ATLANTA – In the office of veteran player agent Pat Dye Jr. here, a Tuesday that was billed by many as potentially the most frenetic day in NFL history, the first day on which teams could contact and negotiate with free agent veterans following the 4 1/2-month lockout, was both manic and manageable.
"I've been bracing myself for the worst, but it hasn't been as chaotic as we assumed it would be," said Dye, who has represented players for nearly 25 years. "There is some time to exhale, and I wasn't exactly sure that would be the case."
Dye and his associates at SportsTrustAdvisors – the new firm formed by a recent merger with another veteran and respected agent, Jimmy Sexton, of Memphis, Tenn. – permitted The Sports Xchange rare access on the first day teams could court free agents and sign rookies. The fly-on-the-wall, behind-the-scenes observation of a day that started for one of the three agents in Dye's office, Bill Johnson, at 5:30 a.m., offered a look at a process in which teams and representatives closed some deals, but during which clubs also spent several hours simply kicking the tires on potential additions.
Surrounded by his staff – Johnson and fellow agent Michael Perrett and assistants Chandra Vitale and Randi Chapman – Dye deftly maneuvered through the land-line hookups, cell-phone calls, and text messages that always kept him occupied but also allowed time for thoughtful deliberation and assessment. Eleven years ago, on the opening day of free agency in 2000, when Dye represented unrestricted tailback and hot commodity James "Little Man" Stewart, this columnist sat in the agent's office for a similar story. Truth be told, the frenzy of 2000, with ringing telephones providing the ear-splitting and incessant background noise, was markedly more hectic.
There was definitely a Christmas morning-type electricity that was palpable, but the anticipation certainly eclipsed the amount of business culminated. In Dye's office, and it appears around much of the league as well, Tuesday was a day mostly spent laying the groundwork for possible future deals.
"I just think," Dye said, "that there's a lot of work to do, and it's going to take some time for the teams and the agents to do it. We're just getting our heads around the new [collective bargaining] deal. I'm sure teams are in the same situation. I've had to ask some team guys to [clarify] a few things. And I've had people from teams ask me for my take or to explain some stuff. So we're all just kind of feeling our way through it. There's still a little hesitancy involved.
"There's a lot of touching base, you know, 'We just want to weigh in that we're interested in your guy and make sure you talk to us before you do something.' I think later today or this week, teams will circle back again and we'll get down to the hard negotiations if they really want someone."
Of course, that didn't stop general managers and personnel directors from breaking quickly from the chute.
When the bell figuratively rang to signal the legal start to the contact period, the bells, well, rung loudly in Dye's office as well. Club officials from virtually every team in the league touched base in some way – principally by cell phone or text message – but the land-lines were busy as well. By agreement with SportsTrustAdvisors, there are some things to which The Sports Xchange was privy but are too sensitive to divulge, but it's fair to note that in Dye's office, Dallas defensive end Stephen Bowen, a new client, attracted considerable attention from a number of teams.
Four hundred miles away, at Sexton's headquarters, offensive tackle Doug Free of Dallas, Carolina tailback DeAngelo Williams and San Diego tailback Darren Sproles, another new client, were primary centers of attention.
"The guys we expected to be hot," Dye agreed, "are hot."
SportsTrustAdvisors began the day with 23 unrestricted free agent clients, a pair of restricted veterans, and at least one player who had been the subject of some trade rumors during the offseason. On Monday night, the agency had negotiated contracts for three undrafted college free agents. There are 10 draft choices, including a trio of first-round picks, for whom deals must be hammered out.
In the opening two hours of the signing period on Tuesday, Dye negotiated a one-year, $1.25 million deal to send unrestricted defensive end Jarvis Moss back to the Oakland Raiders. He phoned Moss to apprise him of the contract, to counsel him on the logistics of what lie ahead, to remind Moss that the contract can't be officially signed until Friday evening, and to offer the services of his office in arranging travel for his four-year veteran client.
Over the next several hours, Dye found time to chat by phone with client DeMarcus Ware, who wanted to be updated on the moves made by the Dallas Cowboys; to conduct an interview with a local sports-talk radio station; to wolf down a chicken salad from a restaurant a couple blocks away; to field a call from a team about one of the firm's first-round selections; to update Sexton on communications with clubs, including a tip his partner had on a client in whom a team had broached interest; and to answer the several questions of an interloper columnist.
There was time for Dye to catch his breath, but the respite between cell-phone calls or text messages typically wasn't more than a few minutes.
Every call or message was noted by Dye on a legal pad. "If I don't write this stuff down, I'll just forget one or two [contacts]," he said.
There were huddles with Johnson (who handles most of the negotiations for New Orleans safety and unrestricted free agent Roman Harper) and Perrett, and some intercom discussions with both men. All three at various times swapped updates on clients. After holding on a land-line for Sexton for 10 minutes, Dye's cell phone buzzed and it was, not surprisingly, Sexton calling.
"Man, we're hitting third gear now," Perrett suggested at one point during a flurry of afternoon phone calls.
In fact, though, things never really approximated the breakneck speed that some folks had predicted for the resumption of player-team contact.
For the most part, team officials were window-shoppers, not buyers, and few, if any, offered any hard numbers in discussions with Dye on Tuesday morning and afternoon. Typical of his long tenure in the business, and the months of preparation by him and his staff, Dye was thoughtful and thorough and measured, not pushy or overly anxious.
"I know this is a process you don't enjoy in any year," he said, "but I'll be happy to get this one behind us."
Based on the events of Tuesday, it might be a while before Dye and his associates commit free agency 2011 to the rear-view mirror. "Still a lot of work to be done," Dye said. "A lot of work."
His words proved prophetic later in the evening. At nearly 11 p.m., Sexton answered his cell phone on the first ring, anticipating that it was a team phoning him. He was, as later events would confirm, putting the finishing touches on a deal to return Free to the Cowboys. And likely working on a Williams contract as well.
"It's been steady throughout the day, but not nearly really as crazy as some people thought," Sexton said. "But it's heating up pretty good tonight."