Criticism of Keels for Smith deal is over the top

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 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.

26 responses to “Criticism of Keels for Smith deal is over the top

  1. I think Keels did a good job. He dug in his heels and held out as long as he could. If he was a terrible agent, he would have caved earlier on an even lesser deal, but he fought hard and took a long time to get the best deal he could.
    The Bengals probably did Smith a favor by taking him that high with all of the weight concerns and off the field negative feedback that Smith was getting. He is a big risk of being a bust later on, and they Bengals are taking a risky gamble. It’s not like Michael Crabtree who was a bonafide star and is a solid athlete, when you have a huge guy like this with weight concerns and other concerns, it’s a different type of bargaining situation than a guy like Crabtree or Sanchez. Granted, a lot of that goes out the window with the Bengals having made that pick at that spot, but that doesn’t change the fact that they have a great negotiating position to posture with and to hold firm on their rationale for why they won’t budge.
    Keels pushed it as far as he could and got the most that the Bengals were willing to pay.

  2. I thought exactly the same things about Cole’s article, especially when he compared Smith’s deal to that terrible Ricky Williams contract, a notion at which I immediately balked. Not only did Williams get basically a big signing bonus and little else but crappy incentives, but they locked him into that deal for EIGHT YEARS.
    So, anyway, how about posting the full breakdown, to better enable us to decide for ourselves?

  3. Taking Smith at 6 was only a reach in the minds of guys who don’t get paid by NFL teams. Andre Smith will end up being so much better than Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher. Lets see what happens once he gets on the field before he gets labled a bust.

  4. Good stuff. I agree with every bit of it. If you add anything else later on, you might want to talk more about how stubborn Mike Brown is and how there is no way in hell he’ll would overpay like Al Davis.
    You can do and say whatever you want like Chad Ochocinco did last offseason, but Mike Brown is one stubborn old fool, who might lose a lot of games but doesn’t lose often when it comes to money.

  5. 29 paragraphs that say….Jason Cole has been and IS a major tool. It could have been summed up by that.
    Dude is dead to me for 5+ years, a complete idiot.

  6. Nicely done Florio.
    In Smith’s case, Keels was forced to make chicken salad with one hand, and to keep Smith from eating it with the other.
    Brilliant . . .

  7. When the whole situation is rotten, it is tough to call anyone a winner.
    I might have believed to general slant of the aritcle until problem children Keels has represented in the past. Koren Robinson and his high speed DUI police chase with the vikings, DeAngelo Hall and his blow ups with management over minor issues, and disgruntled Larry Johnson.
    Keels can be judged by his clientele.
    With all that trouble one can understand the need for firing and re-hiring ploy.
    Hopefully he can get some client’s with better attitudes or he will have the reputation as poisoning the minds of his clients.
    Teams do not want problem players.

  8. This contract BS is getting out of hand. A QB gets 5.6 mil/yr, a RT gets 5.25 mil/yr & a wide receiver gets 4.6 mil/yr & have never played a down in the NFL. I think the Packers started all this BS when they paid that roid raged bust Mandarich over a mil (1st lineman ever to break the 10 figure mark I think). Where’s he now?
    I suppose there’s no regard for position if your’e picked in the top 10–your’e deal has to be slotted. I realize how important linemen are but I would think a good WR would be worth more. IF there is a new CBA it’s has to address a payscale for Rookies. I cannot think of any other industry where you get paid top dollar before you have proven yourself. Either of these guys turn out to be a bust and all the guaranteed part of the contract is thrown out the window.
    Somewhere it has to stop.

  9. Can’t help but ask the question. Was Smith’s foot already broken when he caved and took the not-so-great contract? Seems to me he’d lose a lot of leverage in negotiations with a broken foot and it would make sense. Somewhat ironic that he broke his foot 20 minutes into his first practice. Just a thought

  10. I would think the stupid slotting “system” should fall apart once a player starts missing camp or OTA’s.
    Is a guy drafted 8 or 7 and in camp going to be worth more to a team then the guy drafted 6th who misses a chunk of camp?
    Invsion this with a QB. Sanchez obviously has more value to the Jets today because he did not hold out. If he did he’d most certainly be learning with a clip board instead of taking the snaps in a win over the Pats.

  11. As usual when it comes with the Bengals, Florio just makes things up. If the Bengals were so concerned with his pre-draft weight, they would do one of two things: put in weight clauses (which they did) or draft another guy (like Eugene Monroe). No way would they draft a guy merely to do nothing and not sign him. Does that makes sense to anyone other than Florio? Have they had first round picks who have failed? Sure (Chris Perry comes to mind), but so has everyone (how are Rashard Mendenhall , Vernon Gholston, Gaines Adams or Justin Harell working out so far?). Nobody….and I mean nobody…just drafts someone in the first round to make some innocuous statement to the rest of the NFL.

  12. All the Yahoo! sports guys suck… especially that dope-head Silver…
    Wasn’t Cole the same guy who made up an article about Shanahan video-taping Charger practices?

  13. “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.”
    SNL has a skit that fits this perfectly:
    “REALLY?!?” So, you went to bat for an agent because this article can unfairly hurt his business? Really?!? Those tactics are wrong? Really? Speaking out is the right thing to do? really?!?
    You do that on a daily basis. Propagating rumors that are simply untrue with no basis on facts.
    Saying that, you also do post rumors that are based on facts, but my only point is that it is a bit ironic that you are taking a writer to task for doing something that you do. I hope Cole and Channing Crowder aren’t friends…..
    I do agree with your summary on the deals, though…….just saying.

  14. I’m a Bengals fan, and in general can’t stand sports agents, but even I felt sorry for Alvin Keels. He seemed very reasonable on Hard Knocks; his problem (as you rightly point out) is that he was sandwiched between a team that plays hardball and a client that’s literally eating his negotiating leverage.
    That was one of your best articles in a long time (nice backhanded compliment, I realize). I did NOT know that the 2-year option had to be exercised after his second year; that changes a lot regarding the criticism (people saying that *all* NFL deals are signing bonuses with a series of team options). By structuring the deal that way, he either front-loads the deal or gains his client some freedom.
    All in all, I thought Keels did a good, honest job and wish other agents showed his professionalism. I hope dealing with the Bengals doesn’t kill his career.
    Incidentally, what do you think will happen next year with whomever the Bengals pick? If I’m an agent, I don’t want to do business with them.

  15. You lawyers are thick as thieves…..
    My wife called me an jackass in front of everyone at the Piggly Wiggly last month and since you are now all about telling both sides of the story in things that really do not involve you….. I was hoping you could put together a few rebuttal paragraphs so I could set the record straight.

  16. Here, Mike Florio is calling out Jason Cole for his article and yet many here including myself (FOUR TIMES NOW OUTLOAD LIKE THIS) have called out Florio and his WRONGFUL interpretation of the rule that robbed Louis Murphy of a TD.
    Florio himself WROTE the rule in the body of an article but later stated it falsely and completely different in a PFT segment to bolster his claim that the NFL got it right.
    Hey Mike, how about you admitting and correcting your own faults before pointing fingers at others.
    Pot, kettle, black.

  17. I agree with your assessment, I had similar thoughts when the Cole article was originally published.
    I also agree with the reasoning behind responding. Cole’s critique of Keels’ performance was unbalanced. He should have at least alluded to his past performance.

  18. “First, it represents a grossly one-sided view of the situation.”
    “…because I know how this kind of one-sided article…”
    Man Florio: a great deal of what you push through PFT is grossly one-sided. See every post you have about Favre for example and so much more. It is terribly disingenuous to even think about writing the article the way you did.
    Congrats, your tirade basically calls out someone who has your faults.

  19. “…he’s smart enough to realize that he was being played.”
    Mr. Florio- Rodney Harrison and Terry Bradshaw on line one for you…

  20. ZombieRevolution says:
    September 25, 2009 2:18 PM
    “First, it represents a grossly one-sided view of the situation.”
    “…because I know how this kind of one-sided article…”
    Man Florio: a great deal of what you push through PFT is grossly one-sided. See every post you have about Favre for example and so much more. It is terribly disingenuous to even think about writing the article the way you did.
    Congrats, your tirade basically calls out someone who has your faults.
    Agreed… I wonder if Favre, Bush, Warner, McNabb, and Romo would like the other side told…

  21. I’m not a fan of Mr. Keels, but this is a very good argument on his behalf, and it is definitely the best writing I’ve ever seen you do, Florio.

  22. First, as to the length of your post:
    “That’s what she said.”
    Secondly, is this the longest post that you have ever written? The scroll wheel on my mouse stopped working trying to get to the end.

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