Why Did Geno Smith Really Fire His Agents?

Geno Smith fell to the second round of the NFL draft, 39th overall. It wasn't unfathomable, but it was toward the most pessimistic end of the most pessimistic projections. Then, weird stuff happened: Smith fired his agents. His agents went to the media, anonymously claiming that Smith was disappointed he didn't go first overall. Now, it gets even weirder: the ex-agents have issued a statement putting further blame on Smith, and did so "in response to" the reports based on their own leaks.

It started with the Daily News, though Smith's ex-agents at the Select Sports Group approached a number of reporters with the story that Smith fired them because he "thought he would be and should be" the No. 1 pick. Smith denied that during a radio interview, saying "it’s not because of one particular incident, there are a number of things," and indicated his willingness to let the issue go.

Then, last night, Smith's ex-agents Jeff Nalley and Erik Burkhardt issued a statement to Pro Football Talk, doubling down on the "Smith was disappointed by his draft position" narrative. This is strange for a number of reasons: players change representation all the time, and both sides usually keep it quiet (Browns receiver Josh Gordon fired Select Sports three weeks ago, and no statement was released by either side); Nalley and Burkhardt were giving a public comment in response to their own private comments, not to Smith; Florio oddly headlined the story "Geno Smith’s former agents wish him the best."

The statement:

“We worked tirelessly for Geno Smith and all of our draft prospects. The NFL Draft is unpredictable, and we prepared Geno and all of our draft prospects, as we do every year, about what can happen during the draft. Not only did we tell him that what transpired on the first day of the draft was possible, the question of whether Geno would be a first- or second-round pick was arguably the most talked about subject in the three months leading up to the draft. We wish Geno the best.”

We spoke to a person close to Geno Smith, because while a player switching agencies isn't unique, it's often done for interesting reasons. Our source says that while Select Sports "absolutely told Geno he'd go No. 1," that was at the beginning of their partnership, and it's par for the course for agents to promise their clients the world. Smith is less bothered by that promise, the person says, than by Nalley and Burkhardt attempting to portray it as the sole reason for his move.

Smith, we're told, was more upset that Select Sports handled him like a potential high pick, failing to do the sorts of things that could have improved his draft position. Our source says Smith wanted to take part in the Senior Bowl, a showcase for talent looking to move up, but his agents convinced him to skip it. When Pro Football Weekly issued a scathing scouting report, calling Smith "not committed or focused" and deriding his "marginal work ethic," Smith was disappointed that his agents did nothing to combat the negative press it created, our source says.

Smith also felt betrayed, perhaps unfairly, when Jeff Nalley had two of his quarterback clients sign with teams that might have been landing spots for Smith—Chase Daniel in Kansas City and Kevin Kolb in Buffalo. (This argument doesn't hold much water after the Bills traded down to take E.J. Manuel.)

Our source—and, remember, this is someone from Smith's camp talking—claims Smith came to terms with his potential draft plunge weeks before the draft, and takes the blame for not being as polished a prospect as he could have been, both on and off the field. We openly speculated on some of the pre-draft preparation an agent gives a player, but the person close to Smith says he didn't make his call based on that, or on not going No. 1. "He just felt like he needed a change, and that's the end of the story," the person says. Which means it's clearly just the beginning.