The Last Shot, The Long Shot!

I’ve noticed a developing trend in which NFL teams use their rookie mini-camps as mini-combines of sorts for players who went unsigned or undrafted. The Bucs, for example, had about 14 signed undrafted free agents (UFAs) and about 36 more unsigned UFAs come in last weekend on a “tryout” basis only. I heard that three were signed from that camp. I believe the Bears had about 26 or so, but I’m not sure how many earned contracts. The Packers had 21 and handed 3 contracts at the conclusion of the camp.

If you’re a player in this group, it’s most likely your last chance to get a shot with an NFL team. You may get a call in a week or two as guys get weeded out because of injury or poor performance, but that slot is probably 80th on the 80-man roster. Regardless, it’s a slot, and some guys have climbed their way to the 47 and garnered multi-year careers.

Picture this: Your lifelong dream is to play in the NFL. You played four years of scholarship football, ran well at your pro day, and your agent tells you that you will get into a camp. You sit through two days of the draft and watch your friends, teammates and peers get drafted. You agonize through the last round of the draft only to realize that you have to go in through the back door as a UFA. An hour goes by and your phone never rings. Your agent tells you he’s working and may have a team interested, but all is silent and your dream is slowly vanishing. After the longest day of your life goes by, stress, insult and frustration mount as your friends and family keep asking, “Which team signed you?” But you can’t answer them. You’re embarrassed and dejected.

Sunday night, your agent tells you he’ll keep working and that team X might bring you in for a mini-camp tryout. You don’t sleep much that night and you don’t want to talk to anyone. You realize that as much as you want football in your life, football doesn’t want you. You’re not invited to the ultimate party, you don’t get picked first anymore and you’re no longer the toast of your town and possibly even your family. Depression sets in, and for the first time in your life, you have to picture an uncertain future.

It’s Monday morning and you don’t want to get out of bed. You look at your phone warily hoping for several messages. There are two from your agent. Could it be?

As you call him back, you wonder if he even did his job – if he was the problem, not you. He excitedly tells you that he got you into mini-camp with team X. If you go there and perform like you know you can, they’ll sign you right after the weekend. That’s right, you’ll have a contract on Sunday and you’ll be where you belong, on an NFL 80-man roster with a chance to compete and make your dream come true. You’re excited. You have a little more confidence in your agent, and you start thinking that team X knows that you can make it. That’s it — they are the only one that knows. They did their homework. You’ll show them!

Your agent doesn’t tell you too much except that a travel person will be calling you and to make arrangements. You get in a workout, and on your way back, the team travel coordinator calls you to book your fight to camp and even tells you what kind of cleats to bring. That confirms that it’s real. You better workout tomorrow, too. You start calling friends and family to let them know that team X is bringing you in and will probably sign you on Sunday.

You get to the team’s city Thursday night, where you meet some other guys who were drafted or signed as free agents, and you meet even more who were brought in with the same promise that was given to you. You meet your roommate, who is also unsigned and plays the same position as you. It’s OK. You’ll beat him out. He looks kind of small.

You can barely sleep because you know you have to perform.

You’re up early and go to the facility, where everything is laid out for you. You’re in the comfort of the locker room, and when you meet the head coach — someone you’ve seen on TV for years — you know this is real. After the team meeting and instructions, you get out on the field. After being there for an hour or two, you realize that everyone is a rookie. There are about 50 of them. How can this be? You know this team only drafted eight players, but there’s no way they signed another 40.

At practice, things move quickly and coaches give instructions on the fly. It’s more chaotic then your thought an NFL camp might be. You can tell they know a few guys by name and the rest are just numbers. You work hard to impress with the few reps you get, but you feel rusty. You’re frustrated that you only get a few reps.

By dinner, you start to figure out the numbers. About 15 guys have contracts as UFAs and there are seven draft picks, but the No. 1 is a no-show — so all the rest are in for a tryout, just like you. There are five at your position on top of the three they signed as UFAs and the two they drafted. A sinking feeling settles into your gut. You really don’t feel special. You notice that three or four guys at your position have playbooks, but you never got one. What does that mean? It can’t be good.

Saturday, you hit the field thinking that you’ll get more reps and a chance to show what you can do. Practice seems more organized. But it’s more of the same – the same guys getting the most reps.

Sunday rolls around for the last practice and you know it’s do or die. You get more reps, but the position coach still doesn’t know your name — and your smallish roommate, whose name he does know, is getting even more reps. Practice ends with a huddle in the middle of the field. The head coach tells everyone that they did well and that if they don’t sign you, he’s sure some other team will. They’ll have some evaluation meetings and make decisions. The speech is unceremoniously brief.

When you get back to the locker room, you can hear a pin drop. It feels like a funeral. Guys take their time getting undressed. Even the draft picks are quiet; they understand what’s happening. A scout type walks in and grabs three players and pulls them out quickly. One of them is your smallish roommate. You clean up, pack your bag, hand in your equipment and wait the for the scout guy to come get you. It never happens. The next information you receive from anybody is your transportation back to the airport.

On the way, you have to listen to your roommate tell his family and girlfriend that he was only one of three from about 36 who got offered a contract. You’re feeling pretty low, and you’re even a little mad because you didn’t get a fair chance to prove yourself. You have three messages from your agent. You start thinking that maybe the team called him and offered you a contract. You wait until you’re alone before calling. When you get him on the line, he asks, “How did it go? Did they offer you a contract?” You tell him what happened, but you really don’t want to talk. He says something else might come up as few teams have their mini-camps the second week after the draft so don’t give up hope. You can’t even imagine getting your hopes up again.

If you haven’t figured it out, the odds are great that this is the last time organized football will ever contact you again. The dream and drama has come to an end.

At some time or another, every agent has been down this road with a client, mostly at the beginning of our careers, although once in a while a promising prospect falls all the way through the cracks under our watch. It sucks because there really isn’t much we can do. However, I tell guys to keep their dream alive for at least one year. If they don’t want to give up, I won’t either. I’m willing to keep badgering GMs until 32 of them tell me no, twice.

About half the NFL teams have camps with veterans and rookies mixed together. These teams bring in very few guys, if any, on a tryout basis. The Chargers are an example of a team that conducts their camps this way. I’m not saying one team is right or wrong; I’m just trying to give you an idea how the bottom of the 80-man roster is formed — and what happens to players 81 to 115. Occasionally one makes it. He’s is the long shot.

If a team finds a diamond in the rough, it proves their formula works.

This is how it can sometimes happen:

One team that started bringing in a small wave of “tryout” guys was the Bears, after Jerry Angelo took over as GM. In 2003, a scout by the name of Marty Barrett went to the draft board the Monday after the draft to check on some guys in his west region. He made a few phone calls on two or three whom the Bears had on their board as potential UFAs, but not at the priority level. One player Marty called was Cameron Worrell, a safety from Fresno State who was not signed. Marty offered to bring him in on a tryout basis for a three day mini-camp. Cameron happily accepted, especially since his phone hadn’t rung on Sunday.

In the draft, the Bears had selected safety Todd Johnson in the fourth round and signed a priority UFA safety from Michigan as well. The odds of Cameron making this team were slim. However, Marty did one more thing before the mini-camp that helped increase the odds for Cameron. He went to the coaches and told them about the kid. He said Cameron wouldn’t impress them in shorts, but he was a high-intangible guy, and that if they saw something they liked, they should get him into camp because he’d show better in pads.

In the three-day mini-camp, Cameron impressed the coaches with his instincts and earned a contract. He also did well in camp, as Marty said he would, which got him on the 53-man roster. Then he caught another break when Johnson suffered an injury, moving Cameron into the starting lineup.

Cameron is going into his seventh season in the NFL.

Here are a few more reasons why players should keep fighting for a tryout: TE Billy Milner, DE Greg White, WR Jammal Jones and DC Fakhir Brown. All of them were left for dead but ended up making teams.

5 reasons why you should let your son play football

One of my clients who played a long time in the NFL and is now coaching in the NFL, made a comment to me that is a sign of the times. He said, “Man, these guys have it made (referring to current NFL players). They practice half as much as we did and only have

One of my clients who played a long time in the NFL and is now coaching in the NFL, made a comment to me that is a sign of the times. He said, “Man, these guys have it made (referring to current NFL players). They practice half as much as we did and only have about 10% of the contact we had. These guys will play for a long time”.

Yes, it’s true, say goodbye to two-a-day full contact practices, brutal practice rituals and barbaric head banging drills. Today’s football coaches and organizations are producing a safer game with less risk for injury.

Here’s why:

Helmet to helmet hits are greatly diminishing: The helmet to helmet hit will never be totally eliminated from the game of football, but it has and will be significantly reduced. Unless you have been under a rock for the last three years, anyone involved with football has been made aware of the brain trauma associated with concussions. Therefore, coaches at all levels of football should be more proactive than ever in teaching proper head placement for tackling and blocking techniques.

Liability: Coaches from Pop Warner to high school have been made aware that they could face potential liability for creating and/or encouraging unsafe methods, techniques and practices. I’m certain everyone knows the NFL is facing lawsuits from their own players, so what’s to stop college, high school or youth players from doing the same? The growing shadow of liability should keep those in charge (coaches, trainers, and conditioning coaches) honest about making sure the players don’t put themselves at risk, especially for head trauma.

I doubt we will see anymore contact drills called; “The Nutcracker”, “Oklahoma drill”, and/or “The bull in the ring”.

Trickle down education: The NFL is spending millions on educating youth players on the proper techniques of blocking and tackling. Programs such as Play 60 have reached tens of thousands of children already. Just like in rugby where it’s second nature for players to tackle with their shoulder, a new breed of football player is emerging that’s better educated through camps and clinics on how to protect themselves, and their opponents from injury.

Death of the barbarian coach: I was taught in both high school and college to lead with butt of helmet when I wanted to block someone. I suffered four concussions. My coaches weren’t being barbaric but they were teaching techniques of the game that were taught to them.

What we like to call “old school” coaches, are rapidly dying off. When Bill Walsh came on the scene and started winning Super Bowls with short, crisp, cerebral and non-contact practices, the football world took notice and started adopting his philosophy. In addition, as the game continues to speed up with spread offenses, coaches stuck in teaching strictly a physical brand of football are being weeded out and left behind.

The mindset has changed: Anybody watching will notice more penalties and more reprimands by the announcers when a hit seems either too low, too high, unsafe and/or just too vicious. It’s just not cool anymore. We all still love a great hit but not when there is a risk of concussion or serious injury. And what the pros do, the kids and their coaches will imitate.

The majority of my retired clients are pretty beat up. They’ve suffered torn muscles, labrums, cartilage, and most have had at least one concussion. These same clients now have boys between the ages of 6 and 17. And every one that I represented is letting, if not encouraging their kids to play football. So if you’re on the fence about letting your child play football, do some homework first and I believe you will find a beautiful game filled with less contact, safer methods and better coaches than you imagined.

Sure, there will always be a risk for injury but the risk of suffering a serious injury while skateboarding, surfing, and/or mountain biking may be even greater.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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A peek behind the Jarryd Hayne Curtain

I’ve been getting asked a lot of questions lately since Jarryd Hayne signed with the 49ers. Thus, I figured I would incorporate some answers into my weekly post.

Media, what to expect: Jarryd arrived in the states on October 14th, 2014. As soon as he landed he went off-the-grid, sought NFL friendly workout facilities,

I’ve been getting asked a lot of questions lately since Jarryd Hayne signed with the 49ers. Thus, I figured I would incorporate some answers into my weekly post.

Media, what to expect: Jarryd arrived in the states on October 14th, 2014. As soon as he landed he went off-the-grid, sought NFL friendly workout facilities, quarterbacks, coaches and anyone who could help him get some position basic training. He did this all on his own for a month, paid his own way and did something every day to learn the game. A month later he started interviewing agents and eventually settled on me/my firm.

On Tuesday, he had a big press conference in Sydney when he announced his team selection. We/he didn’t do this for the attention; we/he did it so he wouldn’t have to speak continuously to the numerous media outlets over the next few weeks. The goal was to get all the questions answered at once, and move on to training.

I learned by being around him that he cared less about getting attention, as he is used to being in the spotlight, and more about dedicating himself to the game of the NFL. He was his league’s MVP three different times so he is used to the attention, and doesn’t need more of it. Going forward, I would expect the same from Jarryd, flying low under the radar and eating as much football as he can every single day. Over the last 48 hours, I’ve received over 40 requests for interviews and I doubt Jarryd will do more than two of them. That’s what we should expect going forward.

What’s next: This is really simple. Jarryd will start doing what all the other NFL players are doing. And that is starting to tune up for the off-season workouts. He will make his way back over to the states in a week or so and start training with veterans. March is the month where vets start getting on the field again. They run routes and do some field work on top of doing weight room work and conditioning. Jarryd doesn’t want to do a media tour and/or try to dig up every potential endorsement. He just wants to go to work and attack the learning curve.

Why do I want to represent him? I had enough contacts down-under and throughout the sport that confirmed to me, that Jarryd Hayne is the “real deal”, a “special player”. I am a huge rugby fan (attended many matches) and never got to experience rugby league (there is a difference) in person but always thought it was the closest game to the NFL game. On top of that, I really admire the culture of rugby and rugby league. It’s the greatest fraternity in the world. The guys spend a lot of time with each other, and are really supportive of one another through long seasons, always putting the team first.

Even though Hayden Smith of the Saracens didn’t make it with the Jets for a second year in 2013, he accomplished something no one has ever done before (outside of punters). He went from never touching a football in March to playing in a game in October and catching a pass in December. It was a positive experience for all involved and getting to be a part of Hayden’s journey was worth more money than I could make. We remain great friends.

I strongly feel Jarryd’s journey will also be unique, fulfilling and rich. I for one, love being a part of something groundbreaking in my industry. The young man has been dreaming about this chance for years, is taking a big pay-cut to make this happen, and has a deep dark determination that can’t be measured by tapes and stopwatches. That’s the type of people I love busting my ass for.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Time to change the Combine

When you hear Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen talk about how much bigger and faster the players are getting each year, you have to wonder where the comparison should stop from players of the past.

The whole reason why drills, schedules and formatting of the Combine remain the same is so evaluators can always compare

When you hear Mike Mayock and Rich Eisen talk about how much bigger and faster the players are getting each year, you have to wonder where the comparison should stop from players of the past.

The whole reason why drills, schedules and formatting of the Combine remain the same is so evaluators can always compare to the prior years attendees. However, this thinking/formula is flawed now because the evolution of training and preparing for the Combine has accelerated so dramatically over the last fifteen years. If I were an evaluator I wouldn’t compare a player’s combine performance to another player going back more than eight years.

In 1999, Mark Verstegen launched his first Athletes Performance (Now Exos with 7 locations) facility in Tempe, AZ. I know this because I sent him half of his first class. Other trainers like Chip Smith of CES, Tom Shaw and several others have been prepping players for over fifteen years now and have continually gotten better at having participants peak for their Combine workout. As of late, a bigger focus has been on nutrition, speed mechanics and bringing in former NFL players and coaches to tutor each player in drills and interviews.

The main reason for the Combine still remains the medicals and physical component. And everyone believes it is the most necessary and most important component of the Combine. But players and agents are growing more resistant to this current format and a change is needed or the NFLPA could force one to happen in what could have a showdown like capacity.

The current format has players getting in line for physicals at 6:30 am, standing in line for hours, then having their limbs, joints, knees and shoulders being pulled, pushed and rotated to their limits. Some doctors are more aggressive than others and some have minimal experience in the field.

Numerous players, including 310 pound plus lineman are crammed in an MRI machine for up to 30 minutes or more. Some players reported that the air in the MRI machine was not working and when they asked to be removed because they were feeling claustrophobic, they wouldn’t immediately do so and told them to be still for 15 more minutes. If you ever been in an MRI machine you can relate to these issues. Then imagine you are 6’5” 315 pounds. These machines are not made for these size men. It’s truly a “cattle call”.

So after very little sleep (most players settle down about midnight after their interviews and snacks), much standing around without food or sometimes even a place to sit, being pulled at, tugged at, even accused of hiding an injury, it’s on to an energy draining cybex test, having up to seven or more vials of blood drawn, and then off to more meetings. That coupled with another long evening and they are supposed to be fresh for the biggest audition of their life that also takes place on national TV? Oh, and all performed in some really tight fitting florescent clothes you are forced to wear.

Of course, this is a stressful time for these young men trying to get drafted as high as possible, not embarrass themselves, make great impressions, begin their dream and perform at their very best under duress in a stressful environment. I know there are worse things, but the Combine needs to grow up, mature, get with the times and make some more adjustments that are simply common sense.

For starters, here are some changes that should be made:

Players should be allowed to come a day earlier if they choose. The Combine started an extra day earlier this year. The extra day was meant to allow for more sleep, travel recovery time, more/longer informal interviews, and make for a more civil pace for everyone. But for some reason none of the players felt any more rested than years before. I believe just more things/activities were crammed into that extra day.

Physicals, drawing of blood and even opportunity for interviews should be “AFTER” the players perform all the on-field drills and forty. Essentially, the schedule of the combine should be flipped around. Would this mean all the players who would perform under these more friendly conditions would do better than all those before them? Perhaps, but it’s a new era and now is the time to make these adjustments.

Formal interviews should be increased to 20 minutes from 15. Juniors and QBs should be 30 minutes and the players should have the right to choose which teams they want to meet with in case there is limited time for them. Additionally, all player meetings should cease at 9:00pm. They currently run to 11:00pm. Having the extra day on the front end could help the whole process.

No physicals, scans, X-rays, tests or meetings should start before 9:00am. Players come from all over the country and come from different time zones. Players from Pacific time zones who have to be at the doctor’s for MRI’s at 7:30am are getting up at 3:30am Pacific time and will be up for the remainder of the day (their first full day in Indy).

Each player should have their own room: There are some really funny stories floating around about the roommate situations at the Combine. Players get stuck with roommates who snore, want to sleep with the TV left on, stay up late on the phone and keep the other player awake. The NFL makes good money on the Combine so buck up and give the players their own rooms.

I did run into NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith and player president Eric Winston one day. They were making their rounds and talking to a lot of agents and players and getting a feel for the whole environment and listening to grievances from agents. So don’t be surprised if the Players Association asks for a bigger role in shaping future Combines.

Follow me On Twitter: @Jackbechta

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2015 NFL Combine Musings

If you watch the NFL Combine this year you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Players have been preparing for this week since their last college game. It’s also the official unofficial kickoff of free agency. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.


If you watch the NFL Combine this year you are only seeing the tip of the iceberg. Players have been preparing for this week since their last college game. It’s also the official unofficial kickoff of free agency. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Here are few highlights of the events of the 2015 NFL Combine

Evaluators: Agents and NFL brass have a love-hate relationship with the likes of Mike Mayock, Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Daniel Jeremiah, and all the draft pundits (side note: if you are a parent of a 2015 draftee, please quit reading the internet about your sons draft grade). These evaluators have never met your son, been to his campus to watch him work, interviewed him, read his medical records, talked to his position coach, nor watched hours of tape on him, and/or know what makes him tick).

Now, these guys do put in some work on the top 100 rated players. However, there is a huge drop off in work after the top 100-120 draftees. Last year many of these guys gave my client LB Anthony Hitchens of the Cowboys a late round to even a free agent grade. When the Cowboys took him in the 4th round some even mentioned it was a “reach”. Anthony ended up starting 11 games for the Cowboys and played like he was a 2rd round pick or better. I do think Mayock and Jeremiah are more in tune to the process than the others but they are limited to getting the same type of intel Ted Thompson gets or the grinding area/regional scouts.

Now on the flip side, we want these evaluators talking up our clients. A little media hype never hurts.

What do players really think about the Combine?

I’ve been representing players since 1986 and have had well over 100 clients attend Combine. I make a practice of asking players what they thought about their experience there. The answers are pretty consistent:

Here are the typical replies I got, including from some players who attended in 2013 and 14′.

“What a bunch of hype for a total of 30 minutes of work.”

“The meetings are a joke, it’s basically a few handshakes, and a few questions that could be answered by going to my college bio.”

“I’ll never want to do anything like that again. So stressful for what it was actually for. Those conditions will rarely show the best an athlete has to give.”

“I wish I spent more of that time preparing on football position stuff like studying film, formations, schemes, and NFL rules. The hype doesn’t match the actual performance of what we are asked to do. I felt I spent more time running around, waiting around, and standing around than being evaluated”

The Combine is in desperate need of tweaking. Now that it has become a moneymaker for ESPN (analysis/results) and the NFL Network (aired on NFL Network) the tail is wagging the dog. Meaning that it’s now another method exploiting free labor for profit. If any changes are made to the Combine they will be for the consideration of the TV/Media Networks first and their needs. Never the players. Maybe the NFLPA should ask the NFL to pay players to perform. I know, this sounds like greedy agent talk, right? Well not everyone of these players make it, the NFL and its partners are making money from the event so why not trickle it down from the billionaires to the guys we are turning on the TV to watch.

Front office traits: Attending the combine can give one an idea of how front offices are run, the standards that the owner, the president and/or the head coach and GM command from their employees. For example, some staffs will rarely ever be seen out about the town after 9:00pm getting a drink with the boys. Some front offices out work many others by getting as many interviews as possible, tracking down agents, meeting several times discussing personnel, free agency and draft grades. Others attend Indy rudderless without a plan and let their scouts, coaches and front office people act independently.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Looking back on the 2014 season

Last year I made some good and worthless predictions. Looking back on some of the off field happenings I see some positive trends unfolding.

Diagnosed concussion decline continues: In 2013, concussions were down 13% from 2012. In 2014, concussions were down 25% from 2013. Hopefully this trend

Last year I made some good and worthless predictions. Looking back on some of the off field happenings I see some positive trends unfolding.

Diagnosed concussion decline continues: In 2013, concussions were down 13% from 2012. In 2014, concussions were down 25% from 2013. Hopefully this trend will continue because concussions are serious injuries with long-term consequences. Players, coaches and trainers are realizing it’s no longer acceptable for the tough guy to hide the injury and keep on playing. Props to everyone in the food chain who is helping to make the game safer.

The blackout rule finally getting blacked-out: In September 2014, the FCC unanimously voted to end the long-standing blackout rule, which prohibits games in local markets to be televised only when a team sells out. The spirit of the rule was to force fans to buy tickets to see a local game and to control what NFL games are seen locally on “FREE” TV.

The blackout rule still exists with the NFL but it’s no longer a Federal rule or law. The NFL can still encourage or even demand that its broadcast partners not show a game in the local market. However, they have to be careful not to piss off the federal government. But with live streaming for pay (or certain media plans) here now, they will most certainly use it arguing the game is available in all local markets, regardless of sellouts.

Personally, I want access to all NFL games, on every screen I own, wherever I am located and I am willing to pay for it. And the NFL knows you are willing to pay as well. It’s simple supply vs. demand economics.

2014/15 season NFL player and employee behavior: Being a former investment consultant, I always take a contrarian view on everything. With all the attention given to the Ray Rice incident, Adrian Peterson’s fall from grace, Johnny Manziel entering rehab, Terrence Cody being charged for animal cruelty, and Warren Sapp being arrested for soliciting prostitutes, there is a silver lining in the number of off-field social issues facing the NFL.

In 2014, there were about forty NFL players arrested, mostly for DUI’s/DWI’s and possession of small amounts of marijuana. Considering there are over 2,400 coming on and off rosters every year, the percentage of arrests compared to all US males in this age range is well below the national average. Additionally, these young alpha males have more time, money and status on their hands, which is the perfect cocktail for even more potential trouble. There are also over 3,000 NFL employees who for the most part, according to arrest records also behave better than the overall population. Given the circumstances, NFL players and employees as a whole are better well-behaved citizens than we give them credit for.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Tony “The Tongan” Moeaki

One client I’m happy to see in the Super Bowl this year is TE Tony Moeaki. Tony has had some tough luck since entering the league. In his rookie year it was looking like he was going to be the next coming of Tony Gonzalez. Tony was drafted in the 3rd round and in

One client I’m happy to see in the Super Bowl this year is TE Tony Moeaki. Tony has had some tough luck since entering the league. In his rookie year it was looking like he was going to be the next coming of Tony Gonzalez. Tony was drafted in the 3rd round and in his rookie campaign he caught 47 passes for 556 yards and 3 TDs. Including this spectacular TD catch.

Going into his second season it was looking like he was about to surpass his rookie numbers. However, while carrying the majority of the load during camp because two other tight ends were hurt, Tony was left in late in the 4th quarter. Due to the injuries to the other players, the coaching staff had Tony in the game playing against the two’s and three’s, mostly players who would be released and playing for their lives. A hit eventually came to the knee that gave Tony an ACL tear that knocked him out for the season.

In his third season, Tony wasn’t quite recovered from his ACL tear but went full speed in camp anyway and ended up carrying a lot of the work load again. You see he’s the kind of player who never complains, and loves to compete so he will never turn down a practice, preseason or game rep. It seems the University of Iowa breeds these kinds of players (Tim Dwight, Pat Angerer, Riley Reiff, Bob Sanders, Aaron Kampman, Marshal Yanda, Jon Babineaux and countless more.)

These types of players are their own worst enemy when it comes to managing their bodies. They want to compete so badly and at any cost that they will continue to risk injury as opposed to taking a day off, cutting back on their reps and/or communicating to team docs or trainers in fear of potentially losing their job. Tony is one of these types that just keep going, sacrificing his long-term career to compete right now.

After Tony labored through his third season with 33 catches and only one TD he got his knee scoped again and things were looking up for year four. His knee was finally healed and was feeling like his old self again and was planning for a big year. Then, in the third preseason game, late in the game against the Steelers, he got hit after making a catch that resulted in a non-displaced fracture of his scapula. An injury where you could do nothing but let the bone heal for about ten weeks. KC put him on injured reserved and I eventually did an injury settlement to try to get him on another roster by the end of the year and hopefully help a team in the playoffs.

The Bills ended up signing Tony and gave him a premium contract for the remainder of 2013 and 2014. The Bills didn’t make the playoffs and Tony was held back from being activated but practiced with the team as if he was going to play. Regardless, the Bills brass and coaching staff were excited to have Tony in their arsenal for the 2014 season.

Early in camp Tony had a mild hamstring pull and was rehabbing back to play in the final two preseason games. During his rehab Tony pushed hard during multiple 100 yards sprints, and pulled his hamstring again. It was extremely frustrating because he’d never had a hamstring issue. In speaking with the Bills, we mutually agreed it was best for us to part ways and have Tony rehab on his own with a therapist of his choice. Therefore, I did an injury settlement with the hopes Tony would be ready to workout for teams about week six of the regular season.

(Side note: It’s a really unorthodox and uncomfortable situation for a player to go into a team training room everyday during the season, knowing that as soon as he is healthy the team is going to release him. He has to see his teammates everyday knowing they won’t be his teammates in several weeks. In the meantime, the front office is always trying to do injury settlements to remove the player form their trainer’s workload. A seasoned agent won’t try to play doctor and predict when the player will be 100%. So it becomes like two people who filed for divorce but are still forced to live together everyday until it’s final. It’s not a fun way to go to work everyday).

We found Tony a great personal trainer in his hometown of Chicago to rehab and train him. After six weeks, Tony told me he was ready to roll. However, there was a great challenge ahead in finding Tony a job. GM’s don’t like bringing players in who didn’t have a healthy preseason camp or play in any games. They also worry that they won’t be in shape and will most likely get hurt again and the team has to eat their salary for a year while being on IR.

After two weeks of burning up the phone lines trying to get Tony a job, a workout or a sniff, I kept hearing the same thing, “love the player but worried about the body”. It wasn’t looking good. So I went to Chicago on or about week 9 of the regular season. I went and watched Tony workout to see first-hand what type of shape he was in. I watched him work and was so impressed I filmed the workout on my phone. My conviction was so deep about his health I started bugging every team again that I knew could use a productive TE. I even asked the Chiefs if they would bring him back. I was literally badgering the Seahawks front office until I wore them out. A few hours later GM John Schneider called back granting a workout, flying him in the next day. I could tell in his voice he was a little reluctant but we had a long working history and he knew he could trust me.

(Side note: Agents are always trying to get their out of work clients tryouts and do anything to get it done. The agent usually has to rely on the client’s word that he is in great workout shape. There are times we send players for a workout in midseason and they just bomb. Then, the Pro Personnel Director or GM gets embarrassed in front of their coaching staff that usually runs the workouts. Thus, they become very surgical as to whom they bring in for workouts. In addition, it’s very challenging for TEs, WRs, DBs, and RBs to stay sharp if they don’t have access to a quality QB or a structured environment.)

On the following Tuesday (the typical workout day for street free agents), John called me and said, “Damn you were right Jack, he is in great shape. I think we are going to sign him.” I said what do you mean “think”, sign him now or someone else will.” They decided to sign him on the spot and he immediately impressed the coaches and they eventually activated him for the Chiefs game on Nov. 16.

I couldn’t believe how serendipitous it was that it would be the game Tony would show himself again. The Seahawks lost, but Tony played well and even scored a touchdown against the team that drafted him and released him. It was pretty special as even some of Tony’s former Chiefs teammates were caught celebrating for him. Even the classy Chiefs fans gave him some love. Everyone was happy to see Tony climb his way back into the league.

Since being signed by the Seahawks, Tony has only had eight catches but has been playing a contributing role by grading out high on his blocking scores, catching six of his passes for crucial first downs and helping a blossoming Luke Willson carry the load for the Seahawks TE friendly offense.

Everyone that knows Tony knows his warrior competitive spirit and is rooting for his success this weekend. When a young player sustains several injuries in his first four years he is usually out of the league by now. It takes a lot of desire and self-motivation to keep fighting by yourself when you feel the door closing on your career.

As and agent and friend to my clients, these are they guys I/we love to fight for and get great personal satisfaction when we can help make the difference in keeping a fragile career alive.

The NFL is littered with great comeback stories like Johnny Jolly (Packers), Rolando McClain, and Willis McGahee. And behind every comeback is an agent with conviction and an NFL personnel man willing take a chance.

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A taste of the Senior Bowl

Most agents and football people will tell you they have a love-hate relationship with the annual pilgrimage to Mobile. Although the focus is supposed to be on the players, there’s a lot more going on around town than meets the eye.

Here are a few things I noticed after my first 48 hours

Most agents and football people will tell you they have a love-hate relationship with the annual pilgrimage to Mobile. Although the focus is supposed to be on the players, there’s a lot more going on around town than meets the eye.

Here are a few things I noticed after my first 48 hours in Mobile:

Challenging practice schedule for evaluators on Day 1: I’m hearing complaints by scouts about the way the schedule was laid out on Tuesday. The North team practiced at 12:15 to 2:15 at one field, then the South team practiced at another field from 2:30 to 4:30. That field is about thirty minutes away. There is a very limited time frame to evaluate and get exposure to players, and the tight scheduling made it difficult for scouts. The players usually have team meetings in the morning and a mandatory media or social function in the evening. From 8:30 pm to 11:00, teams are allowed to conduct formal interviews with players. By this time, everyone is usually fried from the long day.

Its obvious the Senior Bowl caters to the “wants” of the local community. The event brings in millions of dollars to hotels, restaurants and local businesses. It helps to keep Mobile relevant in the football world.

Star power is waning: Before the media explosion (NFL Network coverage, hundreds of bloggers, etc.) hit the Senior Bowl, the likes of Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Al Davis, Arthur Blank, and the who’s who of NFL royalty were seen just five feet from one-on-one drills on the field, while followed by the ducklings that made up their inner circle. Many owners, head coaches and even general managers have decided not to attend the practices as frequently as they used to. I think the hordes of media that are here now make it less productive for them. Years ago the town was somewhat cloaked away from the outside world.

Jerry Jones is about the only owner who consistently visits the Senior Bowl. It’s great seeing him rolling around Mobile. He doesn’t have bodyguards, he’s accessible, engaging, stops for photos, and says hello to everyone. He simply enjoys people and is a constant ambassador for the NFL and his beloved Cowboys.

New coaches and GMs get slammed: If you are a new coach or just landed a GM job you wont be able to walk five feet without an informal resume hitting you in the face. If you are a new coach or GM you really need to be scouting the best college players. However, the job seekers and well wishers have other plans for your time. Some new head coaches avoid the Senior Bowl for this reason alone, as they can’t really ever get any scouting done.

Financial advisors, accountants, and other service hucksters are outnumbering the agents: I’m not saying this is a bad thing; they have as much right to promote their business as anyone. However, the players really don’t have the time, can’t pay attention to, or have an understanding of how to manage such introductions. One clever but unprofessional professional, has been witnessed going up to players with a clipboard after practice asking for the players’ email and cell number. Unsuspecting players think he’s a scout or somebody associated with the NFL. These are some of things players and agents have to deal with while trying to work and compete for higher draft slots.

The Senior Bowl has long been a staple for the NFL and its evaluators, however, many changes have been embraced and many have not. If you watch the game on Saturday, just realize you are witnessing only the tip of the iceberg. The heart and soul of the Senior Bowl is Monday to Thursday.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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The Final Four

There are a few things these teams have in common. I’ve always said that successful teams must have these four ingredients to be a Super bowl contender.

Lets take a look at some of the common DNA that makes up these teams:

System offenses: The Patriots and the Packers probably

There are a few things these teams have in common. I’ve always said that successful teams must have these four ingredients to be a Super bowl contender.

Lets take a look at some of the common DNA that makes up these teams:

System offenses: The Patriots and the Packers probably have the oldest system of the four-playoff teams. Mature offensive systems make it easier for teams to execute and game plan because they don’t have to worry about tweaking or teaching the offense to a young player. Everything is plug in and play.

(Note: If Kubiak stays put in Baltimore for a few more years they will have a system offense that will just keep getting better and younger players can see the field sooner and thus contribute, especially wide receivers.)

Mobile QBs: Sorry Tom, it’s about the only thing you can’t do but the other three can kill you with their feet. Rodgers is a little gimpy but can still get ten yards if needed. It just takes about three big plays from a speedy QB to run unaccounted for and break the back of a defense. This is where I give the advantage to the Seahawks (if Rodgers can’t run of course). It could be the deciding factor in these playoffs.

Next up/Scouting: The Seahawks finished third in the league with the most players on injured reserved this year with 16. The NY Giants had 22 and the Ravens had 19. The Ravens and Seahawks are two teams that many feel do a great job in teaching, developing and actually playing young players. More importantly they find and invest in players like LT James Hurst who was undrafted but helped dig them out of a hole when Eugene Monroe went down. They also started John Urshel (5th Round) who was more than serviceable. The Ravens 2014 sack count was 19 and the year before it was 48. So needless to say they are headed in the right direction as an offense.

The Seahawks had a similar experience last year along the offensive line where they were scrambling to use undrafted players and bodies off the wire. Having offensive line coaches like Castillo and Cable is a huge plus. However, credit has to go to the scouting staff to for finding serviceable hidden gems that can get you deep into the playoffs.

Chemistry: Us NFL agents get to hear a lot about what goes on in NFL teams training rooms and locker rooms. I can’t emphasize enough how important a team's training staff is. If the players don’t trust them they don’t trust the organization and perhaps the coaches. If the trust is gone the coaches can't get that extra 10% they need out of their players. At least three of these four teams have training staffs that players trust (I cant attest to one team because I, not players, have yet to have enough experience with them).

Sometime early in the season when the Seahawks were struggling, the players called each other out. They actually criticized themselves for getting too soft, doing too much stuff off the field and not working as hard as they did before. It’s important for players to hold each other accountable and it's very hard for the coaches to manufacture it. It has to come from the players. Not all teams have this type of locker room.

The Patriots and Packers also have very special locker rooms. I’m hearing the Colts players all really like each other and the younger players are really setting the bar for a contagious blue-collar work ethic.

There are several other teams that have these components but may lack the QB, the coaches or the playmakers to get them over the hump. Enjoy the games!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Just getting started

You ever wonder why some teams fail and some consistently win? Besides measuring a roster for talent and a head coach for brains, there is a lot more moving parts to the NFL than meets the eye. Those teams that make all the right moves after the regular season seem to be consistently in

You ever wonder why some teams fail and some consistently win? Besides measuring a roster for talent and a head coach for brains, there is a lot more moving parts to the NFL than meets the eye. Those teams that make all the right moves after the regular season seem to be consistently in the win column (along with having a great QB).

Here’s what coming down the pike:

Jan 15th: Final date for Underclassmen to declare for the draft: Most underclassmen that will declare have declared. Those players on Oregon and Ohio Sate may hold back out of respect for their team to make their announcement. Some teams who didn’t anticipate these players coming out might have to play catch up with those who did.

Jan 11th to 17th: The 90th East West Shrine Game held in St. Petersburg Florida. The Shrine game is usually full of players drafted between the 4th and 7th rounds. Don’t be surprised to see Packers GM Ted Thompson and other high profile personnel men here looking for mid-round gems. Two years ago, I had Packers rising star and DB Micah Hyde play in this game. His position coach for that week was former Packers CB Al Harris. This is the game where scouts can make their money by confirming their opinions on players they have on their short list. It’s also a game where a QB can make a big jump, like Jimmy Garoppolo did last year to the 62nd over all pick.

Jan 19th to the 24th: The Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. About one hundred of the best college players will descend on this bayou city to show NFL teams why they should be drafted. This is also the unofficial NFL convention of NFL coaches, agents, front office execs and top media. Behind the scenes, coaches and personnel men will be interviewed, hired, and fired. Agents will start to gather intel for interest in their draft picks and upcoming free agents. Media scribes will be milling around watching, listening and gathering for any scoop they can find. Those team’s evaluators who stay out of the bars at night and away from the gossip at practice may walk away from the week with meatier reports on the top draft prospects.

Jan 25th: 2015 Pro Bowl (University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona)

Jan 25th: An assistant coach whose team is participating in the Super Bowl, who has previously interviewed for another club’s head coaching job, may have a second interview with such club no later than the Sunday preceding the Super Bowl. Those head coaches who aren’t afraid to wait for the best coaches to scoop up may be rewarded.

Feb. 1st: Super Bowl XLIX (University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona)

Feb. 2: Waiver system begins for 2015

Feb. 10: Beginning at Noon ET, NFL clubs may begin to sign players whose 2014 CFL contracts have expired.

Feb. 16: First day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

Feb. 17-23: NFL Scouting Combine (Indianapolis): This is where the fun really happens. New head coaches are rounding out their staff. Agents are getting bids on their free agents. Extensions are being negotiated for many players and draft prospects are actually being interviewed and evaluated.

March 2: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, deadline for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players.

March 7-10: Clubs are permitted to contact, and enter into contract negotiations with the certified agents of Players who will become Unrestricted Free Agents upon the expiration of their 2014 contracts. At 4 p.m. ET on March 10. However, a contract cannot be executed with a new club until 4 p.m. ET on March 10.

March 10: Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must exercise options for 2015 on all players who have option clauses in their 2014 contracts.

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.

Prior to 4 p.m. ET, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain the exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2014 contracts and who have fewer three accrued seasons.

All 2014 player contracts expire at 4 p.m. ET

2015 league year and free agency period begins (4 p.m. ET)

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Is college football about to implode?

If you read my column you already know that I’m a big proponent of taking better care of college athletes. Not because I’m an agent, but because I’ve played it and have a front row seat for the inequities.

It would actually behoove the NCAA and its member schools to share

If you read my column you already know that I’m a big proponent of taking better care of college athletes. Not because I’m an agent, but because I’ve played it and have a front row seat for the inequities.

It would actually behoove the NCAA and its member schools to share more of the wealth produced by college football. Four or five years of banging your head, lifting weights and sacrificing your health takes a bigger toll than fans realize. In addition, playing college football is equivalent to have a full time job and taking a full school load.

The NCAA and the major conferences better get proactive right now.

Coaches salaries range from $1 to $7 million dollars a year because college football is a very profitable business. Good coaches exponentially pay for themselves by producing winning records, recruiting exciting players and getting their school to big paydays, oops, I meant a big time bowl game.

The NCAA’s $15 billion dollar football and basketball contracts can’t be ignored too much longer without more of that revenue trickling down to the players who help produce it. According to the department of education, the University of Michigan produced about $81 million dollars in revenue in 2012/13, had about $23 million in expenses and about $58 million in net revenues. The top ten most profitable programs had net profits ranging from $81 million dollars to $38 million dollars. The only places in the world where the economics work like that is in third world countries where factory workers who make luxury products for compensation equals about a dollar a day.

There are two lawsuits against the NCAA that have some big teeth to them. One is the Ed O’Bannon case, which alleges that the NCAA used players’ likeliness without properly compensating them. The initial ruling in that case went against the NCAA and may go all the way to the Supreme court.

The Kessler lawsuit is the scarier of the two for the NCAA and its biggest conferences. The lawsuit is trying to promote a free market system on what players can be compensated by a university to play football. The spirit of the suit is to lift the ceiling on what football players receive as compensation (a scholarship and some meal money). The lawyers and plaintiffs really just want the money that goes into the college football coffers, to trickle down to the players.

These two cases together can blow the roof off college football as we know it. So the conferences better get more proactive in offering up more financial benefits to the student athletes and try to settle these cases now.

The bowling madness needs to end or be reformulated

There are now 38 of them and attendance is pitiful for the lower bowl games. We have 66 teams playing on days where there are some TV earning opportunities. So the NCAA and its members employ the free labor of college football players to pick up the easy money from its media partners. However, the NCAA and their member schools still profit from these games even though some have less than 5,000 bodies in actual attendance.

There are players practicing and lifting for two weeks, during finals week, and many teams are flying out, and/or practicing on Christmas day or eve. In addition, there has been about five or more players so far this year that have sustained serious injuries in these meaningless games where most teams have 6-6 records or just slightly better. Two of those players were decent NFL prospects.

Last year, one of my clients sustained a fractured fibula in one of those worthless bowl games. He was slated to be about a third round pick, and after 49 straight starts at left tackle for his school, he was left with a plate and eight screws in his foot. He couldn’t play in the Senior Bowl, participate in the NFL Combine and could barely workout on his pro day. The injury cost him a few million dollars but the NCAA and the schools made their bowl monies. At least insure players against potential lost income.

Another issue with many of these bowls is that the families of these players can’t really afford to attend them but do anyway. I’m not saying get rid of them all but give the potential pro players and/or those serious students the right to opt out of the bowl game and practices. Why risk millions for a meaningless game?

College players are starting to figure out the economics and are getting close to standing up for more rights they deserve. The NCAA and the big conferences need to quit playing defense and start sharing the wealth before the courts make them.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Exporting the NFL

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Is the NFL’s strategy on expansion insane? It’s definitely expensive.

I’ve been to about thirty countries and I’m always curious about how the NFL is received abroad. Unfortunately, my foreign friends

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Is the NFL’s strategy on expansion insane? It’s definitely expensive.

I’ve been to about thirty countries and I’m always curious about how the NFL is received abroad. Unfortunately, my foreign friends knowledge of the league is usually limited to the off field actions of such players as OJ Simpson, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. Yep, we have an image problem abroad and the foreign media outlets love kicking dirt in our face whenever they get the chance.

Playing the London game is a small bright spot for us but it’s really limited to England. If the NFL is determined to expand and export their product, they need to start exploring some other methods.

The million-dollar foot

If you haven’t seen the movie, Million Dollar Arm, it’s a pretty good flick based on a true story. The NFL pays millions of dollars to bring six teams to London, millions more to promote the games, and millions more in logistics and activities. So, why not take a million dollars and have a worldwide contest every year?

The contest would consist of accuracy, distance, hang time and consistency. Unlike American football fans, foreigners are fascinated with our kicking game.

Because of the skill set used in soccer and rugby, foreigners come out of the womb kicking a ball. Imagine the hordes of young athletes from South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Latin America, and/or Asia who would work all year to win a million dollars, and perhaps get a try out and/or contract with an NFL team.

The NFL game is very cumbersome and difficult to learn from watching one or two games live or on TV once every year. But having the world’s attention from a contest is also a chance to teach the game. Each entrant would have to watch some videos, and then take a test online about the game before they qualify to enter the contest. That most likely will mean 10 to 15 million or more entries per year. A good percentage of these entrants will become fans. The final contest would be a worldwide TV spectacle.

Let's attract the world’s best athletes with incentives

I met Dennis Rodman in Las Vegas years ago and asked him if he ever thought about playing in the NFL as a receiver. He said he actually looked into once and was shocked to see how little players made. He said, “I couldn’t afford the pay cut and don’t want to be treated like a rookie again”. He meant “financially”.

Did you know that any pro athlete from another sport that signed with an NFL team would have to enter the league through the rookie salary pool? The rookie salary pool only has a finite amount of money carefully designated for each draft pick and a handful of undrafted free agents. Therefore, any player entering the rookie pool would have to sign a three-year deal, be limited to a tiny signing bonus and have restrictions on incentive bonuses. In essence, most players playing other sports would be taking a severe pay cut to play in the NFL.

The NFL needs to create a special category for foreigners, and/or sport changers over 24 years of age. Furthermore, there should be a roster exception for one foreigner per year per team that doesn’t count against the 90 or 53 man roster. Their contract should be a 2-year deal that does not count against the rookie salary pool. They should be part of the overall team cap.

If the NFL were sprinkled with ten or more players from around the world, the NFL would build fan bases more cheaply than moving a team to London. Countries such as Croatia, Turkey, China, Germany and Spain have tuned in to the NBA, buy apparel and consume the NBA product because of players from their country.

The NFL will have to help countries develop skill sets of athletes at a younger age with camps and the establishment of club leagues. Many of the foreign NBA players grew up playing basketball in their country.

We have been playing NFL games in Europe for over twenty years if you count the NFL Europe venture. I attend the London games each year and I see growth, but it’s at a snails pace. The NFL is truly pushing the proverbial boulder up the mountain.

There are many other entertaining, strategic and less expensive ways to garner foreign consumers of the game.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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NFL Players Christmas List

Spending a lot of time around NFL players and their families, I get to see what they spend their money on. When you’re a professional athlete you have two assets many of us don’t; time and money. When one has time and money they usually can figure the latest and coolest toys to buy.

Spending a lot of time around NFL players and their families, I get to see what they spend their money on. When you’re a professional athlete you have two assets many of us don’t; time and money. When one has time and money they usually can figure the latest and coolest toys to buy. So what do pro athletes want and what can you ladies buy your man?

Here’s a list of what’s trending on pro athletes wish list:

1) Hair it is: Facial hair gone wild looks to be a fad that’s not going away any time soon. I've never seen so many pro athletes letting it all hang out. Facial hair is the equivalent to the tattoo rage of the 90’s. Here are some ideas to tame the Grizzly Adams wannabe in your house.

Tom Ford for conditioning beard oil for men. If he won’t shave it, he may manage it by hydrating, softening and giving it some shine. With signature manly scents such as musky oud wood, sweet tobacco vanille and piney Neroli, how can he not still feel studly?

The Merkur 180 long handle by Dovo. Big guys, big beards, can mean big hands. The Merkur 180 gives your athlete a longer handle to operate with one of the best blades on the planet. Dovo’s lines of shavers are known for quality.

2) Ear to ear: Any time you see an NFL football player walking through the airport or going through his pre-game ritual, he’s usually sporting some earphones. We all see the dominance of Beats by doctor Dre’, but the fastest growing trend I’m seeing is athletes getting custom fitted earpieces.

Ultimate Ears UE-5 custom fitted headphones are getting raves reviews. Once you experience the custom fitted headphones it’s hard to settle for the universal models. These headphones are tailored for each individual’s ears. Athletes love anything that is unique to them and so will any baller in your life.

Another more affordable option: Fuze custom earphones, About $50

3) Grind it: I had a client with the Jets a few years ago who actually had an espresso machine in his locker. It was so popular he had more guys stopping by for some caffeine than he had cups.

I’ve noticed more and more athletes are trading Gatorade bottles for coffee mugs.

Here are some of the more popular models you might find:

The Ratio automatic pour over. You’ll most likely find this in the QB’s meeting rooms. QB's are patient and want to design a proper coffee. This costly but worth-it maker provides perfect engineered coffee with the touch of one button.

The Nepresso citiZ espresso machine machine provides simplicity, quickness and convenience. For those looking for a quick fix

4) Drive for show: Golf is becoming more and more popular among players in the offseason. With no time for practice or lessons these guys want to play well and play well now. Here are some ideas for the golf enthusiast who hates to lose.

ZEPP mobile analysis tool: Instant 3D feedback and analysis of your golf swing will allow you to fix the most fatal of slices quicker than ever. With a Bluetooth device attached, you can swing away and get the instant feedback you need on your mobile device on what’s really going wrong.

Optishot simulator: No time for a full round? Optishot will allow you to play full rounds in under an hour from the comfort of your own home. You can swing away with all of your clubs and project onto your HDTV for a full playing experience. Note: There is a foam ball option for those with the nasty hook.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Stay or Go?

Last year, there were roughly 250 college underclassman that applied to be graded by the NFL’s underclassman advisory committee. The process incorporates a cross section of NFL scouts and/or scouting directors who form an opinion on a players potential draft status. The information that comes back to the player is usually vague.


Last year, there were roughly 250 college underclassman that applied to be graded by the NFL’s underclassman advisory committee. The process incorporates a cross section of NFL scouts and/or scouting directors who form an opinion on a players potential draft status. The information that comes back to the player is usually vague.

By the deadline of Jan 15, 2014, 98 underclassmen declared for the draft. 62 were later drafted, while 36 went undrafted. 16 were drafted in the first round.

So did those drafted below the first round make a mistake by declaring early? What about those who were taken very late or not drafted at all? There’s no doubt some players entered the draft prematurely and several others, regardless of where they were drafted made the right decision.

So how does a young player and his family make an informed decision when so many people with the information he needs has bias, liability and conflicts?

The first thing a young player and his family have to realize is that exploring his option of declaring is NOT being selfish. Football is a team sport with a stigma that if one focuses on his own future he is being selfish and putting his team second, primarily because the research and inquiries that need to be made have to start during the season. College coaches and administrators don’t like their players looking over the horizon and are usually very reluctant to help them and give them the time, respect and resources to make an informed decision. Hence, many universities are guilty of being selfish by not giving a young man the help he needs.

When a player doesn’t get the unbiased help they need from their university, they rely on sources that are readily available to seek an opinion. Those sources are usually conflicted agents who most likely want the player to come out.

So what’s the best way for an underclassman to proceed? Here are 10 things every player should consider before making a decision.

1) A player and his family should let their intentions be known before the start of their third college season (usually his junior year). This way, it doesn’t come as a surprise to his coaching staff, and if he does leave the coaches can start preparing to replace the player. The player should appoint one family member or qualified family confidant as their point person to acquire and sort information as it comes in. There are no reasons to keep one’s intentions private. If a player tells his head coach/pro college liaison that he wants to explore entering the draft early, it’s their moral duty to inform scouts of the player’s intentions. If a player feels his university is not supportive and wont relay the intention to the NFL community, then he should announce it publicly.

2) Apply to the NFL advisory committee right at the end of the regular season. Don’t wait. Be one of the first in line to get your evaluation letter. Also note that the advisory board has to be conservative in their projections.

3) Players must ask themselves some important questions before they consider coming out. Questions such as: Will my coaching staff continue to help my growth and development as a football player? Will my school's strength and conditioning program continue to help get me bigger, stronger and quicker? Are my coaches helping continually raise my football IQ? Am I endangering my health by staying another year? Does my university have my best interests in mind, or only their own?

4) A player must consider his health. If he has some degenerative knee, back/spine and/or concussion history he may be on track for a short NFL career. So why not get started a year early. Also, do your trainers and doctors always look out for your best interests?

The other question is, am I taking a beating and am I seriously risking injury by staying in the same system?For example, you may be a QB with no offensive line who gets sacked and hit 10 times a game. Or a running back, who normally has a short shelf life anyway, getting 30 plus carries a game. If there is great risk of injury at your university you strongly consider leaving early.

5) Can I duplicate or improve on my previous season? Many players who have a great junior year have a hard time duplicating or topping it the following year. Usually because opponents work harder to stop the player the following year.

6) Seek opinions from retired experts. There are numerous retired NFL evaluators who would love to give an opinion on a player’s drafts status. Just make sure you get the right ones. Greg Gabriel, Daniel Jermiah, Jerry Angelo, Louis Riddick, Charley Casserly and Ted Sundquist are just a few good ones.

7) Don’t trust the Internet! So many young players declare because they saw their name rated high on a draft blog. Dig into the source and don’t rely on just any one website.

8) Ask the agent community! Don’t ask the agent community. 75% of all agents will be biased in recommending a player come out early if that agent thinks he can sign that player. However, experienced agents are direct conduits to the scouting community and their opinions. They can get the information a player needs to make an informed decision. But it’s best to have someone from the school filter the information to keep the agent honest.

9) Look at the history of the draft and the position you play. If you are a guard, center, fullback, H-back, tight end, safety, kicker, punter and even a Sam linebacker, there is a good chance you won’t be a first round pick anyway. There are very few at these positions that get drafted in the first round. Therefore, if you are most likely a fourth round graded center after your junior year there is a good chance you will only be a 3rd round graded center at best your senior year.

10) Is money important to you? The higher one is drafted the more money they will make in their first year. So doing everything possible to get into that first round makes sense. That usually means staying for your senior year. However, scouts can be forgiving for juniors and harder on seniors. There are several cases where players were rated as first round picks after a strong junior campaign. Then they get game planned and hyped so much they’re never able to duplicate and live up to their previous season. And sometimes the scouting community just starts looking for flaws on the highest rated players.

Players who were three-year starters at their university and have accomplished all they can accomplish should look favorably into coming out early. All others should really be more conservative and lean on staying in. The bottom line is to recruit your university into the process, get opinions from multiple sources, don’t let the process become a distraction and don’t make an emotional decision. Make an informed business decision.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Landing the first client

The number one question agents are always asked by anyone is, “How did you get started?”

This is an important week for agents. Many college football players and their universities open the window to the agent interview process. The week after the last regular season game is usually when players start thinking about

The number one question agents are always asked by anyone is, “How did you get started?”

This is an important week for agents. Many college football players and their universities open the window to the agent interview process. The week after the last regular season game is usually when players start thinking about narrowing down their choices of agents, or, outright making their selection. For those going to a playoff and Bowl game they usually wait until after the playoff game and sometimes after the bowl game. However, 95% of college players usually commit to an agent within a few days after their bowl game.

This time of year is stressful for agents as we wait for players to make contact with us, make a decision or confirm a meeting. Or, to hear that they’re, “going in another direction”.

Before the Internet, pre-draft web sites, the NFL Network, and before the avalanche of information came to be in this digital age, opinions on draftable prospects were scarce. If you didn’t know a scout or two you were banking on a players reputation, and maybe a scouting report from one of only two publications in the marketplace.

I was lucky enough to play college football at a small Texas school (Texas A&I Univ., now called Texas A&M-Kingsville) that was consistently producing NFL talent.

My junior year, I had a front row seat to watch my teammate Hall of Famer, Darrell Green, get scouted weekly and eventually get drafted in the first round. My suite-mate, Lloyd Lewis was also a top prospect and our phone (before cell phones) was always ringing with agents and scouts. I had the job of screening those calls and relaying messages. I also went through the pro day process of being evaluated so that was the extent of my exposure to the scouting and agent process.

After I graduated, I started working for investment banking firm E. F. Hutton in Corpus Christi, TX. After reading a Wall Street Journal article about how players were getting ripped off and always losing their money, I got certified as an agent with no knowledge, plan or guidance. I just wanted to help players protect their wealth and it was a way for me to stay close to football.

After watching some of the players I played with, I went back to my alma mater and sat down with two of the team’s best players, a receiver and a defensive tackle. Both looked the part but weren’t very instinctive. Nonetheless, I signed them and had no clue what the hell I was doing. They didn’t get drafted but they did get signed as undrafted free agents.

That year, 1987, was the strike year so there was a vacuum for bodies needed as replacements players. One of my players got to play in all three strike games and was seen by a lot of other teams. Once the strike was over, he was let go but was recruited hard by four different teams. He bounced around the league for two years and never stuck, but I got valuable experience and made a lot of good contacts with GMs and personnel directors.

Mike DyalLanding the first client is the most difficult.

The following year I was really impressed with a tight end from my school named Mike Dyal. Mike was recruited as a QB, then went to wide receiver and kept getting bigger and eventually was moved to tight end. I got to see Mike play several times. Playing the same position at the same school, I really appreciated his talent. He was fast, smooth, and a good blocker with great hands. I was also naively convicted that he would make it.

Mike was actually recruited by a few other agents but eventually signed with me. I still wasn’t polished at the job, as I was still a full-time investment consultant and our offices’ retirement specialist, so I was working about 60 hours a week for Hutton.

I started calling teams, as I was accustomed to cold calling, and was very comfortable on the phone. I was surprised that most teams never heard of Mike Dyal so I went into sales mode. In 1988, game film from a small school was finite and hard to duplicate. So I had Mike bunker down in Kingsville and painstakingly make a highlight tape. After weeks of work we had a VHS tape, which I then had to make copies of. The work was laborious, cumbersome, and time consuming. I managed to produce about 32 tapes, which I sent out (along with a detailed bio of Mike) to all 28 teams.

I then waited for the calls to come in from my efforts but the only thing I got was the sounds of crickets. I started aggressively calling teams to encourage them to look at the highlight tape. In doing so I discovered two things. One, many teams graduated to Super VHS and/or another system all together. Ouch! So I went back to the drawing board and got the tape made in Super-VHS and mailed those out. Again, nothing but crickets. The second thing I learned was that scouts weren’t going to go out of their way and spend time in Kingsville unless there was a top prospect there.

The draft was a month away and I knew the Cowboys, the Raiders and the Vikings all spent some intimate time on campus doing some work on Mike. Thus, I figured I’d best keep in touch with these teams. However, the stress was building and I was getting desperate.

I went to visit a friend in Tampa and I brought a highlight tape with me to present to the Bucs then college scouting director, Jerry Angelo. Jerry granted me 20 minutes. He spent time advising me how to find players, what books and magazines I should subscribe to and to always be sure that prospects have minimal measurables such as size and speed to play the game. I eventually presented Jerry with a Dyal highlight tape and was hoping he would watch it on the spot. He didn’t. Even worse, he pointed to the back wall of his office to show me a pile of highlight tapes waist deep by ten feet wide. As I looked at the pile, sinking in my chair, I realized it was a highlight tape graveyard and pictured 28 similar cemeteries around the league.

Jerry ended up graciously spending two hours with me and was nice enough to give me a crash course on scouting, contacting teams and promoting players.

A few days before the twelve round draft I finally got a call from Al Davis’ right hand man, George Karras. George was telling me that he was watching my tape and was very impressed. He started selling me on Mike being a Raider but I was confused because I was thinking they would just draft him.

On the day of the draft, I then got another call from a Cowboys scout, Walter Juliff, who is still a member of their staff. Walter took the time to educate me that they wouldn’t draft Mike but would want him as a free agent.

With twelve rounds at the time and about 336 players being drafted I thought for sure Mike’s name would be called. However, the phone never rang!

After the draft, Karras called me again and the local Raiders scout who lived outside of Corpus Christi was, simultaneously recruiting Mike. After taking a good look at the Raiders roster and noting an aging Todd Christensen and a backup TE who was also their deep snapper, I figured it was a great place for him to make the team.

Mike went into camp with the Raiders and caught every single pass thrown his way. Now the Raiders had a problem. Other teams were scouting Mike and they were ready to pounce if the Raiders waived him. So the Raiders did what most teams did back then to keep their young budding talent. They asked Mike to “take a dive” (aka fake an injury) in the last quarter of the last preseason game.

They told him that if he did that they would keep him on injured reserve for a year, pay his full salary and he would develop and make the team the following year.

We agreed to the strategy, the last game rolled around and Mike wasn’t getting a chance to fake the injury. They eventually had him run down on kickoff towards the end of the game. They told him to stay clear of the runner and limp and fall down. However, the kick returner was running straight at him and he ended up making the tackle and got so excited he start celebrating and forgot to fake an injury. Mike eventually starts running off the field and then it looked like a sniper hit him. He obviously remembered his script before getting to the sideline, and fell to the ground grabbing his ankle (which he did slightly hurt earlier in camp).

In Todd Christensen’s 1988 campaign as the starter, the injury bug caught up to him and the table was set for Mike to become the starter the following year, which he did. Mike caught 27 passes, had an 18.5 yard average per catch, scored 3 TDs and was even AFC player of the week.

Mike then started to refer me to teammates Tim Rother, a 4th round pick from Nebraska, Derrick Gainer, an 8th round pick from Florida A&M and RB Vance Mueller, one of Al Davis’ favorites.

By 1990 I had several Raider players and started picking up clients from around Texas. Before I knew it my sideline business grew into a full time business after landing 2nd round OL Todd Rucci from PSU (Patriots) and 3rd rounder OT Earl Dotson (Packers) from Texas A&M-Kingsville.

I have to really thank those early guys for taking a chance on me, especially Dyal, Rucci and Dotson. There were more experienced agents at the time they could have gone with. As a matter of fact, Dotson signed with an agent out of Dallas who gave him a signing bonus of $3,000. After thinking about for a few days he eventually returned the money, fired them and hired me. I went on to make him the highest paid OL in the history of the Packers and one of the highest paid right tackles in the NFL (at time of deal) on his second contract.

An agent’s first client is the hardest one to get, and sometimes the most important.

Side note:

I have a tight bond with all of my clients but those early ones are very special. Now I get to see their son’s play and may even represent them someday.

Mike Dyal’s son, QB Cade Dyal, is in the 5A Texas High school playoffs (Kerrville-Tivy) and can play in the championship in Cowboys stadium if they keep winning.

Todd Rucci has two massive athletic boys that are tearing it up at the middle school level and already look the part.

Former client, Chiefs cornerback coach and friend Al Harris’ son, Al Harris Jr., is starting for South Carolina at Corner as a true freshman. Like the old man, playing lots of press and wearing number 31.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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Is the CBA hurting young players?

When the group of veteran player reps sat down with the NFL to negotiate a long-term labor agreement in 2011, a big focus for players was putting more safeguards in the CBA to protect their bodies. Jeff Saturday and his team of 30+ year old players were successful in limiting practice schedules, reducing contact,

When the group of veteran player reps sat down with the NFL to negotiate a long-term labor agreement in 2011, a big focus for players was putting more safeguards in the CBA to protect their bodies. Jeff Saturday and his team of 30+ year old players were successful in limiting practice schedules, reducing contact, eliminating two–a-day padded practices during camp and shrinking the off season organized team activities (OTAs). The spirit of their efforts was to take their bodies out of harms way by spelling out how many times coaches can access players on the field and by putting a definitive cap on full padded/contact practices.

The result: A huge win for veteran players!

Only time will tell if we have indeed reduced injuries and prolonged the career span of the NFL player.

But in just three years we do know this: 1) A reduced salary structure for rookies and players with less than four years of experience are fiscally more attractive than pricey veterans. 2) There are younger players on rosters seeing the field with less preparation than they had prior to 2011. 3) Young QBs are really struggling. 4) We are seeing more penalties, especially from younger players.

Is this the result of the changes made to the CBA as it relates to fewer teaching opportunities? A lot of coaches and front office execs think so.

Many coaches I talk to are very frustrated with the lack of time they get with teaching young players on the field. As one NFL head coach put it to me, “I had to force myself and my staff to become more patient and tolerate the growing pains of rookie players on game day.” Another AFC offensive line coach told me, “I was able to drill my young players for hours and days without risking injury and having contact. Now I can barely get my hands on them. I’ll still develop them but it will take longer.”

As for the 2011 CBA resulting in fewer injuries, it will be hard to tell. For one, more players are being more conservative by reporting injuries and missing more practices and games. Many players in the past were scared to report injuries because they were afraid they would eventually be released being damaged goods.

As a side note, one veteran client thinks more players are getting hurt because meeting times have increased significantly in lieu of practice time. He said, “Seems like we go from hours of sitting down in meetings, then practice, then hours of sitting down again. The longer we sit we can feel our bodies get stiffer and stiffer. I would prefer we be more active without hitting”.

With no two a day padded practices during camp (which definitely had to go) and only ten days of OTA practices (organized team activities), NFL coaching staffs are extremely limited in their ability to develop younger players. For layman’s, imagine this scenario: A rookie wide receiver asks his coach prior to the official offseason workout program to go out on the field to work on his routes. The coach has to say NO, because if he took the player out on the field and walked through routes for thirty minutes it would be a violation of the CBA.

Young players need to get on the field with their coaches in the off-season and even after practice. Young players want to get some extra technical work and coaches want to coach them up. But it can’t and won’t happen. If we had better prepared young players, which teams are keeping anyway, we will also see cleaner football on Sundays, especially from the QBs.

So what can we do?

Many would like to see some coaches and the competition committee propose some additional non-padded/non contact practice sessions for players with less than four credited seasons. For example, there may be ten one hour sessions between April 15 and June 20. Then, an additional five sessions during camp and about fourteen during the season (no more than 2 per week and no longer than 60 minutes).

Young players want to be coached and need to be coached. Those coaching staffs that are loaded with good teachers will definitely have an advantage over those who don’t.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone and thanks for reading.

What am I thankful for? I’m thankful for….

Getting to watch players like Steve Smith who play football the way it should be played, to the echo of the whistle, going hard on every play and being physical.

Representing America loving blue collar studs like Pat Angerer, Al Harris, Earl Dotson, Eric Steinbach, Todd Rucci, Tim Dwight and Kelly Gregg who are now retired, and many others). These guys did it the right way and left a huge wake of respect on every field they ever touched. Pleasure was all mine.

That the football world has finally woke up and quit ignoring the severity and dangers of concussions.

That college football finally has a playoff system. Amen!

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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What If…

Being an agent I get to hear players and coaches talk about the league in private. They talk about which coaches they love and hate, who's smart and who's dumb, who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t. The chatter you don’t get to hear would surprise most fans. In listening to coaches and

Being an agent I get to hear players and coaches talk about the league in private. They talk about which coaches they love and hate, who's smart and who's dumb, who knows what they’re doing and who doesn’t. The chatter you don’t get to hear would surprise most fans. In listening to coaches and players over the years, here are some “What if” scenarios that may surprise you.

What if…. All players were free agents after this year and could sign wherever they wanted. Where would they go?

Considering that the head coaches stayed put and all the QB’s did as well, and the contracts were equal; these are the teams players would most likely choose:

Seattle Seahawks: The state of Washington has no state taxes so most players would receive an automatic 5% to 10% raise. Pete Carroll makes football fun and laid back but he still motivates and wins. And, they’re the “it” team right now. Players around the league talk and compare. Players talk to each other about training rooms, practice routines, locker room chemistry and finger pointing within their organizations. Players will come here for the organization.

Miami Dolphins: Players want to go to this team more for Miami than they do the Dolphins. Florida also has no state taxes, a decent cost of living and many players’ workout, vacation and train there in the off-season. Florida also produces the most NFL players, and players from Florida prefer to stay close to home. So just for the fact that so many NFL players are from the southeast they would likely flock to the city they could live in and play in year round.

Tennessee Titans: If you never been to Nashville you’ll find a city with Midwestern values, southern charm and well balanced in every manner. It’s centrally located to players who are from the midwest, east coast, and/or southeast. It too has no state taxes and a friendly cost of living. I’ve had a few players move there after they retired. There’s entertainment, great food and it’s a good place to raise a family. These traits help to overcome the lack of success by the team as of late.

Green Bay Packers: NFL players really respect a winning QB. They respect Brees, Rodgers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. Players talk about these guys with the utmost respect and favor. Offensive specialty players know they will have more success if they have a good QB. Rodgers is a QB who is ego-less, tough and fun to play with. Word around the league is that Green Bay is a special place and the players get treated very well.

In talking to several current and retired coaches lately the subject of who were the best head coaches ever came up. So here is another fun what if based off these conversations.

What if… You could hire one coach out from behind the TV camera to coach and build your team for three years? Here are our choices: Tony Dungy, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Brian Billick, and Jimmy Johnson.

My choice without question would be Jimmy Johnson. I don’t care that he’s 71. Players love playing for him, he’s tough but fair and can motivate. He has an eye for talent and knows whom to hire as assistants. I would let him run my draft as well. The coaches and players who worked and played for him are constantly singing his praises and any coach in the league would love to work for him.

Who would you hire?

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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5 best NFL venues

I’ve asked several agents, media types and other professionals in our industry what their favorite stadium venues were. Along with my own experiences, here are our favorite venues. In selecting our venues, we considered the city experience, ease of logistics, pre-game, post-game and the game time experience.

Here are our top five stadiums

I’ve asked several agents, media types and other professionals in our industry what their favorite stadium venues were. Along with my own experiences, here are our favorite venues. In selecting our venues, we considered the city experience, ease of logistics, pre-game, post-game and the game time experience.

Here are our top five stadiums in no specific order:

Dallas AT&T Stadium: If you haven’t been to Jerry’s World, put it on your sports bucket list. It doesn’t even have to be for a Cowboys game but this stadium is the new world standard. What I particularly like about it is you don’t have to stay in your seat for the entire game. You can bounce around and still see the games from the many TVs, screens and the massive HD digital display.

Additionally, if you are located in some premium seating areas you may get access to some fantastic club lounges complete with the premium champagne or tequila bars. The tunnel bar is a glass venue that allows you to see the players and coaches walk right by as they enter and leave the field.

Prior to the game, there is some elaborate tailgating going on with some of the most exotic grills and setups I’ve ever seen.

The only downside of Texas stadium is the location outside of some of the better areas in Dallas. However, it’s worth the trip and you won’t be disappointed. If your team is playing the Cowboys, make a road trip you’ll never forget.

Green Bay: The first time I’d ever been to Green Bay in 1993, is when I fell in love with Packer-land. Driving down, what was/is an ordinary suburban like four lane street, the Stadium pops up and out at you from behind a strip mall. Your mind tells you that this thing doesn’t belong here. There are literally backyards of houses across the street. It looks like somebody accidently dropped it there from the sky.

LambeauAlways something good to eat outside of Lambeau.

For me, Packers Stadium represents the Mecca of pro stadiums and experiences. It appears and feels like part stadium, part museum, part monument and part capitol building. It’s warm, inviting and friendly even on the coldest days in December. But what makes the Packers experience is the people/fans. They are quick to offer you luck, a brat and a beer if you are wearing an opposing teams jersey (with the exception of a Bears jersey).

Getting into and parking at the stadium is simple and cheap. Tons of tailgate parties around the stadium with live music, tents and bars. Once inside, you’ll feel the intimacy with the game action because the field is close to the seats.

Seattle: When a team is playing well and their fans have something to cheer about, it always seems like a fun atmosphere no matter where you are. However, Seattle has something more to offer than a hot team and newer stadium. The whole package is one of the best in the country.

The thing I like most about the Seattle experience is that once you arrive you don’t need a car or taxi. You can stay at one of the many cool hotels downtown, visit the many restaurants and explore the city by foot or bike. It does lack a traditional tailgating component but that’s more than made up for by all of the activities and venues the downtown has to offer.

Once inside the stadium the crowd stays electrified through four quarters and the energy is infectious. There’s definitely something organic, but yet futuristic and unique about seeing the skyline underneath the ominous northwest skies from your seat. The stadium is efficient, clean and well thought out.

Indianapolis: The Colts are lucky to have a venue that’s downtown and pedestrian friendly. It’s the reason why the NFL Combine, The Big Ten Championship and many other big events call Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium their home.

Indianapolis may be one of the best walkable sports towns in America. Downtown is stacked with hotels, restaurants and bars. You can easily park anywhere downtown, grab a sandwich and beer before the game and tailgate in the warm indoors. If you want a stress-less convenience, Indy is your spot. I would describe Colts fans as nice, mature and easygoing. It’s a good place to take the family.

As you approach Lucas field you realize you aren’t walking into a stadium but into a field house on steroids. The field house feels more like a setting for a college basketball game than a football game, which provides for a unique experience. The field house style design of Lucas Stadium is deceiving because the stadium provides for a comfortable roomy venue but yet keeps the environment intimate.

After a game, you can quickly be eating a steak dinner at one of the many fine restaurants, or enjoying another game on TV at one of the many sports bars.

Pittsburgh: Back in the apex of the industrial revolution Pittsburgh was one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Oil, steel, banking, and railroad monies laid the foundation of a city on the rise on the intersection of three rivers. The Steelers stadium is magnificently placed as a stage to the city. Night games in Pittsburgh are especially magical.

Pittsburgh has one of the leagues most contiguous fans bases. Meaning there was never a huge turnover in season ticket holders. Therefore, the Steelers fans are some of the more passionate you will ever witness. To experience their passion for their team is one of the reasons you go to the game.

You can get there by foot, by boat or by car. You can choose the experience you want. Watching the fans make their way to the stadium is like watching bees finding their orderly place on their hive.

Yes, Pittsburgh is by reputation a blue-collar town but you’ll also find upscale accommodations, and some sophistication alongside simple down home eateries and watering holes. This setting was designed by the football gods.

Honorable mentions:

KC Chiefs: If you want to know what its like attending a BIG 10 or BIG 12 college game just go to a Chiefs game instead. Arrowhead is one of the few venues that emulates big college football.

ArrowheadKC Chiefs fans always get creative for tailgating.

Prior to kickoff, this stadium offers a massive tailgate scene, constantly singing fans, the smell of authentic barbeque, and an orderly way of getting to your seat. Just follow the regulars and get some laughs from the many outfits you’ll see.

Chiefs fans are passionate, a little out there but still mid-westerners at heart so they are pretty nice. Arrowhead represents an old school atmosphere that hasn’t changed for decades. You can’t help to get swept up in the fans love for their franchise.

New Orleans: A one of a kind experience in a one of a kind place.

The Linc in Philly: The fans are edgy, creative, passionate and take tailgating to new heights. The stadium has several indoor and outdoor venues and the food is damn good.

Cleveland, Houston, Baltimore and Tampa were also listed as several favorites.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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The difference maker

If you are an avid football fan and watch religiously with a forensic eye, you will know that the difference in each game comes down to about five big plays. That’s five plays that could happen because of a blown assignment, a missed tackle, a penalty, a wrong route, and/or a missed block. Outside

If you are an avid football fan and watch religiously with a forensic eye, you will know that the difference in each game comes down to about five big plays. That’s five plays that could happen because of a blown assignment, a missed tackle, a penalty, a wrong route, and/or a missed block. Outside of the balanced give and take between two teams, it’s these five plays that make the difference in the outcome of a game. Usually, the team who makes the least mistakes wins.

So what are the macro-fundamental reasons why so many teams can’t consistently win ten games or more over the course of a decade? What are the unseen forces of why teams fail to be consistent winners, and make the playoffs two thirds of the time?

Here are four factors for losing organizations you may not notice on Sundays but they are usually the reason.

It does start at the top: Owners can be their own worst enemy by either being too deeply involved with personnel (coaches and players) moves, being too cheap, and/or letting their ego or the media sway their decisions. Now a bad owner even gets lucky sometimes and wins a Super Bowl in spite of themselves. They may score a great QB in the draft and land a great coach, however, they usually can’t keep the wins coming.

The best owners hire great football people, reinforce and support their plans and get out of their way. I would be foolish to name any owners but you know who they are.

The training room: NFL teams will manage about one hundred players over the course of a year. During the season it’s about sixty. However, the vast majority of NFL training rooms are understaffed and lack quality depth. Some teams only have three to four trainers backed up by a few interns. Others have about eight to ten high quality trainers. Some head trainers are empowered to make decisions in the best interests of the player first. Some others can’t even order an MRI without permission from a GM or front office exec.

Eighty percent of all NFL players have an injury during the season that requires serious attention. Many players don’t get the care and attention they need. Teams with superior training rooms do a great job in catching an injury before it gets worse, even preventing injuries and making players feel they can trust the decisions being made. The reality is, most players don’t trust NFL trainers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the saying from clients, “Our trainers are a joke”. Or, after moving teams, “Wow, the treatment I’m getting now is night and day”.

Teams that keep their players healthy will win more frequently with a training staff that helps to create high morale throughout the team.

No real offensive/defensive “system” in place: The Packers have been running the same offense for many years. So have the Patriots, Giants, Saints, and the Falcons. They are system-based offenses that can plug in players that fit the needs of the system.

Defensive coordinators Dom Capers, Dick Lebeau, Wade Phillips, and Greg Williams run a philosophy and system based defense that players can adapt to quickly. When these coaches are with one team for a long time they usually have long-term success.

Once players learn a system, the work/practice time is about perfection, execution and adding some wrinkles. The Patriots have used WR’s Troy Brown, Tim Dwight, Wes Welker, Danny Amendola and/or Julian Edelman to plug-in and play their slot receiver for years. The Packers and the Patriots have both pawned off back-up QBs that have excelled in their systems but struggled with other playbooks after being traded.

Having a developed system on both sides of the ball allows players to improve each year without having to learn new playbooks every three years.

Ability to develop players: Teams that know how to develop young players will have depth and can rely on the “next man up” philosophy. Under the new CBA coaches don’t have the on-field development time they used to so they have to improvise. Teams who properly manage their preseason reps, balance coaching time between vets and rookies and have a definitive patient plan in place will always have a pipeline of good players.

Teams who don’t have developed depth fall apart around midseason once their best players get hurt. The Ravens and Steelers do an excellent job in developing young players. GM Ozzie Newsome once told me he hired John Harbaugh because he’s used to working with the bottom half of the roster and is a teacher. Thus, John likes hiring coaches who are always “teaching”. It’s actually the reason I sent UFA LT James Hurst there this year after 18 teams bid for his services. As a rookie, he started four games and did a good job protecting Flacco.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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5 Surprising Things About NFL Players

I try to spend a lot of time with my clients, especially in their first few years in the league. I also take notice of their habits, and how they spend their time and money. So when friends and relatives talk to me about their perception of the lives of NFL players, I find myself

I try to spend a lot of time with my clients, especially in their first few years in the league. I also take notice of their habits, and how they spend their time and money. So when friends and relatives talk to me about their perception of the lives of NFL players, I find myself chuckling and correcting their stereotypes of them.

Here are five things that may surprise you about NFL players:

They don’t lift weights: Players don’t do as much weightlifting as you may think. In college, they did what they were told by the strength coaches, which usually included lifting a lot of weights. They were doing things like bench presses, incline presses, squats and power cleans.

When players get to the NFL they are relieved that they are not required to lift weights year round and many of them gladly try other strengthening methods. These methods include more use of body weight exercises, resistance bands, balancing balls, lunges, yoga, TRX, flipping tires, jumping ropes and even playing basketball.

Both on-season and off-season training are conducted differently from team to team but for the most part, the majority of NFL players avoid heavy weight lifting.

There are still some players who prefer old-fashioned weight lifting but it has been in decline for some time now. Active and retired players such as the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu, TE Tony Gonzalez, Chargers C Nick Hardwick, QB Drew Brees and even WR Larry Fitzgerald incorporates plyometrics into his daily routine. Many others swear that heavy weights can damage joints and shorten careers.

Boring, don’t go out much: The majority of NFL players get married (unofficial estimate of 70% +) while they are playing, or are usually in a serious relationship.

During the season players have less social time on their hands than anyone can imagine. Most players arrive at the facility about 6:30 am and get home dog-tired after 7:00pm three days a week. Six days a week, their time is devoted to film study, meetings, team functions and charitable/community commitments.

Many guys just want to get home, eat, play with their kids or dog and watch a little TV. For the ones who do go out during the season (usually the same five or six per club) and try to create some social fun, they are limited to just one day a week. Overall, NFL players are boring to be around during the season. 

In the offseason, players have a little fun at teammates weddings, golf outings and/or visiting their college campus. They’ll get a small vacation in Florida, Hawaii, Jamaica, or Las Vegas. However, their free fun time is usually crammed into three or four weekends out of the year. My 70-year old aunts are more fun than my clients.

Don’t live in the hot spots within their cities: I’m still surprised by this but I’d say less than 10% of NFL players live in their team city hot spots. You would think that if you were young, had time, money and status, and were placed into a new city you would live in the trendiest areas. Players in Miami don’t live in South Beach, in San Diego they don’t live on the beach, in NYC (Jets, Giants) they don’t live in Manhattan, in Atlanta no one lives in Buck Head and in Chicago few live in Lincoln Park or downtown.

Instead, players choose to live close to their stadium and/or workout facility. They live in cookie cutter neighborhoods with spacious lots, big back yards and good school districts.

Don’t have a passport: You would think that having excess cash and three months off from work that you would travel the world. Wrong again! The first time many players get a passport is because their team is playing overseas in London. When players were in college they had spring practice, summer school and summer workouts. Thus, no time for spring break in Cancun or time to study abroad in Spain so they never had a need for one.

The truth is many players like to keep their free time simple and just play golf, hunt, fish, and/or go to the beach. Additionally, many big guys hate flying and have to buy a first class seat for long flights because of their size. A first class round trip to Europe can easily cost $10,000, so that also is a turnoff.

Don’t have wills, estate plans or get prenuptials: Being a former financial consultant, I preach and encourage all of my players to get their fiscal house together. However, many just have an aversion to pulling the trigger. Even though they know and are constantly reminded of the horror stories of wealth squandering, health issues and high divorce rates amongst players, they just don’t think any of those things will happen to them.

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Will a rugby star make it in the NFL?

Before I get into any details, I want to disclose that I have represented two Australians who have played in the NFL. Matt McBriar, Cowboys pro bowl punter. And Hayden Smith, a Saracens rugby player turned tight end for the Jets in 2012. In addition, I am a big fan of rugby

Before I get into any details, I want to disclose that I have represented two Australians who have played in the NFL. Matt McBriar, Cowboys pro bowl punter. And Hayden Smith, a Saracens rugby player turned tight end for the Jets in 2012. In addition, I am a big fan of rugby and rugby league, follow the sport closely and even consult for USA Rugby captain Todd Clever on his contracts and endorsements.

With all the attention given to Jarryd Hayne’s shocking decision to leave the National Rugby League to pursue a career in the NFL, I thought I’d shed some light on the challenges he will face and the probabilities of making it.

First, to put it in perspective for NFL fans, it would be equivalent to Marshawn Lynch quitting the Seahawks at age 26 to pursue a career playing rugby league in Australia. Or, a young Derek Jeter leaving MLB to pursue a cricket career in India. This is big news down under.

Jarryd Hayne was bred to play rugby league and was a natural since his early youth. In his first year as a professional he made a huge splash, similar to what SS QB Russell Wilson did as a rookie. He went on to win just about every award available within his first seven years in the NRL. He’s been rookie of the year to player of the year and everything in between. He was even named “The fastest man in Rugby”. Jarryd Hayne is one of the most decorated rugby league players in the history of the NRL There really wasn’t much left for him to accomplish that he hasn’t already achieved.

So being one of the best of the best in one sport says a lot about ones athletic ability and overall skill set. It must be special. However, the question remains, will it translate into being special enough to make an NFL team?

Let’s break down Jarryd’s and/or any other Rugby player challenges:

The physical adjustment: For Rugby and or Rugby League enthusiasts, who think wearing helmets and pads makes the NFL game softer than Rugby league, please forget that silly notion. The pads are there for a reason. The NFL game is extremely physical and the hits are massive and aplenty. The helmet and pads encourage players to hit as hard as they can, sometimes even using the helmet as a weapon. The average starting NFL linebacker is about 6’ 3 1/2”, weighs 256 pounds, and runs a forty-yard sprint in 4.65 seconds. He’s strong, mean, explosive, agile and quick. Our defensive linemen are even scarier. They can weigh between 290 and 320 pounds and run as fast as many rugby players weighing 50 pounds less. My point, if you are the fastest and quickest guy on the rugby field, you most likely won’t be the fastest guy on an NFL field, thus your speed that was a huge asset on the pitch will be marginalized to “average” on the NFL field. The same goes for the size and speed combination.

So for a rugby or rugby league player who is used to dominating his peers and playing at an advantage because of his physical skills, he will now have to adjust to the talent level around him.

A rugby league player will have the advantage from a training, durability, stamina, and mental standpoint and will be in better shape than most NFL players. Rugby and League players are some of the best conditioned athletes on the planet. When Hayden Smith was touring the NFL, the Saints put him through a non-stop hour and half workout at a few different positions. Mickey Loomis called me and said he wanted sign him and had never seen a guy in better shape at his size. Unfortunately, the NFL game doesn’t require the endurance needed in rugby. Therefore, rugby players will train differently for the NFL game and have to make some adjustments.

Overall, rugby and rugby league players will have a great advantage stepping into an NFL tryout, camp or game. My only fear is that traditional NFL style training can take away a rugby player’s edge and there is always injury risk in doing a lot of new things that the body is not used to.

(As a side note, the NFL could learn a lot from Rugby as it relates to training and enhancing a player’s durability). Hayden Smith made the Jets in his first season with the club without ever playing football in his life. He actually was playing rugby in the same year he played for the Jets. The following year he was released after not progressing over the previous year and not moving as quickly as he did the year before. Hayden feels his off-season football training slowed him down. Although he got stronger and bigger he lost a tad of his agility and quickness. He told me if he did it all over again he would have stuck more to his rugby training regimen.

The language / terms/ playbook: I like to equate learning an NFL offensive system and playbook to being in an eleven-piece orchestra. You have over fifty songs to learn and you may have to play more than one instrument. In addition, you have to understand the other members’ roles as well. One of the biggest challenges for players is learning the language of the game. Many NFL players have been playing football since the age of ten, so by the time they get into the league they know the basics. Even then, rookies struggle knowing the plays, the calls, and the audibles.

Audibles, also known as “check downs” or simply “calls”, at the line of scrimmage (right before a play starts) may be the biggest challenge for offensive players. If a player misses a call on a blocking assignment he may get his QB killed, run the wrong route, or hit the wrong hole and help cause a fumble.

Rookies from Stanford and Iowa, for example, do really well in the NFL because they work from a pro style terminology, playbook and system. They speak the language well! Rugby players on the other hand are starting from ground zero. And even when they get some type of crash course like I did for Hayden Smith, (I hired a former NFL TE coach to tutor him before his workouts), they will still struggle while learning on the run.

The better an individual’s ability is to learn, the faster they will catch on. But some NFL languages like the Patriots digit system can be even more challenging.

Learning the NFL system, a position requirement, and the game rules gives a younger player from college a huge advantage over someone who has never played the game. And preseason camps are so short that there isn’t much time to learn on the job.

Jarryd may have instant success with his potential ability to cover kicks/punts and possibly return them by relying on his athletic ability and instincts.

The CBA limitations and culture: With only four preseason games before the cut-down to the final 53 roster, there are very limited reps available for the projected starters and the other five or more players competing for a job at a given position.

The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement severely limits the amount of coaching time a coach has with a player on the field. Hayden Smith ’s biggest frustration in learning was his lack of on-field time with the coaches. Even though he would stay at the Jets facility for fourteen hours a day for 3 months straight, he was limited to learning physical techniques on the field with coaches. His coaches were just as frustrated with the limited amount of coaching sessions they’d get with him and all players.

Under these rules, Jarryd and other rugby players will be better served having retired NFL coaches working with them as soon as they make the decision to give the NFL a try. And even once they are signed with a team, they should stick with a personal coach as long as they can.

The other challenge of making an NFL team, is the culture of the decision makers. Coaches and GMs have to think short-term. Outside of the quarterback position, there is no such thing as a three-year project anymore. There is little patience in the NFL in developing players, especially when they get north of 25 years of age. Jarryd and other potential crossovers will have one year to prove they can develop. By their second year, they have to be contributing by the end of that season. A younger player may get more grace with a solid organization.

There will be a few other areas where Jarryd will have some culture shocks. For one, Rugby is one of the world’s greatest fraternities. The players practically live together, travel together, socialize together, vacation together and train year round together. The NFL is very different. With only 16 games and 53 players, a rugby player won’t find the same kind of closeness he experienced with his other teammates. Many NFL players are married and rarely ever go out. Certain position groups stick together and don’t do much with other position groups. Unlike rugby, the NFL roster turns over so much that it’s hard to build and maintain relationships with teammates.

The other x factor involved with Jarryd having success or not may be out of his hands. Coaches select what players get the practice reps in the preseason and minicamp. If a coach thinks another player can help the team more, a crossover rugby player may never get the reps, coaching and time he needs to be successful. So no matter how hard he works, how talented he is, and how determined he is to make plays, he may never be given a fair opportunity to compete. Therefore, picking the right team will be 60% of his potential success.

I for one have a feeling he’s going to make it. Additionally, I already know of a few teams who are interested and wouldn’t mind grabbing the attention of his already built in international following.

Follow me on Twitter: @Jackbechta

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