, too.

"The goals," said Allen, who has also served as a player and head coach [at age 22], "don't change that much. You're coming from maybe a different perspective, sure, but it's still about winning. It's about respect. It's the same excitement, just [derived] a different way, that's all."

Bruce Allen
Al Messerschmidt/WireImage.comBruce Allen is now responsible for trying to get deals done with the Bucs.

It likely helps that all four of the men who made the transition to the front office were widely respected when they were agents. Their respective track records as agents, at which each was successful in a difficult industry, provides some instant cachet with many of their one-time peers.

And there is still a strong bond with many of their former clients. Brandt noted that, even after he moved into the Packers' front office, a few players still asked if he could negotiate their contracts.

He couldn't, of course, but Brandt did allow that he often relies on his stint representing players to gauge the viability of proposals to Green Bay players.

"There are times," Brandt said, "when I'll kind of try on my agent shoes again. I'll step back from a contract and think, 'OK, is this a deal that I would accept for my client if I was back on the other side?' It does provide me some perspective."

In contract negotiations, perspective, and a dose of familiarity as well, are never bad things to have.

Said Anderson: "I think, at least with some of the more veteran agents that knew me, they understand I'm not coming at them with what they might consider typical management spiel. I think my message can resonate with those guys and, when that's the case, it sure makes it a lot easier to do business."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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