March 8, 2014, is a day I'll never forget. It was my wedding day. I was marrying the love of my life in front of countless friends and family. However, the day was also memorable for another reason. That morning, I learned that my years of hard work and dedication to football were going to pay off.
The official start of the league year was March 11 at 4 p.m. Eastern. That was when unrestricted free agents were free to sign with other teams. But under the new collective bargaining agreement, there's a 72-hour window of allowed communication between teams and agents before that. For these three days, the agents are quite busy. This is where they earn their money.
The window happened to open on March 8 at 9 a.m. on the West Coast—right in the middle of my parents' pre-wedding out-of-town guest brunch.
A few days before that, my agent, Deryk Gilmore of Priority Sports, had called me and asked one question: "Are you going on a honeymoon?" I informed him that I wasn't because I knew free agency was going to begin Tuesday. He breathed a sigh of relief, said "OK," and let me know he thought it might be a wild next week. I calmly said, "Alright," hanging up the phone and trying not to get overexcited.
I've gone through the free-agency process now three straight offseasons. But this was the first year I was regarded as a high-value free agent, so it was more than exciting to hear those words. Since the season ended in disappointing fashion in Lucas Oil Stadium, I'd been looking forward to free agency.
My three consecutive years of free agency taught me one thing for sure: The NFL is a business. I was trying to get value, and teams were trying to get me at a value. Most often, those don't align properly. It's something that's always hard to accept, but nothing that I can't get over. What becomes a drag during the process is the waiting. When I pack up my possessions at the end of the season after team exit meetings, I know all too well that it will be a long waiting game until March.
In previous years, I knew I was leaving my current team and wasn't considered a high-value free agent. I was injured and not tendered in Carolina. I was seldom used in Minnesota. Those two free-agency experiences were vastly different than this year. Those two years, I was a second-tier free agent, signing a week after free agency started.
This past season in Kansas City, I played well and we made the playoffs. I was holding out hope that the Chiefs felt I was a player they wanted to keep. But I had to wait until at least the combine in late February to get an idea.
While agents and teams cross paths at the various college all-star games, they don't talk free-agent business much. First off, it's not legal. And second, it's too early in the process. Teams evaluate themselves before turning their attention to free agency. So the combine becomes the first time you get any idea of the level of interest.
Because I was still the property of the Chiefs, my agent could talk directly and openly with them while in Indy. He did so. After leaving town, he called me. We were not on the same page. Not close, actually. I got the feeling my time in K.C. was up. I was disappointed, but I started to mentally prepare to move for the third offseason to a new city. I called my landlord and told her I needed to ship home the remaining items at my place.
As conversations with my agent continued in the days following, he informed me that the Chiefs still had "interest." That is all. Just interest. I had no idea what that meant. Interest in me starting? Interest in me backing up? It drove me nuts. It was all I could think about for days. That's why I was so excited when my agent called to let me know that things "will get wild."
He had a gut feeling. I liked it.
I was staying at my parents' house the few days leading up to my wedding. So when they decided to throw an out-of-town guest brunch the morning of the big day, I was invited by default. My parents set up some traditional Jewish cuisine...bagels and lox, smoked white fish, etc. Guests started arriving, and we were all enjoying breakfast. I knew 9 a.m. was coming up, but in all the commotion during breakfast, I forgot to look at the clock. Luckily my agent was there with his phone on, battery fully charged.
We were talking about something else, and his phone rang. It was literally 9 a.m. and 30 seconds. It was a representative from the Giants on the phone. My agent ran into the living room for privacy to take the call. Five minutes later, he returned to the kitchen and asked me to follow him back to the living room. While we were discussing the Giants phone call, the Rams called. Other teams, too. This continued for an hour. Eventually, I left my agent to it and headed back to the party.
At about 10:15 a.m., he called me back into the living room. It was now me, my brother, my dad and Deryk (my agent) sitting in the living room while the party was in full swing. No one had any idea what was going on. They were all discussing the wedding, sharing stories and enjoying the beautiful morning.
Deryk told me to grab a piece of paper so we could write down all the teams who had shown interest. We decided to rank the teams 1 to 7 based on some criteria: money, location, coaching staff, ability to win, state income tax, ease of living, etc. In my mind, it was all about the money, so I disregarded most of those criteria and sequenced by money. I'd waited so long for this opportunity. My first thought was: Let's get the most money possible just to show everyone who doubted me.
My dad interjected, reminding me that I've never made decisions in my life solely based on money. He's correct. So I rearranged the list. By 11 a.m., my head was spinning. I couldn't focus anymore. I told Deryk we were done with this for now. He headed back to the hotel, and I prepared to get married.
My ceremony was beautiful. Everything I had imagined it would be. After the wedding, my new bride and I ran off to take photos. That took 15 minutes. Then we headed to cocktail hour. All I could think about was finding Deryk to see where we stood. He winked at me, let me know, "We are good." We had talked about numbers for weeks, so I knew what "We are good" meant. I breathed a sigh of relief. Now I could truly enjoy the wedding.
It was almost 4 p.m. on March 11, the first time you were allowed to sign with a team. Over the previous few days, Deryk had been negotiating with teams, filling me in once a day. I didn't need to know all the details of every offer—just the ones that fit our criteria. By around noon, I had two offers on the table, one being from the Giants. We discussed how to proceed, made sure we were on the same page. Around 2:30 p.m. he called me and said, "Pack a bag. Be ready to fly somewhere tonight." I packed and headed out to run some errands.
In the middle of errand running I got the call. The Giants had made an offer we thought was great. I needed a minute to think it over. I told him I'd call him back. I had a quick chat with my wife, telling her I was going to New York, then called Deryk back.
We had a deal.
About three minutes after 4 p.m., the official start of free agency, I was on the phone with the Giants about coordinating a flight to the Big Apple that night. We worked it out; I landed in NYC and the offensive line coach picked me up. We headed to dinner. Had a great time. I knew I made the right choice. Early the next morning, March 12, I headed to the hospital for my physical. In the past, I've had two-plus-hour physicals filled with X-rays, MRI exams and the like. This physical took all of five minutes. When you're healthy, there's not much to discuss. From there, we headed to the facility. I met the staff, took a tour, grabbed some lunch.
Time to make it official. This was the moment I'd dreamed about ever since I began playing football.
I'd always seen those photos of the players signing their big contracts and had gotten super jealous. I knew if I stuck to the plan, kept my positive attitude, eventually I'd get to this point. So now it was my turn. I made sure to look in the mirror so my hair looked OK. My wife would kill me if there was a photo of me signing with sloppy hair. I headed into the assistant GM's office, and there on the table was my contract. I signed it.
What a relief. It's over. All the stress, worrying, anxiousness…it's all gone. I've worked through three surgeries within 13 months, all the rehab, all the missed playing time…for this moment. I can finally relax for a second. Enjoy it. I'm now a member of the New York football Giants.