In the following interview, NFL agent Joel Turner allowed me to go inside his world for a few brief minutes. He responded to questions including corruption and deception in the recruiting process, bribery, and the somewhat twisted scenario for the college football player.
The lifestyle of an NFL agent is anything but easy. The responsibilities of an NFL agent seem to be countless. But Joel Turner, an NFL agent for over 15 years now, still finds it rewarding. Turner and his brother own and operate Turner Sports Management (TSM) out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where they represent over 20 NFL players including Mike Tolbert, Ryan Clark, Ryan Succop, and more. Turner began his career as a college football coach, but says he eventually got tired of “chasing” jobs and relocating almost yearly.
Putting coaching behind him, Turner decided to put his business economics degree to good use and become an agent for professional football players. With incoming clients, like former South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw, his agency has an exciting few weeks coming up. I recently talked with Joel and asked him some questions on a variety of topics including the draft process, signing college players, corruption in collegiate athletics, and the challenges/rewards of being an agent. Although many people in the general public associate NFL agents with greed (see Jerry McGuire) Turner and his agents at TSM have always striven for a client-first approach that has seemingly paid off for everyone involved. Joel allowed me a rare glimpse into the thought processes of an agent in the weeks leading up to the NFL Draft. The following is a list of questions I asked Joel, along with my summary of his responses.
At what point do you begin preparing yourself and your clients for the draft?
– “A year in advance.” With the constant influx of underclassmen entering the NFL every year, it has become increasingly important to begin targeting clients during their sophomore and junior years in college. Many agents really “don’t care” about the players but rather they are focused on the potential earnings of a given athlete. Turner did go on to say that at TSM they usually begin preparing individual clients “around October and November.”
At this point in the calendar year, do you already have all or most of your 2014 draft eligible clients signed, or is it a constant work in progress until draft day?
– “As far as veterans go, everyone we have right now has an NFL job excluding four guys.” With the exception of a punter, two safeties, and a quarterback, every TSM client is on an NFL roster.
– “As far as incoming players go, you can’t determine anything that they do until the draft comes. They either take them or they don’t.” Turner explained that obviously an NFL team has to “want [the player] to be there” in order to draft him. This seems simple enough, but many people don’t realize how little influence the agent and player have on the teams drafting.
– After the draft, Joel explained that it’s his “job as an agent” to determine which team “is the best one to go to” for any undrafted players. More often than not, explained Turner, the hours following the draft are more hectic than those during the draft. “If [TSM] has three, or four, or five teams calling about a player,” then Turner and the client alike will choose where to sign. The criteria for determining where to sign can vary with each player. For some location and climate is the main concern. Still, for others, things such as position depth, team prestige, play-calling philosophy, etc are the determining factors in their decision on where to play professionally.
Come draft week, do you find yourself having to calm down certain guys who may be stressed or anxious about where they will be drafted? Or maybe you have to explain to undrafted guys that the opportunity to play in the NFL still exists?
– “Oh yeah. They get antsy, and they get nervous. There is no question about it.” As an agent, Joel explained that he is always switching hats in order to make the most out of differing situations. One minute he may be trying to bring a guy back down to earth who was drafted higher than expected. Later that day, however, Turner may find himself praising a discouraged undrafted player in the hopes that he can help that guy keep his head up. The roles of an agent during this stressful time are countless, but as Turner and company have proven, if it’s done right, the rewards of this job can also be countless.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of being an NFL agent? Rewarding?
– “The most challenging part is the recruitment of players. But, there again, it is and it isn’t. The most challenging part of it is actually getting in touch with these players. Being able to get in front of players to begin with… once we do [get in front of the players and speak with them] it isn’t really an issue.” Of course Turner is competing with some of the more famous names in the agency world by representing NFL talent. However, Turner said multiple times that when given a chance to actually talk face-to-face with a high caliber player, he and TSM have “done real well.”
– “From a rewards standpoint, you know, when you see guys that you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you helped when no one else was willing to.” This answer from Turner surprised me a little. I was expecting something a little more “I love my job” in the answer, but it wasn’t some cliché and used up response I got from him. Instead, it was sincere and refreshing.
– Turner went on to discuss one of his clients, Larry Dean, who played college football at Valdosta State University and has now, thanks in part to TSM, “made over two million dollars playing in the National Football League.” Turner went on to say that when you help a guy like Dean, and he “turns around” to help his community, the kids, the schools, etc. the effects can be profound. “Every player [Turner] talks to is like the ripple in a pond. You don’t know how far it will go, and you don’t know how many lives it can affect. And that just really stuck with me.”
Do you have a hand in a player’s professional aspirations outside of football? For instance, what was your role in Ryan Clark’s success on NFL Network and ESPN?
– “Yeah. We open up a lot of doors with people in the media because of our contacts… But Ryan’s situation was cultivated from years of working with the media and being open with them. In many cases he was more open that maybe teams would have liked him to be.” Turner was adamant that it is crucially important to allow the media to see that Clark and his other clients “can handle themselves properly on and off the field.” TSM does a great job of allowing their players “to get their names out there” in the media realm of football so that each guy can have “every chance for success” after his playing days are over.
– Turner and his associates helped Ryan Clark make some appearances on NFL Network a few years back, and that led to Clark being contacted by ESPN for a few analysis spots on their various shows. Since Clark did so well on ESPN, they have asked him to be a part of the network permanently “after his football career is over.”
What do you believe to be the biggest myth that the general public believes about agents in general? How would you assess the current status of the average NFL agent?
– “You know it really bothers me that someone like Jay-Z, a former rapper and self-proclaimed drug dealer, says ‘you know what, I’m gunna’ go be an NFL agent.’ You know and it’s just because he’s bored…just because he can rhyme words doesn’t mean he’s qualified to handle other people’s business.” Clearly turner felt strongly about this “unfortunate” trend in the agent game. Turner stressed that many of these agents don’t really care about the well-being of the college athletes entering the professional sports arena. I would tend to agree with Turner in the sense that putting your financial future in the hands of anyone is a scary proposition. Putting that future in the hands of a rapper? Downright horrifying.
– “I really don’t think people in the public realize how formerly educated most of the guys are in this business…But they also don’t realize how truly dirty this business is. I mean it’s just unbelievable. We know, I mean we know for a 100% fact, that an agent visiting a player at The University of South Carolina gave [said player] a check for $60,000 up front and said ‘here sign this note.’” Turner went on to say that he had obtained, at that time, “copies of documents” that verified the transaction he was referring to. For Turner, seeing this kind of thing is just another day at the office it seems.
What is the biggest concern for the average college player when it comes to picking an agent?
– “The training for their draft preparation. The vast majority of them think that they have to go off-campus and go to some training facility somewhere…Of course that’s nothing but a ploy that an agent uses as a recruiting tactic to get that guy to sign with him.” Turner was clear to me that the agents work hand-in-hand with these “elite training facilities all year long recruiting these kids. It’s bull crap. These [NFL] teams have already said over and over; ‘90% of what they look at is already in the box.’” Turner told me that these players are being convinced that they must go to Los Angeles, Miami, etc. to do their pre-draft training, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
– He went on to suggest that a player who may get his training paid for by an agent or agency is risking a lot by accepting that. If that guy were to get hurt, and drop a few rounds in the draft, who would make up that money that he lost? And perhaps more importantly, wouldn’t that agent want his money back? It’s a slippery slope in what sounds like a very deceiving process, but that doesn’t stop it from happening more often than not.
I would like to once again thank Joel Turner of Turner Sports Management for his willingness to answer thoughtfully and truthfully to the above questions. Anyone interested in looking further into TSM and what they are all about can find the information needed online at his website or follow on twitter @NFLAgents_Net.