Ed Wasielewski arrives at the house in Burlington, N.J., armed with a BlackBerry and an iPad. The home belongs to the parents of Kashif Moore, a wide receiver from the University of Connecticut who hopes to be playing in the NFL come this fall. Wasielewski is Moore’s agent, and today is the final day of the NFL draft — otherwise known as the biggest day of Wasielewski’s year. By the end of the night, he expects to know the future whereabouts of Moore and four other clients.
Moore’s situation underscores the uncertainties inherent in Wasielewski’s profession. Moore could go as early as the fifth round — or he might not be picked at all.
At the moment, Wasielewski is standing against a wall in the foyer responding to a text message when his phone rings, revealing an Illinois number. He exchanges pleasantries with the caller and begins to nod in affirmation. Then he pumps his fist. A broad smile sweeps his face, a look that seems to combine pride and relief.
Moore looks over his shoulder, wondering what Wasielewski has brewing. The call isn’t about him, and Moore knows it. “E-Rod!” Wasielewski says, covering one end of his phone.
“E-Rod” is Temple’s Evan Rodriguez, a tight end who is Wasielewski’s highest-profile client. Rodriguez is watching the draft with his family in North Bergen, N.J., but Wasielewski remains in constant contact; he retreats outside to speak with Rodriguez.
Moore, meanwhile, sits on the floor playing cards with his friends. It’s not even halfway through the fourth round, too early, he knows, for his name to be called. His cellphone, with the volume turned up, waiting to ring., sits perched on a nearby chair.
The NFL draft is one of the most scrutinized, dissected and hotly debated events in the world of sports. And while its focus is obviously on the players — and the teams that select them — the draft is also supremely important to another group of professionals: the agents who represent NFL athletes. To better understand what it’s like to be an agent working in professional football today, Wasielewski — a Philadelphia-based agent with an undergraduate degree from Villanova and a law degree from Temple — allowed SportsWeek to follow him during the 2012 NFL draft.
Despite Hollywood’s attempts to glamorize the industry, most agents are like Wasielewski, anonymous attorneys who make their living working for guys most fans have never heard of: late-round draft picks and free agents — the players who are the lifeblood of pro football.
Indeed, however glamorous being an agent may look in the movies, it is, at heart, a service industry. At the end of the day, Wasielewski is an attorney who survives by finding clients —players who need a certified agent to negotiate their contract. Those clients are anyone with a remote chance of playing in the NFL. And the agent’s competition is anyone licensed to represent the players.
The way an agent gets those clients is a subject of much speculation and debate; it’s often an ambiguous undertaking — one that provides plenty of opportunities for the unscrupulous to cut corners.
Wasielewski, who has 14 NFL clients and has been an agent for 10 years, insists he does not engage in any unethical practices.
“I had no idea what to expect, to be honest,” Rodriguez says. “I knew you had to be careful. Some agents, a lot of agents, will do whatever they got to do to get you. Ed wasn’t like that. You just talk to him regularly.”
Wasielewski has never represented a first-round pick. Most of his clients are journeymen, their names unrecognizable to a casual fan, but the type of players that comprises the vast majority of NFL rosters. They’re often special-teamers and backups, late-round picks and roster hopefuls. Wasielewski’s highest-drafted client is Marcus Easley, a wide receiver who was taken in the fourth round, 107th overall, in 2010. He co-represents Darren McFadden, the former No. 4 overall pick, though he did not negotiate McFadden’s rookie contract. Even if Wasielewski’s clients are not household names, however, he tries to treat them like VIPs, forging relationships that go beyond player and agent.
This is important for Wasielewski, not just because he cares. It’s critical to his business plan; his best form of advertising is referrals. In fact, both Rodriguez and Moore signed with Wasielewski in part because he represents former teammates of theirs who are now in the NFL. Two former UConn players recommended Wasielewski to Moore, who considered five agents before signing. “It’s hard, because you don’t know any of the agents from a can of paint,” Moore says. “They all say the same thing. So it’s pretty tough.” In making his decision, Moore trusted his friends and his father. Another factor: He appreciated Wasielewski’s honesty.
Wasielewski also got connected to Rodriguez through a referral. Former Temple player Steve Maneri gave him a strong recommendation. Wasielewski informally met Rodriguez after a game during the season, but did not formally meet with him until after Temple’s regular season ended. Rodriguez’s family screened the process. They met on the sixth floor of Wasielewski’s Chestnut Street apartment building, in a business center equipped with a meeting table and lounge chairs. Wasielewski presented Rodriguez with a detailed packet, 23 pages long, that included a mission statement, potential marketing opportunities and a plan for how he’d prepare Rodriguez for the NFL scouting combine and draft. The latter included work at a training facility in Florida, where Rodriguez could be groomed by noted receivers coach Ray Sherman.
Wasielewski prepares a similar package for all prospective clients, revealing the specifics of what they need to do to optimize their value. “He showed me that day,” Rodriguez says. “I was really into it. …I just felt really good around him. My mentor felt good around him, too. My mom did, as well. He played by all the rules. When I sat down to make the decision with my mom, she said she had no problem if I picked Ed.”
After Rodriguez’s last game, the New Mexico Bowl in December, when Temple walloped Wyoming, he no longer needed to worry about his amateur status, Wasielewski resumed his pursuit in earnest. He met Rodriquez and his family at a diner in North Bergen. Two dayslater, Rodriguez called him. “Hey, I want to join the family, join the team,” Rodriguez toldhim. They filed their standard representation agreement with the NFL Players Association on Dec. 22.
Wasielewski tries to emphasize the personal touch in his dealings with players, but everyone involved understands that pro football is a business, often a cold one. There is a cost-benefit analysis every agent must calculate when it comes to how much time — and money — he should invest in each client.
Wasielewski, for example, sent Moore and Rodriguez to Athletic Edge Sports in Bradenton, Fla., for weeks of training with Mike Gough, an NFL combine trainer. The players also received instruction from Sherman, a longtime NFL wide-receivers coach who was between jobs at the time. The players roomed together and shared a rental car.
Between transportation, housing, meals and training, Wasielewski says it costs him between $7,500 to $15,000 to train each player, and potentially more. If a player goes undrafted, the agent’s cut from a free agent signing bonus likely won’t be enough to cover his investment. In Rodriguez’s case, he’ll receive a deal comparable to last season’s pick at that spot in the fourth round, which was a four-year, $2.485 million deal, with a $445,200 signing bonus. If Wasielewski deducts the standard3 percent commission, he’ll receive $13,356. If the player plays theduration of the rookie deal, Wasielewski would then draw an additional $74,550. If an undrafted player makes the roster, he can receive the NFL minimum salary of $375,000, which would yield Wasielewski $11,250. Fees are sometimes negotiable, especially if a player can produce a higher return from a marketing or promotional deal. But the standard commission means that the agents often make a significant investment for uncertain returns. “There’s a cost upfront. There’s an economic model,” says Wasielewski. “You’re developing and you’re getting your fees down the road when you negotiate a contract or negotiate marketing deals.”
Of course, a first-round pick is like striking gold. When the signing bonus is in the millions, the agent can pocket hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Wasielewski also needs to cover his own considerable expenses. To keep costs down, he commutes almost everywhere by car rather than plane. He drives to Tampa for the East-West Shrine Game. He drives to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine. He does so in style, with a silver Mercedes he purchased after a client suggested his old car, a Honda Accord, didn’t have enough leg room.
Wasielewski tries to sell his relative youth to his clients. Even with his hair graying, his preferred outfit usually includes jeans. He keeps two offices — one in a Center City condo, another in Southampton. Both are equipped with myriad binders, everything organized and labeled. He needs to keep the comprehensive records not just for his own clients, but for his own purposes. The only money he makes during the spring comes from veteran free-agents signing new deals or roster bonuses on existing deals. “You have to budget year-round in this business,” Wasielewski says. “I’m a full-time football agent, so I don’t focus on any other sports. I give 24-7 to the football players I’m representing, which means I don’t have income from any other sources. But it also means when I do have my income, September, October, November, December, January — that’s five months — and maybe March, that’s six months. But then when I have draft picks, their contracts get done in May, June and July. We have five guys here. Hopefully I’m negotiating five players’ contract, and you have money coming in those periods.”
The combine is a big event for Wasielewski for a few reasons. First, the testing that teams use to measure a player’s athleticism is conducted. So when Moore’s 4.42-second 40-yard dash is among the top 10 results of all wide receivers running at the combine, it’s a big day for both Moore and Wasielewski. Rodriguez’s 4.58-second 40-yard dash is No. 3 among all tight ends, which also helps cement Rodriguez’s draft status. Plus, the combine is basically the NFL’s trade show. It brings coaches, scouts, executives, agents and reporters to the same place, and the face-to-face contact with all those people allows Wasielewski to promote his players and gauge what teams think.
After the combine, the players also have testing days at their colleges that Wasielewski attends. Once thecombine concludes, Wasielewski helps arrange visits to teams for his clients. Rodriguez and Moore are considered local players for the Eagles, so they could visit the teameasily. But each franchise is allotted 30 pre-draft visits from nonlocal prospects. When a team arranges one of these visits, it’s a signal of its curiosity. The Bears flew Rodriguez to Chicago for a visit, for example, a visit that paid dividends: one month later, the team selected him in the draft.
There comes a point in the process, though, when the players have completed all their tests, the teams have finished most of their evaluating and all that’s left for the prospects to do is wait and hope. They’ll still get calls from scouts and position coach, and Wasielewski still communicates with his contacts around the league to pump interest. “My job is first of all to answer questions they might have and to facilitate information, and also to get a view of what their draft board is on a player,” Wasielewski says. He tries to sell his clients to teams by arguing that they match the size and athleticism of specific NFL players. For Moore, Wasielewski cites Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson was considerably more productive than Moore in college, albeit in a better offense. Yet Moore trumped Jackson on five of six measurables in the NFL combine. The only thing Jackson topped Moore on was speed, although that’s Jackson’s greatest asset and what made him most desirable. The difference between the two in the 40 is just .07 seconds — but those .07 seconds matter.
Wasielewski also arranges media interviews for players and works on promotional deals. He buys a suit for each of his players so he can look good when making appearances or speaking in front of the media. He maintains contact with his clients each day and wants to know about every conversation one of his clients has with a team.
The players still need to train to keep in shape for the mini-camps that begin soon after the draft. Wasielewski funds the training for Moore at Velocity Sports Performance in Cherry Hill and for Rodriguez with Joe DeFranco in Wyckoff, N.J. Moore likes the fact that Wasielewski is “always available” and helps with whatever he needs. During the offseason, Wasielewski hosts a client appreciation weekend. It was held in Atlantic City last year. He says there’s some education involved, and he once had an accountant in to talk about taxes. But the weekend’s main purpose is to bring the clients from the agency together to spend time with each other and to show his gratitude to them. When a player signs with an agent, the contract isn’t for life. It’s not a topic that Wasielewski wants to discuss, but players change agents, especially after they gain stardom or want more money. Giants star Victor Cruz was an undrafted free agent two years ago. Once he became a Pro Bowler and a marketable star in the NFL, he changed agents. Wasielewski parted ways with two players before the combine. Neither ended up being drafted. Wasielewski’s M.O. is to try to find players who value the same loyalty in him that he believes he shows them. “I’m loyal and committed to Ed,” Moore says. “And it’s the same with him to me.”
Moore is hosting a draft day party at his Burlington home on April 28, when the final four rounds of the draft are held. Wasielewski arrives around noon for the first pick. He attempts to stay in Moore’s living room, where family and friends gathers to watch the picks. But he keeps excusing himself to go outside to take calls. He sends text messages and emails scouts, team executives and general managers throughout the afternoon, providing and pursuing updates.
The best news of the day comes when Rodriguez is drafted in the fourth round. Rodriguez is Wasielewski’s highest -drafted player since Easley was taken in the fourth round in 2010. A scout from an NFL team calls Wasielewski in the morning about Rodriguez, but doesn’t say whether the team would take him. The Chicago number appears on Wasielewski’s phone at 12:44. By 12:47, Rodriguez’s name flashes across the screen. And by 12:50, Wasielewski is on the phone with his client. “Big man! Congratulations!” Wasielewski says on the sidewalk outside Moore’s home. “You happy? Shed a couple happy tears!” Wasielewski appears to be fighting emotions as he’s speaking. This is a big day for him, too. “I’m happy for you and proud of you!” he continues. “You did everything the right way!” Wasielewski wants to trek to New York later to see Rodriguez and celebrate. But first he has other clients to worry about. And the next one Wasielewski thinks will get picked is Moore.
Wasielewski returns to the living room, takes out his draft chart and asks to be caught up on the picks. He wants to know how many receivers have been taken. There’s been a run on the position, and this is encouraging. “Let them come off the board,” he says. Wasielewski is texting an NFL general manager to keep in contact. Moore plays cards, trying to keep his mind occupied. No receiver is picked until the middle of the round, when the Dallas Cowboys select Danny Coale. “How tall is he?” someone in the room asks, wondering if he’s a similar player to Moore. “He punts, too,” Wasielewski adds, trying to soften the blow. The Cincinnati Bengals like Moore, and they have two picks at the end of the round. That could be a landing spot. The Bengals’ pick comes in at No. 166, and Wasielewski watches keenly. When the NFL Network reveals the Bengals selected Cal wide receiver Marvin Jones, Wasielewski waves his hand and grimaces.
The sixth round passes, and still no call comes for Moore. By this point, Moore and a few of his friends decide to take a quick drive. That might clear his head. Wasielewski instructs Moore to take his cellphone, just in case. By the time Moore returns, teams are starting to contact Wasielewski about signing Moore as a free agent if he’s not selected in the next hour. That appears to be the most likely possibility.
Wasielewski makes a decision. The two hours after the draft will be the most frantic of his year. Moore and Wasielewski’s other undrafted players would be free to sign with any team. Wasielewski maintains detailed spreadsheets of each team’s depth chart. He knows the contract terms of nearly every player on the teams and where they were picked. Wasielewski needs to be in front of a computer, a place where he can juggle phone calls, keep notes and process information. A draft party is not conducive to this task.
Wasielewski explains to Moore that he needs to leave, and to stay by the phone. He jogs to his car and heads to his office in Southampton, about 30 minutes from Moore’s Burlington home. Two of Wasielewski’s five clients have already been picked, and he has two hours to ensure that his three other clients have an opportunity to play in the NFL. On his drive to Southampton, Wasielewski’s phone rings. One of his players was picked in the seventh round: Nathan Stupar, a linebacker from Penn State. Wasielewski circles the block in excitement, pumping his fist. Then he focuses on the road. By the time he arrives at the condo to set up his war room, the seventh round is almost over.
The room includes a desktop and a laptop computer, a cellphone and a landline. For each team that calls, Wasielewski has three basic questions: How many players does it plan to carry at that position, how many rookie free agents does it plan to bring to camp, and what’s the signing bonus it’s offering? The teams that tracked Moore before the draft are in more serious consideration. Fifteen franchises call abouthim. But while Wasielewski has them on the line, he wants to know if they need a punter or an offensive lineman, too, because he also represents punter Kyle Martens from Rice and offensive lineman Desmond Stapleton from Rutgers.
The first offer Wasielewski fields is for Stapleton. The Steelers have called, and Wasielewski is intrigued. Besides offering a signing bonus, the Steelers are an organization Wasielewski has dealt with before. Stapleton’s brother, Darnell, signed there as an undrafted free agent, and he later ended up starting in the Super Bowl. When Wasielewski calls Stapleton, he advises him to take the Steelers offer. Roster spots fill up, so an offer is sometimes first come, first served. Stapleton agrees with Wasielewski’s assessment, and he quickly assents to finalizing the deal. “He wants to be a Steeler,” Wasielewski says into the phone to a Steelers coach.
All the while, Wasielewski continues to take calls about Moore, trying to leverage other teams’ interests against each other. The Steelers like Moore. So do the Lions, who drafted only one wide receiver, and the Rams, who have Sherman as the wide-receivers coach. But Moore continues to be drawn to the Bengals. Their depth chart is weak at wide receiver, and even more appealing is the interest that they’ve demonstrated. Wide-receivers coach James Urban called before the draft to talk with Moore. While on the phone with Wasielewski, Moore gets a call. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is on the other line for Moore. Wasielewski is impressed that the head coach called himself, a signal that the Bengals interest is legit.
Moore considers all his offers, but continues to favor Cincinnati. No situation for an undrafted player is ideal. In most cases,he won’t have a chance to make a roster unless he has an outstanding performance or a player is injured. The practice squad is more realistic. But the Bengals’ interest is a selling point for Moore, and the depth chart is acceptable for Wasielewski. The signing bonus is consistent with what he was offered elsewhere. Around 8:30, Moore accepts the deal.
While Moore was milling offers, Wasielewski was also talking to teams about Martens. Punters are tougher to land jobs for, because most teams won’t sign multiple free agents at that position. The Bills and Colts initially show interest. But Martens is curious about the Cowboys, and continues to want Wasielewski to look into Dallas’ situation. That’s only a tryout — not a roster spot — and a punter is better served with a roster spot. The longer Martens waits, the fewer options become available. By the time the Chargers call with an offer, Martens needs to take it.
By the end of the night, all five of Wasielewski’s clients have an NFL home. He gets back in his car and heads to New York City to celebrate with Moore and Rodriguez. He recruited them. He paid for their training. He worked hard to get them drafted. He got each a shot to be on an NFL roster. But he won’t celebrate for long. He has contracts to negotiate. And he’ll soon need to start identifying players again—for the 2013 draft.