Former NFL quarterback and ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer recently gave a candid assessment of former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, saying that Bradford “is not even close to the best player in the draft.” In the same interview, on ESPN Radio’s St. Louis affiliate, Dilfer said that former Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen is the best prepared to play right away, and that former Texas quarterback Colt McCoy eventually could be the best of the trio.
The assessment of McCoy raised eyebrows, given that McCoy and Dilfer are both clients of Athletes First — and that Peter King recently said that Dilfer “works with” McCoy. Several blogs, such as JoeBucsFan.com and TheBigLead.com, openly have questioned whether Dilfer has a conflict of interest.
So we reached out to ESPN for an opportunity to talk to Dilfer, and before I could even get his number, Trent called me.
He denied strongly the suggestion that he was compensated to work out with or to endorse McCoy. “Dave Dunn pays me nothing,” Dilfer said. “Athletes First pays me nothing.”
Dilfer candidly acknowledged that, from time to time, Dunn will ask him to talk to potential clients — and Dilfer will do so. He said he doesn’t get paid for this, and he said that many former players do the same thing.
Dilfer’s right. We’ve been hearing about this practice for years. The problem arises if/when the former player is getting paid to make a recommendation — especially if the former player is also employed as an on-air analyst.
Dilfer told me that he has limited such efforts since being hired by ESPN, because he wants to be sure to avoid any actual or apparent conflict of interest. And he explained that he completed his evaluation of the top three quarterbacks (Bradford, Clausen, and McCoy) before any of them hired agents.
“I’m gonna to speak the way I see it regardless of who Dave represents,” Dilfer said. “I’m only gonna tell the truth.”
During the 10-minute conversation, Dilfer was passionate, candid, and credible. And he made no attempt to hide the relationship with Dunn. Still, while we believe that Dilfer has handled the situation appropriately, the safest approach for any on-air analyst would be to secure representation from a firm that does not represent the players that the analyst will be evaluating.