Five-hundred million...150 million...140 million...These are the jaw-dropping total dollars in the contracts of Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, and Russell Wilson, respectively. You know the players, and you hear the numbers. But how are those deals decided, and who convinces a team that a player is worth that much money?
Sports agents like Tom Condon are at the forefront of these negotiations. Condon is one of the 830 sports agents registered with the NFL Players Association, but he has had more success than most. Throughout his career, Condon has represented some of the best of the best, including Peyton Manning, A.J. Green, J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell, Luke Keuchly, and Richard Sherman.
He has led these players to bring in record breaking numbers. “We had the first 20 million guaranteed, the first 30 million guaranteed,” said Condon. “The first 40 was Mathew Stafford, the first 50 was Sam Bradford, the first 60 was Drew Brees, the first 90 was Stafford again, and the first 100 was Matt Ryan.”
Condon was on the NFL scene long before his time as an agent. In 1974,the Chiefs drafted him out of Boston College as an offensive guard in the 10th round of the NFL Draft. In his second season, Condon had a serious knee injury and was forced to undergo surgery. While out, Condon took his father’s advice and attended the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Fully recovered from his injury, he continued to play for the Chiefs for the next nine seasons, and the Patriots in his last season. A consistent lineman for the Chiefs, Condon managed to start all 16 games in the season for five seasons in his career. Serving as the president of the NFL Players Association, Condon was already representing players in the NFL before his career as a sports agent even began.
“I think it gives young players some confidence to know that I sat in the locker-room just like they did,” explains Condon, “ I went out on that field and played as hard as I could.”
While COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in the plans of athletes, agents, and the sports’ community all over the country, Condon believes he and his players are faring much better than most. “I recruit on a formula of intelligence, character and passion for the game,” said Condon. He is confident the players he represents are motivated to continue working the game on their own independently.
While sports agents negotiate the money and terms of contracts with the teams, their bigger role with young prospects is actually preparing them for the NFL draft. “They have five hurdles that we identify and work on,” said Condon. “It’s the Senior Bowl, the Combine, the pro day, the individual team workouts, and then the team visits. We break it down, and we go through each one to make sure our player is very prepared for each hurdle.”
Condon was early in training his players for the draft, launching the program as part of IMG Sports Academy in Florida. He develops strategy for each player, to ensure they present well. Some of his players are even advised to skip one of the five hurdles.
“There was no upside for Peyton going to the Combine,” said Condon. “He was a fantastic player, and going there and throwing balls to receivers he didn’t know – we didn’t want to take any chances.” Manning was the first-overall pick by the Colts that year; a fact Condon learned from the general manager the night before.
Condon offers a few tips to young football fans looking to a future as an agent, even if they don’t make it to the NFL level as a player (like Tom Condon, Jr, who works for the Creative Artist Agency’s football division headed by his father). “An MBA or Law Degree will certainly help,” said Condon. “And you’ve got to get a good understanding of the game. If I hadn’t played, I would talk to as many coaches as I possibly could, develop relationships and ask to watch film.”
Representing NFL stars and negotiating record-breaking contracts, Condon is one of the most powerful agents in the National Football League. But, it certainly does not look like he will be slowing down anytime soon, as young stars like Joe Burrow are still signing with Condon and CAA. “Hey, my father passed away when he was 89, and he was still going to the law office every day,” said Condon. “I expect I’ll be involved in the football business for the rest of my life.”
Photo credit: David Bergman/Sports Illustrated