In an exclusive interview with Pro Football Network, sports agent Leigh Steinberg touched on a variety of topics, including how the 2020 NFL Draft process has changed, how he thinks teams will perform on draft night, how he recruited quarterback Tua Tagovalioa and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, and the latest updates on the quarterback’s health.
Steinberg, who has been a sports agent for over four decades, has represented over 300 athletes across a wide spectrum of sports, including the NFL. In fact, he has represented the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft eight times, the most of any agent.
Off the field, he has also been quite influential. This includes making charitable donations and leading campaigns that fought for teams to stay in their respective locations, including the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, and Los Angeles Rams (prior to moving to St. Louis).
Steinberg has grown up with the NFL around him, dating back to his days when his father took him to the Los Angeles Coliseum in the 1950s. In the interview, he mused about sitting in the $1 seats and joked that he needed the strongest telescope out there to see the players. That’s when he fell in love with football and he hasn’t looked back since.
Now, he’ll be representing two of the biggest names in this year’s draft class – Tagovailoa and Jeudy. Additionally, his firm is representing San Diego State’s Keith Ismael, Temple’s Harrison Hand, Memphis’ Patrick Taylor Jr. and BYU’s Beau Tanner. But this year has not been an ordinary year for him, his clients, or teams around the NFL.
With pro days and team visits canceled, NFL teams have had to adjust. How will that play out on draft night?
Not only were team visits canceled this year, but the majority of pro days were canceled due to the current health conditions across the country. And now, the 2020 NFL Draft will be virtual with all levels of the NFL and team front offices in separate locations. Because of this, there have been numerous questions about how teams may draft and if we’re going to see more selections that don’t work out compared to previous years.
However, Steinberg believes this will actually help teams select better players. Before explaining why, he flashed back to 1975 when his client, Steve Bartkowski, was the first overall pick. Then, the NFL Draft was held in January which meant the only information teams had were game film and all-star games. As Steinberg explained, there was no scouting combine, no pro days, and no visits by players to franchises.
“I think teams will do just fine and the overall results will be positive,” Steinberg said. “Remember, teams and GMs have already had a chance to test, measure, meet 1-on-1 with players, and see them perform their positional drills at all-star games and the NFL Scouting Combine. Additionally, the scouts have had a chance to view the players up close at games. You also have game film. When you take that all into account, including their ability to do background checks – sometimes as far back as elementary school – that is more than enough information.”
Steinberg went on to explain that he believes there has been too much reliance on testing and analytics. He used the example of a skill player who runs a fast 40 time and all of a sudden, they shoot into the first-round discussion. But Steinberg noted that this time doesn’t test whether the receiver or running back can catch the ball, or whether the defensive back can guard the opposing player.
“With all of the pro days and in-person visits canceled, I think this will put the emphasis back on game film, which is where it mostly should be,” Steinberg said. “Teams will be forced to focus on a prospect’s college career, which is a pretty good predictor of success. This will help because sometimes, too much information causes confusion. I think when it is all said and done, teams will do just fine. As I like to say, the best predictor of future success is past success.”
Top draft prospects won’t have their moment on stage with Commissioner Goodell. But, how much of an issue is that for prospects?
With no formal gathering with the NFL Draft, the top prospects won’t get their moment on stage with Commissioner Roger Goodell when they are drafted by a team. Instead, they’ll be at home with their immediate family. However, Steinberg doesn’t think that is going to be a big issue for players.
“Let’s put this in perspective,” Steinberg said. “Back in 2016, we represented Paxton Lynch. He wanted to have his friends, family, and those growing up with him involved in the draft process. Instead of going to the NFL Draft, he held a party in a bowling alley in Florida. In 2017, Patrick Mahomes had a slew of his friends – maybe about 100 – over at a country club in Texas. Players who have chosen not to attend the draft have done so because they wanted more people to take part in the experience rather than sitting at a table in the back room. I don’t think this is going to be a big issue for many prospects.”
While the prospects won’t have their moment on stage, they are working with EA Sports to create a simulated moment. According to numerous reports, players have been able to tell EA how they want their interaction with Goodell to be portrayed in the video when played on draft night. Additionally, each prospect will choose a high school to receive a $2,500 grant toward their football program.
How did Steinberg and his partner Chris Cabbot recruit Tua Tagovailoa, Jerry Jeudy, and other prospects?
Steinberg Sports – which includes Steinberg and his partner Chris Cabbot – is representing two projected first-round clients in the 2020 NFL Draft – QB Tua Tagovailoa and WR Jerry Jeudy – both from the University of Alabama. Recruiting players of this caliber isn’t an easy task and Steinberg’s firm faced plenty of stiff competition for their services.
But Steinberg believes that the priorities he and Cabbot set on the table help them in negotiations. This includes his promise to set up a scholarship fund for that player’s high school, a way to maintain close ties to their college alma mater, and a charitable foundation while they are in the NFL.
“Whenever we recruit a player such as Tua or Jerry, we want to first make sure our values and their values are a match. We want players who are bright, family orientated, someone who understands the capacity of being a role model, and one is concerned about a second career after football. All of this comes to light during the process.”
When Steinberg was asked how this played out when he and Cabbot were recruiting Tagovailoa, he said that it was very much a process, but Tagovailoa responded favorably to the conditions they laid out on the table.
“Tua happens to come from a close-knit family, who were all involved in the process. But it was clear that they embrace all of our values – community, charity, and making a difference in the lives of those around them.”
With Cabbot and Steinberg working in tandem to recruit Tagovailoa, and with Cabot the lead recruiter for Jeudy, they were able to beat out the competition to secure these first-round talents.
With the Draft just a few weeks away, how healthy is Tua Tagovailoa?
When Steinberg signed Tagovailoa in January, both parties knew that a full recovery would not take place overnight. However, they set certain milestones along the way and so far, they have been ahead of each one. The final test was set to be Tagovailoa’s pro day and visits to team facilities, where not only would he meet with the coaching staff and front office, but would also be closely examined by team doctors.
However, that pro day and those in-person team visits would soon be canceled with the country essentially on lockdown. Of course, Tagovailoa still found a way to show teams that he was healthy. Just a few weeks ago, he posted a video of him dropping back and throwing. Many took this as a sign that he was healthy and ready to go. But on April 8, The Athletic’s Mike Lombardi reported that at least one team had failed Tagovailoa on his physical. Steinberg, though, says that Tagovailoa is fully healthy.
“Here’s the thing with Tua and other young athletes – they have incredible recuperative powers. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to play football because it’s a traffic accident every time you get hit. Tua has healed very quickly and it’s very clear that he’s going to be ready for training camp this season. He’s optimistic, hopeful, and excited to get on the field in the coming months.”
What team will draft Tua Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft?
There has been plenty of debate around what team will select Tagovailoa in the 2020 NFL Draft. The rumors have been all over the map, with him being linked to the Miami Dolphins, Los Angeles Chargers, and even the Washington Redskins. When we asked Steinberg where he thinks he may land, he said it was too early to say.
“Usually, when a player is selected high in the draft, it’s because there are numerous teams who covet that player. When it comes to Tua, it is too early to say who those teams might be because they have yet to come out to us and identify themselves. As we get a little closer to the draft, we’ll have a better idea.”
Steinberg continues to give back to those breaking into the business
Steinberg has been in the industry for decades and for the past several years, he has spearheaded an initiative to give back to those who are coming up in the business in the form of an agent academy. This academy is comprised of two parts – an agent academy where they teach students how to negotiate, recruit, set up charitable foundations, damage control, and more.
The other part is a broader sports career conference where there is a panel on sports media, which teaches students how to break into the sports media world. It also teaches them how to brand themselves and how to work with a team, league, or athletic department.
“We’ve been doing this live over the past several years but due to the current conditions, we’re going to do them virtually. If you want to learn how to break into the business, I recommend that you look into this to see if it might be a fit for you.”
Those interested can find more details on the Steinberg Sports website by clicking here.