Draft night at Dye house a big deal

There are more than 700 agents certified through the NFL Players Association, or about 2.8 agents for each of the 254 players selected in this week’s draft. Nobody, not even the most insulated or delusional among them, needs that much representation.

Atlanta-based agent Pat Dye Jr., 50, has survived 25 years in that crowded, cutthroat field by collecting his share and then some of the talent bubbling up from America’s universities.

Working in the epicenter of the powerful SEC hasn’t hurt. Nor has the name. The son of a legendary Auburn coach, Dye has been well-served by his connections, even with the arch rivals in Tuscaloosa, where he has strong ties with Nick Saban’s program.

Originally, his was a small, backyard stable. In the 1988 draft, his first as an agent, Dye represented but two Auburn players. He spent that first draft day in the student apartment of Stacy Searels — who went on to coach the offensive line at Georgia and now Texas. Then the draft was 12 rounds not seven, and was compressed into two days, not three. ESPN was still learning how to transform a flesh auction into a Vegas-style production number. The NFL Network was 15 years from its debut.

“We were just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring. We sat there all day,” Dye said.

The setting and the stakes have grown a little since.

The scene Thursday night at Dye’s home on the edge of Buckhead reflected the change in scale. Here was the story of the overblown NFL draft — and of the often complicated symbiosis it fosters between player and representative — told from the agent’s perspective.

Parked in his driveway was a CSS satellite truck. The NFL Network had its own camera on site. Guests overflowed a large sun room that had been made over into a viewing area. Many pigs had given their lives to feed the gathering.

They were all there to see if the sometime speckled career of Alec Ogletree, the Georgia linebacker from Newnan, would have a happy professional launch.

Among the 11 draft-eligible players Dye and his associates counted as clients, Ogletree was the one who chose to celebrate draft night at his agent’s house. Along with Ogletree, Dye’s players represented some of the more intriguing stories of this class.

He had the top running back on the board — Alabama’s Eddie Lacy — in the first year since 1963 when no running back would go in the first round. Lacy went late second Friday, to Green Bay.

Another client of Dye’s SportsTrust Advisors was perhaps the most easy-to-root-for player in the draft. South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore suffered his second major knee injury in October and through resolve and intense rehabilitation had already shown signs of a remarkable recovery in pre-draft workouts.

“We kept reminding teams that they needed to have a sense of urgency about this guy, because he’s a top-10 talent, and he’s going to make a full recovery,” Dye said. Lattimore went to San Francisco in the fourth round Saturday.

An agent can make a substantial investment in getting a player draft ready. Dye estimates his company will spend between $40,000 to $50,000 per client to polish him at specialized camps and prepare him for the multiple pre-draft workouts and interviews. In return, the NFLPA says an agent can claim a maximum of 3 percent of the player’s earnings.

So, yeah, there is some stress on draft night, when the rise and fall of a player’s position can mean the difference in millions up front. Ultimately teams draft players, Dye said. But in a way, the weekend also is a referendum on the agent.

It was while he was at one of those pre-draft camps in Arizona in February that Ogletree was popped for DUI. Facing the NFL draft combine in just two weeks, Ogletree already was looking at explaining previous transgressions such as a four-week suspension at Georgia and an arrest as a freshman for stealing a scooter helmet.

Wanting to get out in front of the story, Dye issued a press release on the arrest. He advised Ogletree on the art of the well-turned mea culpa.

Not all his clients are choirboys, but Dye had a reputation for handling high-character guys. And he was trading on that in an attempt to convince teams that Ogletree wasn’t the knucklehead he appeared.

Dye said he asked around Georgia about Ogletree before courting him. The report “wasn’t perfect, but we were comfortable enough to move forward,” he said. He then won over the Bulldogs linebacker and his family during an interrogation at the family table over the Bulldogs’ Christmas break.

The beginning of this draft was a reminder of deals not struck. Representing former Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Dye thought he had a strong connection to the Aggies’ highly touted tackle, Luke Joeckel. But another agent swooped in and signed him at the last minute.

Joeckel went with the second overall pick.

“Some hurt worse than others,” Dye’s wife, Barbara, murmured after that pick was announced.

From there, Thursday night ground on glacially at the Dye draft party. Sitting with his parents in front of the big screen turned to the NFL Network, Ogletree shifted about in a wooden folding chair, mostly silent. He had two phones in front of him, and neither was ringing.

Each draft has its own intrigue around the Dye household. Two years ago it was the Falcons pursuit of prized client Julio Jones, involving top secret meetings and a blockbuster draft day trade.

Thursday, the question was whether anyone wanted Dye’s most high-profile client. Dye hadn’t told Ogletree, but he knew that some teams had erased him from their draft boards. He estimated the pre-combine DUI was going to cost his guy at least 16 spots in draft position. Calling and texting to people in the league and media, Dye still was getting no clear read as the hours passed.

The first mention of Ogletree on the draft telecast didn’t come until just before the 20th pick. And then the quiet roomful of family, on the biggest day of their grandson’s/son’s/nephew’s life, got to hear analyst Mike Mayock proclaim that many teams had been scared off by his off-the-field foolishness.

One of Dye’s contacts had been curiously silent. Les Snead, the Falcons’ former director of pro personnel hired last year as general manager in St. Louis, actually was a Dye client. And he had been a little cagey of late.

Finally, at 11:24 p.m., Ogletree’s phone rang. It was the Rams. Snead took him with the 30th overall pick. The room erupted. His mother wept on his shoulder while his father videotaped the moment.

“I would have loved for Alec to go higher, but all things considered I think we did a great job salvaging his first-round status,” Dye said. His career numbers now stand at 27 players taken in the first round, 66 taken in the first three rounds.

“It’s a good pick (for the Rams), a safe pick,” Ogletree promised afterward.

His father, Al, offered the toast for all those assembled at Dye’s home: “Make those other 29 teams that passed on him regret that they didn’t take him.” That much is out of the agent’s hands now.