MILWAUKEE — Long before their names are called at the NFL draft, prospective rookies become prized commodities in another professional arena: Agents begin vying to represent players. Here are five things to know about how the agent game works:
SIGNING ON: Signing with the agent usually is the first career move a college player makes in turning pro. Some agents boast their successful clientele at certain positions, or alumnus from certain schools.
"A lot like a restaurant, it's word of mouth, but frankly (that) isn't the worst way to build a business," said David Dunn, who boasts Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers among the stockpile of players represented by his firm, Athletes First.
A promising college quarterback with an eye toward the pros sifts through potential agents and can't help but notice other players they represent at the position. And make no mistake, agents notice the quarterback prospects, too.
For Dunn, the successful and model NFL citizen Rodgers is the type of client that attracts attention. For any agent, it certainly doesn't hurt that quarterbacks play at the best-paid position in the league.
"Obviously because of the economics and the business standpoint, but also the role that they play ... because they're the highest profile and most effective role models," Dunn said.
UNDER THE RADAR: Sometimes uncovering unnoticed diamonds can be just as rewarding as signing the draft's top players.
Bengals linebacker Jayson Dimanche turned into a TV star after making the team under the microscope of the HBO training camp series "Hard Knocks." Then Dimanche became a special teams ace on a team that won the AFC North.
His agent, Joe Linta, takes pride in his success.
"I'm pretty well known ... as the 'under-the-radar' guy," Linta said.
That means watching a lot of film for Linta, who has coaching experience. In turn, Linta said he's up front with his prospective rookies about the need to watch film with him.
If Linta notices a mistake, he said he tells the player "what they did wrong ... I'd rather lose him by being honest than being deceptive by giving him false hope." Linta is a 21-year veteran of the business whose best-known client is Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who got a huge contract after playing out the final year of his deal in 2012 — and leading Baltimore to a Super Bowl title.
FINDING A NICHE: There are guys like Kevin Gold, an attorney from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who has developed what he calls a niche of representing long snappers.
"Unfortunately, it takes an absolute catastrophe for a team to recognize the importance of a snapper," said Gold, a self-described "small agent" with four active clients. "The advantage of long snappers, if they can make it, they can stay in the league 10-12 years."
Gold's career as an agent began about 20 years ago at a food court. He had recently graduated from law school when an acquaintance connected him with then-Shippensburg player Rob Davis, a long snapper. They first met at a mall.
Davis ended up with a nice 11-year run snapping for the Packers that ended in 2007. Gold said snappers now reach out to him, and Gold even has a website all about the art of long-snapping.
CHARACTER COUNTS: The increased emphasis teams say they are placing on any off-field player issues has trickled down to agents, too. It's in large part about economics with the stakes high in the profitable and image-conscious NFL.
"Teams don't want to spend millions of dollars (on players) who are a cancer in the locker room or self-destructive," Dunn said.
GET TO KNOW HIM: Unlike when Dunn, Linta and Gold started in the business about two decades ago, there is just as much information about agents on the Internet as there is video on players.
"All in all, the agent has to be ... my best friend. I have to trust him with my life, everything I have," said linebacker prospect and Dunn client Kyle Van Noy.
Getting personalities and philosophies that mesh is important on both ends of the relationship. Linta likens it to a professional marriage.
"One thing that hasn't really changed," Linta said. "They're all looking for guidance."