NFL agents, not just draft prospects, adjusting in the face of COVID-19 — just ask the reps of Utah’s prospects

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Since the NFL Combine, Utah Utes running back Zack Moss (2) has been working out on his own in California and interviewing with teams on Zoom and Facetime in the run-up to the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday.

As Vice President of Football for the Los Angeles-based Wasserman talent management agency, CJ LaBoy would normally be spending a lot of time on the ground with his clients this spring during the NFL Draft process.

That includes the Senior Bowl, the NFL Scouting Combine, college-run pro days, individual pro days and generally making sure his clients, who include former University of Utah star linebacker Francis Bernard, are informed and properly preparing, both on and off the field.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, the run-up to next week’s NFL Draft is not being conducted under normal circumstances. The Senior Bowl and NFL Combine were both held, but pro days were axed, as were NFL teams bringing in prospects to their respective facilities for in-person visits. Those have been conducted via phone, Zoom or FaceTime. Instead of a normal in-person draft as planned in Las Vegas, the three-day event will be held April 23-25 over the phone and Zoom.

Much has been made over the last month about how the pandemic has affected NFL Draft prospects, of which the University of Utah has roughly a dozen, but the agents of said prospects have had to adjust as well.

“There are stay-at-home restrictions, travel bans and all of the things that have been cancelled has definitely changed the business cycle,” LaBoy told The Salt Lake Tribune via phone earlier this week from his home in California. “It’s more calls, more FaceTimes, more Zooms. We’re relegated to those forms of communication. That’s all we can really do right now to keep everybody safe.”

LaBoy is the primary Wasserman agent working with Bernard, in addition to helping his colleague, Doug Hendrickson, represent Ute cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who may be selected in the first round on Thursday evening.

“I don’t think a whole lot has been affected because ultimately, the process has evolved over the years,” Hendrickson has told The Tribune. “It used to be where guys had the Combine, then pro day, then individual work, then top-30s [in-person visits at team facilities]. I think it has evolved to the point where more top guys are doing the Combine, but then skipping pro days.

“Visits are becoming more subjective, individual workouts aren’t happening, so I don’t think this has affected my day-to-day job a whole lot.”

Whether it is between agents and clients or prospects and NFL teams, most would agree that the lack of face-to-face conversing at this critical juncture for all parties involved is not ideal, but thanks to the technology in place, it is not prohibitive.

With traditional pre-NFL Draft activities off and a stay-at-home order in place in California, LaBoy has nowhere to be. His days are spent talking to teams, answering questions and sometimes even concerns about his prospects, all while trying to harvest information he can pass along to his clients’ families.

FaceTime and Zoom visits with prospects will give way next week to the actual draft. The fact the NFL is even moving forward with the draft, in any fashion, has come under scrutiny.

On March 16, just days after the NBA indefinitely suspended its season and the NCAA cancelled March Madness, the NFL announced it had cancelled all public activities as part of the draft in Las Vegas, and that it would explore options on how to proceed. On April 6, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to all 32 teams informing them the draft would move forward on the scheduled dates, but in a “fully-virtual format.”

What that means for an agent might differ. If a client were invited to be on-site at the NFL Draft, the agent would be there with his client. For what it’s worth, 22 prospects were invited in both 2018 and 2019.

That possibility is out, so how will agents proceed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday? Normally, LaBoy, Hendrickson and other Wasserman employees would set up something of a command center, working the phones, talking to teams. Given the stay-at-home order, a Wasserman war room is also out. Those agents will still execute their individual and collective strategies, but will do so from their respective homes.

A collective effort is one thing, but a guy like Jamal Tooson only has one client to worry about this year, record-setting Utes running back Zack Moss, who figures to be selected on Friday in either the second and third round.

Tooson is based in Southern California, which is where Moss has been living and training since January.

“We’re obviously dealing with a lot of virtual correspondence, but I’ll make sure my information and my business partner’s information is in the hands of all 32 teams,” Tooson told The Tribune. “Where we can be located on draft day under these conditions is obviously vital.”