It wasn’t so much an upset when Baker Mayfield, easily the most intriguing prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft, signed up with Boulder-based agents Jack and Tom Mills over dinner Monday night as it was a blast from the past.
Check that. Who are we kidding? In an industry where quarterback representation is dominated by the likes Creative Artists Agency (CAA), Rep 1 Sports and Athletes First, Mayfield’s decision to align with the Mills’ was the biggest surprise since Tom Cruise warded off Jay Mohr for the rights to Cuba Gooding Jr.
“We pitched the size of our firm as an advantage because we told him we’re not going to have any potential conflicts with another quarterback,’’ Tom Mills said in a conversation with 9News as he was driving home Tuesday night from the Denver airport. "'You’re our guy. We’re all in with you.' I think that was important to him."
“We have a personal-service approach. We’re not the biggest group and we’re not trying to be the biggest group. But we’re going to devote a ton of attention to you and make sure you get the best result you can possibly have.’’
Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy quarterback from Oklahoma, had heard of the Mills’ because of Jack’s long connection with former Sooner football greats, but he had never met them until they gathered for dinner and conversation at a Los Angeles restaurant.
The Mills’ were there to pitch their firm, Capital Sports Advisors, to Mayfield, Baker’s girlfriend and two of the marketing reps he had already hired to handle his off-field endorsements and appearances.
“We had a real thorough conversation about all the issues over the dinner table and towards the end we just asked him, ‘What do you think?’’’ Tom Mills said. “And he says, ‘I think I like it.’ It was a real comfortable meeting. It wasn't a high-pressure thing. He was looking for a good fit. And I think the way we approached it was kind of what he was looking for.’’
Now that they have Mayfield, the Mills’ and their partner, local agent Kevin Robinson, have some work to do. Mayfield is in Los Angeles training for the draft process that includes the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama next week and the NFL scouting combine, February 27 to March 5 in Indianapolis.
At the Senior Bowl, Mayfield will play for the North team led by Broncos head coach Vance Joseph and his staff. The Broncos, who have the No. 5 overall pick in the draft, placed a request to Senior Bowl officials to have Mayfield on their North roster.
The Broncos and every other NFL team, though, already know from watching film what Mayfield can do as a player. The question is whether he has the type of personality and character to become the leader of an NFL team.
Mayfield’s character took a hit a year ago when he was arrested in Arkansas on charges of public intoxication, disorderly conduct and fleeing and resisting arrest.
“He’s contrite,’’ Tom Mills said. “He’s been very apologetic. It was an unfortunate incident but it also an isolated incident. And he has learned from it and it’s not going to happen again."
“He looks forward to the opportunity starting next week at the Senior Bowl to directly addressing that with the team executives. And that’ll run right into the combine and beyond.’’
Mayfield’s character rating went up a few points when he picked the down-home Mills’ to represent him. Baker didn't pick flash. He went real.
The agreement to have the Mills’ firm negotiate Mayfield’s first and future NFL contract was signed at the Los Angeles restaurant following dinner Monday.
Turns out, 80-year-old Jack Mills had at least one more big fish in him. Jack Mills was once one of the NFL’s first “super agents” at a time when the term was not yet part of sports vernacular.
He received both his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Oklahoma and started his own sports agency business in 1966. One of his first big-name clients was Oklahoma running Steve Owens, the 1969 Heisman Trophy winner.
Steve and his brother Tinker Owens, who also played in the NFL, were involved in recommending the Mills’ to Mayfield, who is projected to be not only a first-round draft pick, but possibly a top 5 selection.
Has it been mentioned the Broncos have the No. 5 overall draft pick?
"The friendships that I've had at OU going all the way back to Steve Owens and then I'd say Tinker Owens helped us more than anybody on this one because he's a real good close friend of Baker's,'' Jack Mills said. "And then Blake Bell, the Belldozer, he's real close friends of Baker. It was just one of those things.''
Jack Mills represented four, first-round picks in the 1970 draft. He really hit it big when he served as the agent for Eric Dickerson, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1983 draft. Besides Owens and Mayfield, Jack Mills has represented two other Heisman Trophy winners in George Rogers and Rashaan Salaam.
Tom Mills joined his father’s agency in 1996. They represented the likes of Broncos receiver Rod Smith, tight end Daniel Graham, Jacksonville offensive tackle and Boulder's own Tony Boselli to name a few. Offensive linemen, tight ends and receivers have been their speciality -- the firm will represent incoming Colorado State receiver Michael Gallup -- but they have sprinkled in players at all positions.
And now, Baker Mayfield.
"The most competitive guy I've ever been around was Hale Irwin,'' Jack Mills said of the three-time U.S. Open golf champion. "And this guy Baker is right there with him.''
In recent years, Jack Mills had stepped back a tad but he never retired.
“He can kind of pick and choose where he wants to be involved and he doesn’t do a lot of cold recruiting kind of stuff but when he has long relationships that offer us an opportunity, he still loves to compete in the game,’’ Tom Mills said about his dad. “This really was kind of a perfect scenario for him to connect the dots with his connections. It was a lot of fun.’’
The Mills’ string of recommendations stretched from the Owens brothers – Steve is 70 and Tinker is 63 – to Blake Bell, the former Oklahoma tight end who is in his third NFL season playing for the Minnesota Vikings, with dozens of players in between. Jack Mills dealt mostly with Mayfield's parents, James and Gina -- by design, Baker wanted to concentrate on football and let his parents deal with agent recruiting -- until Jack and Tom sat down with Baker and company for the first time Monday night at the Los Angeles restaurant.
“It’s a trust factor,’’ said Tom Mills, who is 50. “These young men are approaching this for the first time. They don’t know anybody in this industry so they want a comfort level. And I think given the people he knew and knows were giving him positive feedback about us, I think it gave him a comfort level with us.’’