Owens's Agent Is A Paper Tiger

drew rosenhaus
Drew Rosenhaus, right, clowns around with the Eagles' Jerome McDougle in Coral Gables, Fla. (Donna E. Natale Planas - Miami Herald)
By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 1, 2005

He says his phone rarely goes more than a few minutes without ringing. He usually works 18 to 19 hours a day from his luxurious Miami Beach home, and phone conversations with him regularly are interrupted by the ringing of another phone. "Two seconds, buddy, two seconds," Drew Rosenhaus said when that happened just as one recent discussion was getting underway.

It is a typically frenetic day for the man who has become the most prominent and controversial agent negotiating contracts for players in the nation's most popular and prosperous sports league, the NFL. Rosenhaus has become notorious for using tough tactics and working virtually nonstop to line his clients -- and his -- pockets. He says he has negotiated $500 million worth of deals just since last year.

Now, as training camps begin, Rosenhaus is trying to enrich a client who is even more prominent and controversial than he is, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens. And he is trying to do so by changing the way NFL teams do business.

Rosenhaus wants the Eagles to, in effect, tear up the seven-year, nearly $49 million contract that Owens signed just last year and reward Owens with an even more lucrative deal. As Rosenhaus sees it, the NFL system is unfair. The standard practice in the league is that only a player's signing bonus, not his annual salary, is guaranteed. As a result, teams can cut a player with years remaining on his contract and not have to pay him any more salary, yet a player like Owens has no recourse to rework a deal that, as Rosenhaus puts it, he has "outperformed."

Contract disputes and threatened holdouts are nothing new. But this one has gained the attention of the league brass and players because -- if Rosenhaus and Owens are successful -- it could revolutionize the way contracts are negotiated. Supporters of Rosenhaus say it would provide much greater financial security to athletes in a sport in which the average career expectancy is less than four years. Opponents say it could lead the NFL down the road taken by the NBA and Major League Baseball, where guaranteed contracts have resulted in many teams having to carry -- and pay -- underperforming veterans well past their prime.

The dispute comes at a time when the NFL is awash in money, having just completed new television contracts worth nearly $4 billion a year beginning in 2006 that will be divided among the league's 32 franchises. And it has added an additional measure of uncertainty as the league and the players' union, which long have maintained one of the most harmonious employer-labor relationships in sport, negotiate an extension of their collective bargaining agreement. Those deliberations have been uncharacteristically slow and troublesome.

Rosenhaus isn't waiting for a new labor deal to accelerate the upward climb of NFL players' salaries; he is eager to do it one client at a time -- in what he said is a battle for simple fairness.

"I don't portray myself as a champion of a cause, but I would like to make a contribution on a larger scale," Rosenhaus said during a recent interview, adding that "dozens of players seem to be finding the courage" to ask for renegotiated contracts.

"If we get more players to look at their situations like that, I feel like I've had a positive impact for them. This is not a general indictment of the system. The union has done a great job. But if a contract is not fair and he deserves to get a revised contract, no one should have a problem with that."

In Owens's case, Rosenhaus has struck a nerve with people who agree with thousands of Internet message-board posters and radio talk-show callers venting that the Eagles receiver should honor the deal he signed.

"He has no case, as far as I'm concerned," Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney said in an interview. "The system itself is very, very fair. If a player signs a contract, he should live up to it."

Laying Down the Law

Rosenhaus, 38, has been a certified NFL agent since 1988, the year after he graduated from the University of Miami, and says he has negotiated more than $1 billion in contracts for his players. NFL agents are permitted to receive commissions of up to 3 percent of the value of the contracts they negotiate.

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