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Wednesday, July 27, 2011
NFL back in business

By Rick Reilly
ESPN.com

Jones, Mason, Okung
Adam Jones, Derrick Mason and Russell Okung all heard from their agent, Peter Schaffer, yesterday as the NFL sprang back to life when the lockout was lifted.

Let's say you're Santa Claus and you've locked your elves out for four months in a bitter labor dispute. Suddenly, you settle. You turn to the calendar and notice -- to your horror -- that it's Christmas Eve.

That was Tuesday in the NFL.

So when longtime NFL agent Peter Schaffer got set for a day when deals would be cooking on every burner, he decided to do it in the kitchen of his Denver home.

"Can't go to the office on a day like this," says Schaffer, who has repped everybody from Barry Sanders to Pacman Jones. "Too many distractions."

He'll have one, though -- me, sitting on his bar stool. The whole day.

5:02 a.m. The 48-year-old Schaffer has a to-do list today longer than his driveway. He needs to find his stable of undrafted free agents jobs, get his draft picks signed and locate homes for his free-agent vets. Not only that, but he needs to negotiate a Hummer full of endorsement deals that have been on hold, handle an NFL player's divorce, and see if he can keep his cell from overheating from panicky player texts.

Craziest day of your career?

"No, the best!" Schaffer says.

We'll see about that.

5:15 a.m. Schaffer's ring tone is Boston's "More Than a Feeling." He likes to stay positive about every call.

It's going to be a bitch to stay positive today, though. Already, the Ravens have told one of his guys, WR Derrick Mason, that he'll be cut. Same with the Cardinals and another of Schaffer's clients, LB Gerald Hayes. His text box is filled with messages that good players are being guillotined purely so teams can make the new, tighter $120.4 million salary cap. Worse, rookie salaries have been getting a crew cut.

"So far," Schaffer says without looking up from his two computers, "it's a bloodbath."

You can almost tell who Schaffer is talking to by what device he's using. Players text. NFL execs call. Reporters email.

6:11 a.m. For cheap players, it's like a half-off Bloomingdale's purse sale right now. Every personnel guy needs them -- and Schaffer has scads.

"What else you lookin' for?" Schaffer asks the Saints' personnel guy, Joey Laine. "I got some tight ends. I got some great linebackers. Got a helluva little special-teams guy. Whaddya need?" It's like one of those "We-have-to-sell-all-our-cars-this-weekend!!!" deals.

Look, I don't have an '09 red Explorer for you, but I've got a sweet little '08 Ford Focus the little woman will love!

7:05 a.m. Schaffer plants Southern Miss TE Johdrick Morris in Baltimore. When's the last time he signed a guy before breakfast?

"Never?" he says.

8:33 a.m. He's hot. He gets a three-year deal with the Saints for WR Michael Galatas from Millsaps College -- $258,000, $288,000 and $555,000. Later, Galatas will call to thank him profusely.

"Glad to," Schaffer says. "But do me a favor. When you get to camp, bust your butt, study like hell and remember what my dad always said: 'Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut.'"

9:01 a.m. All day, Schaffer will be to and fro with the Cleveland Browns over his new prized client, 21st overall draft pick Phil Taylor, a 334-pound defensive lineman from Baylor. He'll do it wearing Taylor's combine shirt.

Now Taylor calls to tell him he's driving, as he speaks, in his truck from Naples, Fla., to Cleveland, alone.

"No speeding tickets!" Schaffer screams. "Especially in West Virginia!"

9:44 a.m. Big crisis.

A prominent NFC player is freaking out. The NFL has dropped off a urine-testing kit at his house when he's clearly not -- how shall we say this? -- ready.

Apparently, the end of the lockout came as a surprise to him. Schaffer talks him off the ledge.

"Hold on, hold on (blank). They can't do that. They haven't finished the language on drug testing yet in the CBA. They can't test you if it's not in the contract. This is still America, right?"

Schaffer calls the players' union to check. A union lawyer gets on the line and Schaffer gets the player on the line.

"OK, listen carefully, (blank). We need you to have somebody videotape you putting the entire thing -- the test tubes, the instructions, everything -- into a clear, sealed bag. Then FedEx it to me immediately. Got it?"

"OK, OK," the player says.

Then, just as a precaution, Schaffer says, "Read me the directions, will you?"

The directions are all about allowable levels of chlorine and bromine.

Turns out it was from the guy's pool cleaner.

9:58 a.m. A GM is balking about how little money he has to sign free agents.

Schaffer: "Wait a minute. For 18 months, all you guys did was bitch about trying to get the cap down. Now you got it, and you're all bitching about having such a low cap! I mean, look at the Cowboys. Jerry Jones wanted the low cap more than anybody. But now he's got to get from 136 [million] to 120 [million]. You guys screwed yourselves!'"

10:10 a.m. Schaffer is funny and honest and constantly on the phone, so GMs call him for clandestine info. This particular GM wants to know what he thinks of a certain big-news player who is being offered in trade.

"I live by the Jagger principle," he says to him.

"The Jagger principle?" the GM asks.

"Mick Jagger. You don't always get what you want. You get what you need. You don't need him."

10:30 a.m. The bloodbath continues. The Cowboys plan to cut Marion Barber, Leonard Davis and Roy Williams, all of them stars.

10:41 a.m. Among all the other stuff that's been in the "HOLD" pile for six months are guys hoping to get reinstated to the league after suspensions. Schaffer begins helping Tampa Bay safety Tanard Jackson draft his letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. It is contrite, polite and contains almost no language James Harrison would approve of.

11:03 a.m. The former Pacman Jones is on the phone.

"Gotta hit you back, Adam," says Schaffer. "I'm swamped."

On a day like this, if you already have a job, you aren't getting any instant love. Later, he calls Jones, who reports that the doctor thinks he and his injured neck will be ready to start the season with the Bengals. Of course, considering he was just arrested for the seventh time, he may not have a season to start.

11:53 a.m. Earlier, Rams personnel czar Mike Williams told Schaffer he was interested in a fullback of Schaffer's -- Bryant Ward of Oklahoma State -- but Schaffer has since heard from another GM that Williams is going after somebody else.

"You're cheating on me, Mike! You're cheating on me!"

12:12 p.m. I'm boiling hot dogs for Schaffer for lunch. NFL agent. Pure glamour.

1:03 p.m. One of Schaffer's big stars, Russell Okung, Seattle Seahawks OT, is on the cell. He was the sixth pick in the draft last year and signed for $58 million for six years, $30 million of it guaranteed. This year, thanks to the new CBA, the sixth pick won't make nearly as much.

"It was you, Big Russ. It was your deal last year that doomed all these poor rookies."

Russell does not seem all that sad. Actually, neither does Schaffer.

1:14 p.m. Schaffer's lissome blonde wife, Alison, comes home from running errands with their two kids -- 7 and 11. He met her at Denver International Airport on the way to recruit Ohio State tackle Orlando Pace.

"He got me instead," she says.

Definitely a first-rounder.

1:41 p.m. You can almost tell who Schaffer is talking to by what device he's using. Players text. NFL execs call. Reporters email.

In the last couple hours, he's gotten some texts from players saying they've gotten calls from the Raiders. But after the umpteenth house cleaning by 82-year-old owner Al Davis last season, Schaffer has no idea who to call with the Raiders. So he just calls the Raiders' switchboard.

"Personnel department, please?"

And you wonder why the Raiders suck.

2:12 p.m. Alison is off to the pool with the kids. This means Schaffer can sneak in a dip of his own -- of chewing tobacco, strictly forbidden in the house.

He's just about to plug one in when he sees his 11-year-old daughter, Lilian, sitting quietly at the computer. No chew today.

You get what you need.

2:50 p.m. This is a weird one.

A major New York executive who does huge business with the NFL wants Schaffer to find a job for a very small, plucky safety from a tiny school in the East.

"He's 5-9!" I mention.

"Only in the program," says Schaffer.

Peter Schaffer
NFL player agent Peter Schaffer taking one of the countless calls he got Tuesday, after the NFL lockout ended and the league was back in business.
He calls an AFC GM he's close with and says, "You remember the line from 'Saving Private Ryan?' 'This is a tough one but it comes from the very top.' Well, this is that."

The GM agrees to a tryout.

3:32 p.m. Schaffer has spent gobs of time working the lines on behalf of Seattle Seahawks DB Jordan Babineaux. Seems like every fifth call is about him. Seattle wants him back, but it has competition from Tennessee, the Jets, Dallas and Arizona.

Babineaux is favoring leaving, but Schaffer thinks maybe he should stay put.

"We're only talking a million or two here," Schaffer says. "You'd leave Seattle for a million or two more? Seattle? And, unless you go to Tennessee, you suddenly have to pay state income tax. You'd really leave Seattle for that?"

4:03 p.m. A certain name of a certain agent comes up during a phone conversation and it makes Alison's lip curl.

"I don't like him," she grumbles. "I don't like him at all. He recruits players with fancy apartments and Swedish hookers."

Who knew?

4:28 p.m. Schaffer updates Saints WR Courtney Roby on where he may be living for the next four years.

"The Saints want you back," he says. "The Vikes are interested, too. And maybe two other teams. But I have to warn you. There's no cash out there. There's only $440 million in cap room for the entire league." (That's $13.75 million per team.) "That's nothing! This market isn't as hot as people thought it was going to be."

Who negotiated this deal for the players, Greece?

4:30 p.m. Schaffer has to leave to guest host a sports radio show for one of his clients. He promised months ago and Schaffer is honoring it, despite it being arguably the craziest day in league history.

He'll work his phone during the show, but already it's been a mega-day. He finished deals for four college free agents, made more headway on his draft picks in one day than he's done in entire months, whipped up interest in a half dozen of his veteran free agents and pleased a very powerful network honcho -- and all without the aid of Copenhagen.

A small part of me is not sorry to see him go.

You have no idea how old "More Than a Feeling" gets the 103rd time you hear it.


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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "SportsCenter" and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.


Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's latest book, "Sports from Hell."