Recently, Jason Cole of Yahoo! Sports cobbled together an item that fiercely criticizes the contract signed by Bengals right tackle Andre Smith — with specific criticism of Smith’s agent, Alvin Keels.
Cole surprisingly compared the contract to the one negotiated a decade ago by Master P’s agency for Saints running back Ricky Williams, and Cole called Smith’s deal a potential “career stopper” for Keels.
Ever since I first saw it last week, Cole’s column has bothered me, for several reasons. First, it represents a grossly one-sided view of the situation. (There’s no indication that Cole tried to contact Keels. Cole told us by phone that he called Keels’ office three times, and that Keels did not call back.)
Second, the column reeks (as Jason Whitlock of FOXSports.com recently pointed out) of propaganda being pushed by rival agents. And that’s an incredibly common dynamic in the cut throat world of NFL player agents, where eventually someone’s throat really could be cut.
Right now, they’re all lining up potential clients for the 2010 draft, and many agents will be carrying around a laminated copy of Cole’s article for presentation to anyone considering the possibility of hiring Keels.
Third, I personally know and like and respect Cole, and I know that he’s smart enough to realize that he was being played. (That said, Cole told me by phone that the column “was not agent driven.” That said, some in the audience might feel otherwise.)
When the basic numbers initially came out regarding the contract signed by Smith, we compared it to the deals given to the player draft directly in front of Smith (Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez) and directly behind Smith (Raiders receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey).
Ultimately, the Bengals did indeed avoid certain aspects of the slotting process, with portions of Smith’s deal paling in comparison to the contract signed by Heyward-Bey.
As we also pointed out, other aspects of the deal fit the slot. For example, the average annual guaranteed money on the four-year deal ($5.25 million) fits between the Sanchez ($5.6 million) and Heyward-Bey ($4.6 million) payouts.
And though the contract ultimately looks a lot like the five-year deal given to No. 6 overall pick Vernon Gholston in 2008 with a sixth year tacked onto it, we’ve seen the entire breakdown, and it’s better than some might think.
For example, although the deal has been described as a four-year contract that the Bengals can stretch into a six-year deal, they key is that they can’t wait until after the fourth year to make a decision.
Under the deal, the Bengals must decide after two seasons whether to invoke the option for years five and six, by paying a $4.75 million option bonus.
If they do, easily reachable playing-time triggers make the contract into a six-year, $42 million deal, with a lot of the money coming early in the life of the contract.
Indeed, despite the total-dollar similarities to Gholston’s contract, Smith will pocket nearly 20 percent more than Gholston over the first three years (if the option is exercised) and 13.5 percent more than Gholston over four (again, if the option is exercised).
There’s no denying that Heyward-Bey got a deal that, in most respects, is better than Smith’s. But while some can say that this occurred because the Bengals violated the slotting process by paying too little, others might say the Raiders violated the slotting process by paying too much.
If, for example, the 49ers were to decide to cave in to the demands of receiver Michael Crabtree and give him the Heyward-Bey deal in the No. 10 slot, would the agents who represented the eighth and ninth picks be subject to intense criticism? The difference in Smith’s case is that the Raiders overpaid on the slot before the Bengals and Smith did their deal.
That said, the Smith deal isn’t great. And calling it good might be a stretch. But we think it’s grossly unfair to compare Keels’ work on Smith’s behalf to the Master P cluster eff that was negotiated for Ricky Williams.
The mere comparison of the agents implies strongly that Keels is regarded as an inexperienced slapdick, which simply isn’t true. He did his first top-ten deal in 2001, on behalf of receiver Koren Robinson. And he has negotiated two player-friendly contracts for cornerback DeAngelo Hall (one with the Raiders and one with the Redskins), along with contracts for running back Larry Johnson, running back LaMont Jordan, and safety Gibril Wilson.
Also, the players in the two cases are far different. In 1999, Ricky Williams had tons of leverage; the Saints gave up an entire draft to get him. And, still, Williams put his name on the dotted line of a dreadful incentive-driven deal in May, a month after being picked.
Smith, in contrast, was regarded a reach at No. 6, thanks to a string of erratic pre-draft incidents, including suspension from the Sugar Bowl, an unexpected departure from the Scouting Combine, and a watch-it-wiggle, see-it-jiggle 40-yard dash at his Pro Day workout. We also were troubled by the appearance that Smith fired Keels before the draft and hired Priority Sports in order to nail down a top-ten spot, only to fire Priority and re-hire Keels after the draft.
Then, Smith held out and bulked up.
And Cole, in hindsight, concedes that point. “I will admit [Keels] was stuck in a bad situation,” Cole said.
As we’ve heard it, the Bengals were sufficiently alarmed by Smith’s pre-draft weight gain to consider the possibility of simply not signing him at all. Though such a move would have surely triggered intense criticism, the Bengals have seen plenty of first-round picks fail following the receipt of millions of dollars. At a time when there’s increased chatter of a team passing their right to make a first-round pick, would it be so out of the question — especially for a team like the Bengals — to essentially pass on the pick after the fact?
Even if the Bengals would never have flat-out rescinded the rights to Smith, they could have accomplished the same thing by putting an objectively significant but, in context, ridiculously low number on the table, refusing to budge, and accepting the reality that Smith would never take it.
Regardless of whether the Bengals would have assumed such an extreme bargaining position, the reality is that Ricky Williams and Andre Smith presented two very different situations. In Williams’ case, his agent bungled the opportunity to cash in. In Smith’s case, Keels was forced to make chicken salad with one hand, and to keep Smith from eating it with the other.
I realize that cynics in the crowd will think that I’m posting this at the behest of Keels, or possibly as payback for past favors that he has done for PFT. (Or as a down payment on future consideration.) Hell, I’d think the same thing if Mortensen or Schefter or Glazer or someone else were taking the time to throw Keels a bone.
But whether anyone will believe it, I’m compelled to say it: I decided to go to bat for Keels on this one because I know how this kind of one-sided article can be used to unfairly hurt an agent’s business interests. Those tactics are wrong, so speaking out was simply the right thing to do.
You may now resume watching PFTV segments. After you wake up.