Dallas man more than a sports agent

12/24/2012 7:27 PM

12/24/2012 7:50 PM

Eavesdrop on Jordan Woy's flurry of phone conversations on any given day, or peek at his endless trail of texts, and you'd be hard-pressed to guess what he does for a living.

That's him crunching numbers and talking contracts from his high-rise office overlooking Turtle Creek Boulevard in Dallas.

Must be a lawyer, or a financial planner, right? Maybe a CEO?

That's him, too, zipping around Dallas in his black Maserati, Blue-toothing with a colleague about the long-term effects of concussions. Sure seems to know a lot about them.

Ah, a doctor? (Sweet ride, doc.)

But a text, asking him to arrange a meeting with a starlet, suggests he could be in showbiz. And a soothing exchange -- "How's Katie? How's everything? Let me know if I can help." -- spins you in a completely different direction. Marriage counselor? Therapist?

The answer, Woy might tell you, is all of the above.

He is the modern-day sports agent, not just the barracuda in form-fitting Armani that we all came to know and loathe in Jerry Maguire, but, rather, a methodical, law degree-wielding, sensitive and, yes, cocksure negotiator on behalf of his roster of NFL players.

The NFL Players Association said the 51-year-old Woy has 25 players contracted to 20 NFL teams -- reportedly the most of any of the 78 certified sports agents in football-crazed Texas -- and Woy reps an additional 15 players without negotiating their current contracts. Over the course of his career, he has taken on 450 players, lined up contracts with every team and racked up close to $2 billion in NFL deals.

His clients include five Dallas Cowboys -- Anthony Spencer, Jason Hatcher, Victor Butler, Dan Bailey and Kenyon Coleman -- and several high-profile former Cowboys, including Flozell Adams and Roy Williams.

And it was Woy who, against all odds earlier this year, managed to land another shot at glory for former Cowboys receiver Terrell Owens, who at age 38 had been cut by the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League. (Owens signed a contract with the Seattle Seahawks, but was cut during training camp. Woy continues to represent him and has helped him land several TV gigs while still trolling for NFL opportunities.)

And yet, Jordan Woy has flown largely under the general public's radar in a sport where it seems even defensive coordinators are becoming household names.

Woy is low profile because that's his game. After a quarter-century of surviving in a billion-dollar blood sport, he barely has to raise his gravelly baritone to get the attention of NFL owners and GMs.

"The thing about Jordan is that he creates a lot of trust and faith simply because he's a total straight shooter," Stephen Jones, Cowboys executive vice president, said. "He's unusual in that he consistently wants to do what is right for the player, and not get every last buck. Actually, Jordan is one of the guys in his business that I actually look forward to working with."

Sure, things occasionally get heated at the NFL negotiating table, Woy said, especially when millions in signing bonuses and long-term deals are at stake.

"Clearly, there are times when you have to be tough because every team will try to push you around," he said. "But what constantly affects my negotiating style is the fact that I will have to deal with that general manager or player personnel manager many, many times throughout the course of my career. So it's important that we develop a lot of mutual trust and respect.

"None of these owners or general managers mind if you drive a hard bargain. What they don't like is dishonest behavior. It would be extremely difficult to go back to Stephen and Jerry Jones of the Cowboys in a year or two if I've been a complete creep to them along the way. They are not going anywhere, and I will have to deal with them again."

Moreover, Woy can employ a low-pulse-rate approach because, in his mind, he's playing with house money.

"I've made enough in this business that, if I didn't represent another player starting tomorrow, it wouldn't change my life," he said. "But I still get a thrill out of sitting down with a new client and establishing a great working relationship where we are a team. I still love it because my clients know that I will work with them and that, for all of their celebrity status, we treat each other with tremendous mutual respect."

And they know that beyond his role as coach and confidante, accountant and spiritual adviser, even father figure, Woy is a dealmaker, first and foremost.

Second generation

If there is one person who understands the rewarding yet grueling life of a sports agent, it's the man who inspired Woy's career choice: his dad, Bucky.

A would-be professional golfer when Jordan was growing up in Akron, Ohio, Bucky soon discovered he was better suited to helping shape the careers of others, such as would-be legends Lee Trevino and Julius Boros.

Bucky Woy started a sports marketing firm that first collaborated with a then-upstart agency called International Management Group, which, from its base in Cleveland, would grow into one of the sports world's premiere agencies, representing, among others, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.

"Through my dad's firm, we always had great athletes just around our house all the time," Woy recalled. "Everyone from golfers like Lee Trevino, Orville Moody, David Graham to Jack Lambert, the great linebacker of the '70s-era Pittsburgh Steelers."

In 1975, Bucky Woy moved his family to Dallas so he could run the relatively fledgling World Championship Tennis tour (featuring such stars as Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase) for its owner, Texas billionaire Lamar Hunt.

Jordan attended MacArthur High School in Irving and was on the golf team, carrying a 6-handicap. At that time, Bucky Woy began representing Bob Horner, a third baseman who was the first player taken in the Major League Baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves. "It was at that point, traveling with my dad on road games, watching him work with Horner," Jordan Woy said, "that I decided that sports management would be something I'd want to pursue."

After graduating from Texas Tech in 1984, he went to law school at St. Mary's in San Antonio. That same year, he attended the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., where his father would recruit and eventually sign college's hottest player, Oklahoma State slugger Pete Incaviglia.

"I remember my dad was a ruthless negotiator," Woy said. "He engaged in some knock-down screaming matches because he would often represent a player as if he was his son."

Fresh out of law school in 1987, Jordan Woy met a Dallas-based attorney and football agent named Steve Weinberg, who took a shine to him. Together, along with Woy's father, they formed the fledgling firm of Woy, Weinberg & Woy.

"I was 26 years old, running around with one of the first of those clunky cellphones," Jordan Woy said. "It was a time when I didn't know enough to know that I really wasn't that qualified to do what I was doing. But I kept one thing in mind: The Wright brothers didn't have a pilot's license, either."

In late 1987 and early 1988, amid all the hundreds of cold calls for clients, Woy would sign four players. One of them would end up making history.

In 1992, Woy positioned Brian Habib, an offensive lineman out of Washington, as the first player to sign a free-agency deal in football, sending Habib from the Minnesota Vikings to the Denver Broncos and simultaneously making him the NFL's highest-paid offensive linemen. Woy's fee was 5 percent of the final contract. (With today's much bigger monetary deals, Woy's fee is 3 percent.)

"It kicked off the brand new world of free agency," Woy said, "a new era of big money."

Straight approach

Tuesday during the NFL's regular season is typically a day of rest for players, but for Woy, it's go time. He'll try to contact all of his players by phone or by text.

"You got a win this week, which was good," said Woy to one of his clients, an NFL lineman, a few days after an October game. "I had you down for 25 snaps this last game. Your snap count has been consistent every game...If you finish out the year like the way you started, there will definitely be a market for you. Just as long as you stay healthy."

And then, on a dime, Woy pivots: "How are the kids? Everybody's good?"

Clients ask his advice on buying a house, or help with a last-minute plane or hotel reservation. Or finding a top-drawer attorney to help with a tricky divorce or a paternity suit. Woy even gets requests to play matchmaker occasionally.

But mostly, Woy gives pro athletes his gut-honest feedback on their play and how it will translate into dollars come contract time.

Daryl Washington, a budding star for the Arizona Cardinals and a TCU grad, said he appreciates Woy's candor.

"I don't want somebody to tell me I played well when I didn't," the linebacker said. "But he'll also check up on just how I'm doing in general, how I'm feeling mentally."

Josh LeRibeus, a 23-year-old rookie backup offensive lineman drafted by the Washington Redskins out of SMU, said it took him awhile to get used to Woy's direct approach.

"I will never forget that during our first meeting, Jordan said that he wouldn't lie to me," LeRibeus recalled. "He said I'd be drafted in the seventh round or, if not, as a free agent. I remember saying to myself: 'Geez, couldn't he have sugarcoated that a bit more?' But in all of our talks, he never lets me get a big head, and that just makes me work that much harder."

In a few keystrokes on his iPad, Woy can tell you how many snaps his clients were involved in during the past season. If it's a wide receiver, he'll chart every pass and how many yards after the catch that player racks up. Then, he'll compare those numbers with other top receivers in the league.

"You have to have done that kind of specific research, especially when it comes to comparables -- very much like when you're buying a house," Woy said.

That strategy helped Washington sign a four-year extension at a whopping $8 million a year, making him the seventh-highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL. Woy also made sure his client received bigger bucks up front ($5 million), and that half of the entire $32 million deal is guaranteed.

The whole journey

When Woy is not consumed by his clients' contracts and promotional opportunities, he can be found obsessing about their life after football.

The average NFL career is around four years, with the lucky ones stretching it to 10. That means many are forced to hang up their cleats in their early 30s.

"After they retire, these guys get bored," Woy said. "They've always had their competitive juices flowing and now, after football, they want to stay relevant. Many look at Troy Aikman as someone who not only had a great career, made some quite good money, and now, as one of the top analysts with Fox, can probably do that for the next 10 to 15 years if he wants to."

As such, Woy has developed the Life Beyond Football program, three to four off-season trips to such places as Las Vegas, Miami, Cancun and the Bahamas. Players, along with their wives, meet professionals ranging from financial planners and lawyers specializing in estate planning to executives from the oil and gas industry, such as Chad Willis, Woy's primary partner in Willis & Woy. He is a successful oil and gas entrepreneur who helps drive home some of the post-football possibilities.

He often points to the shining example of Ray Crockett, who played cornerback in the NFL for 14 years and was on two Super Bowl-winning teams in Denver. Crockett, who attended Baylor, was a "born salesman," Woy recalled. "Always had this big smile on his face, talking a million miles an hour."

So he steered Crockett toward real estate.

"Like a sponge, Ray just picked up everything," Woy said. "He started out with small investments, developing and selling off small parcels, and eventually, since he retired in 2003, Ray is seen as one of the most successful local real estate investors around. He now drives a Bentley convertible and lives in a 14,000-square-foot house in Southlake."

Learning the ABCs

If all that fatherly advice and planning for the future makes Woy seem like a kinder, gentler version of the prototypical sports agent, he's fine with that.

After 25 years, he knows who he is, and knows how to survive in the shark-infested waters of the NFL.

"I must get hundreds of emails a week asking me how to become an agent," Woy said. "I tell them any number of things, including how much of a cut-throat business it has become and how much hustling and jumping through hoops are involved. That you can make quite decent money at it, but it will require many late nights, early mornings and weekends. And that every year, you as an agent are starting over, from ground zero, no matter how good you were the year before."

Certainly, there are clashes of egos and confrontations. Agents never know when a client will decide to fire them, or sign with someone else.

In fact, just this season Woy signed Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who was a first-round draft pick in 2007, because Spencer wasn't satisfied with his contract, which includes an $8.856 million franchise tag for the 2012 season.

Woy is seeking a five-year deal from the Cowboys, whom he has worked with successfully on 50 players since Jerry Jones bought the team in 1989.

Providing a window into the negotiating room with the owners of the NFL's most valuable franchise, Woy said: "In my dealings with Jerry and Stephen, they've always been open and honest. They are also pretty clear-cut. If they want your guy, they are pretty aggressive about working a deal out. If they aren't sure they want your player back, then I go out in free agency and revisit with them to see if they can afford to match the offer I've found on the outside. The bottom line with Jerry and Stephen is there is not any subterfuge."

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