Do player sales pitches actually matter in NFL free agency? Tales of how they’ve landed
RUSSELL GAGE WAS taking out the trash at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, March 14, 2022—two days before the NFL’s official free agent start—when a random number flashed on his phone. Gage answered the call with suspicion.
“Hi, this is Tom Brady,” Gage heard over the other line.
Gage, who was about to become a free agent after four years as an increasingly productive wide receiver with the Atlanta Falcons, felt the joke. But the unmistakable voice on the other end of the line soon switched to no-crowd mode, explaining in detail why he wanted Gage to become the Tampa Bay bookmaker.
“For most of the conversation, I was silent, trying to understand what was really going on,” Gage said. “He took the floor about what they have going on there, about the things that he wanted me to participate in, [said they had] something special is happening.”
Gage told Brady he would relay the message to his agents at Athletes First, who were well aware of Tampa’s interest.
“Wow, that was actually Brady on the phone,” Gage recalls his fiancée Kentrea speaking after Gage hung up. “I’m like, ‘Right? This man retired not too long ago.”
Later that week, Gage signed a three-year, $30 million contract to become Brady’s teammate with the Bucs.
Even as NFL front office executives and player agents laid the groundwork for 2023 free agency at the NFL Scouting Unite last week, the invisible aspect of the inevitable player-moving frenzy was taking place far behind the scenes. NFL players are allowed to hire potential teammates – as long as those players don’t have a contract with another team – and talent-hungry clubs are increasingly turning to their own players to facilitate those deals.
The financial arrangement between the player and the team, as well as the football fitness of the free agent, will almost always be the most important components of a contractual agreement. Money tends to speak the loudest. But recruitment from player to player can inspire a move and allay fears about a new home if done right.
“If it’s someone the player knows, they’re going to have those conversations between themselves anyway,” veteran NFL agent Joby Branion said. “If it’s not someone they know, it has to be someone famous, like a quarterback, or it won’t make much of an impact.”
Less than a week before the official start of free agency in the NFL, Sportzshala spoke to those with peer-to-peer sales experience to detail how some of these signings were or weren’t won.
IT WAS THE LAST During the off-season, Branion’s valued client, pass rusher Von Miller, was a highly sought-after free agent hired by teams including the Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and the Los Angeles Rams, for which he had just won a Super Bowl.
Seeking an edge, Bills general manager Brandon Bean asked Branion if quarterback Josh Allen could call Miller, which Branion considered not only cool but necessary. Miller needed to ask a famous player what it was like to live in Buffalo, for example.
So Branion told Miller to look for a specific area code to signal Allen’s call, and after several missed calls while Miller was vacationing in the Bahamas, they connected.
“Josh called me, we’re on FaceTime, and he’s like, ‘Hey dude,’ he told me the whole story,” Miller told in his podcast. “And I was like, ‘Dude, that’s cool.’ All [else] wrote to me, of course, my brothers from the Rams, they wrote to me and contacted me, but for someone from the other team to contact me … “
According to The Athletic reportpart of the tactic also included a simple but provocative lyric from Allen to Miller that included the names of the three quarterbacks he would be chasing in the AFC East – Zach Wilson, Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones.
On March 16, Miller signed a six-year, $120 million contract with the Buffalo, arguably the most notable free agent signing in the team’s history.
“When you’re recruited, it’s great to get that handwritten note or a FaceTime call,” Miller said. “I talked to Josh Allen and [Stefon] Diggs on the phone, they both called me and it was really cool getting messages from these guys.”
“It was an interesting day,” Allen said of the interaction with Miller. “I worked my tail. Diggs too.”
HOLY PROTECTIVE END Cameron Jordan played the role of Cupid last month by sending a Valentine’s Day tweet aimed straight at Derek Carr’s heart.
I know I said goodbye to social media, but @derekcarrqb I know it might be too early, but it’s also Valentine’s Day, are you trying to swap black and silver and fall in love with BLACK & GOLD? 😅
— Cameron Jordan (@camjordan94) February 14, 2023
Three weeks later, when the news of Carr’s signing with the Saints broke, Jordan tweeted about the winning lap while on holiday in Spain:
I have wifi and it looks like we have a DC4…told you black and gold looks better @derekcarrqb
— Cameron Jordan (@camjordan94) March 6, 2023
Jordan refers to his tweets as a “dry contact” rather than a formal or official promotional offer, but rather an expression of appreciation for the player. But he hopes it worked.
“It doesn’t look like NFL players have real power to tease or draft anyone,” Jordan told Sportzshala in a text message. “It’s just about letting the other player feel the love and admiration of their peers.”
Although these tweets are not usually organized by teams, sometimes front offices use player resources to attract content of interest to them. The bills, for example, brought Miller to the attention of the entire court.
“There are a lot of times where you’re dealing with people and they need people to get into the game to get a team that he really wants to move to,” Bean said. “And so I just wanted to make sure he really wanted to come to Buffalo, and he did all the time.”
Communication becomes easier when an agent introduces a star player on a team another client is considering. That was last offseason when NFL veteran Peter Shaffer tied Bengals running back Joe Mixon with free agent Tackle Lael Collins.
Mixon’s initial message was clear, as Shaffer recalls, “C’mon, let’s do it.” He then explained how they could win together. Collins eventually signed a three-year, $21 million contract with Cincinnati during free agency.
“An important part of these conversations is when a player asks about the program, the team, if we can win, how the coach is doing, the players are from two people who will be honest with each other,” Shaffer said. “He excited Lael to be a Bengal – and if the Bengals hadn’t made significant progress as an organization, he wouldn’t have sold it.”
ODELL BECKHAM JR. returned to free agent hours. It was last season that Beckham went on a highly publicized week-long “recruiting tour” with potential suitors including the Cowboys, New York Giants and Bills publicly wooing the two-time All-Pro and Super Bowl winner. .
Beckham and the Cowboys have been linked for weeks, with Dallas’ top players putting on the biggest social media show ever trying to get OBJ to Big D.
“Human, talk to me!!” Micah Parsons tweeted on November 8: “Let’s do this shit!!!”
Cowboys quarterback Duck Prescott pitched through more traditional mediasaying of Beckham, “He knows how much I want him to be here.”
For their part, the Giants have downplayed the need to use players to hire the former New York star in this way, with Beckham’s former Giants teammate Saquon Barkley citing existing relationships between the stars.
“I don’t have to tweet him,” Barkley joked.
As for the bills, Beckham’s former Rams teammate Miller revealed that he also tried to enlist the services of the broadband club.
“I want him on my team,” Miller told The Pat McAfee Show. “And, of course, I do everything in my power to make sure he feels comfortable in the Buffalo Bills.”
Ultimately, Beckham did not sign a deal as he continued to recover from anterior cruciate ligament surgery, but looks set to be one of the big names to retire from the board once the 2023 free agency period begins next week. Will any of these promotional offers impact Fall 2022?
“The craziness is that teams went through all of this knowing that Odell would most likely not be playing. [in 2022]”, – said one of the leaders of the AFC. – But now the foundation has been laid, thanks to which, when he makes a decision, it is easy.”
DIRECT MESSAGE Stephon Gilmour, received shortly before the 2021 trade deadline, highlights the reality of hiring players: Whatever the rules, there is still a lot of gray area.
Gilmour, who didn’t play in 2021 after failing to negotiate a contract extension with the Patriots (he was technically on the pup list due to a quadriceps injury), received a note from Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes who had a clear message: I want you to be a teammate.
“You see it and you think, “What?” Gilmour said.
Gilmour knew he was being bought ahead of the likely release of the New England Patriots, but didn’t expect to hear from the Chiefs star.
“Mahomes gave me his number and we talked – the message was that I was coming here – this is a great situation for me,” Gilmour said. “It’s always good to have that kind of relationship in the league where you can talk about the ball or other things.”
The Carolina Panthers eventually granted New England’s trade demands, trading a sixth-round pick for the rights to Gilmour. But if Mahomes’ message was any indication, the chiefs were very interested, and Gilmour sensed it.
A league executive told Sportzshala that after learning a player in another case was recruiting one of his players on behalf of a mutual agent to facilitate a trade, he threatened to report the team to the league if they were involved.
But, according to Gilmour, talk about the future of the players is organic and inevitable. And Mahomes wasn’t the only quarterback to contact him.
“Right before the deal [to Carolina], Aaron Rogers hit me. Pat Mahomes contacted me,” Gilmour said. [were] because it was the offseason and these guys are getting ready for the playoffs. Some guys you don’t follow, like who hits me? And then you’re like, “Wow, I have to…