If John Thornton were hitting the market next week like he did at the turn of the century when he became one of the most important free-agent signings in Bengals history, he figures he'd be getting on a Zoom call instead of an airplane.
For the first time in the history of the NFL, teams, players and their agents are dealing with a reduced salary cap that has everyone scrambling. Thornton, the former defensive tackle-turned agent, tells the Old School Scribe Podcast that the deals to watch won't be the blockbusters leaked on the first day of free agency but those that come next.
"That's usually what happens," says Thornton, citing the 2019 struggles of the Raiders. "If you have the money and you target a player and you feel like that player is going to get you over the hump, yeah, go out and get him. But history has shown that doesn't really equate to winning or that doesn't mean you're going to win or not.
"There are going to be some players that don't get the deal they want and they may choose the best situation and say, 'Hey, this is an odd year. I'm not getting the contract I want. Let me get the best one-year deal and bet on myself.' Those type of moves will be the most impactful."
Thornton, an anchor for the firm Roc Nation Sports who last year negotiated one of those new age first day deals for linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski in Las Vegas, isn't repping a current free agent. But he's got one of the draft's top edge rushers in Georgia's Azeez Ojulari, a prospect looking more and more like a top 15 pick.
Since his client led the SEC in sacks and was on TV every week for a team that won the Peach Bowl while playing nearly a full schedule, Thornton outlines why Ojulari has no problem getting his beefy resume out there compared to other players in the draft.
But here's one thing that Ojulari has to do that Thornton didn't in the 1999 draft when he was coming out of West Virginia as a second-rounder: Have his agent sign him up for a psychological test on an NFL team's encrypted web site.
Other topics Thornton hit in between various rings on his ubiquitous cell phone, signaling the season of cents (and dollars) is upon us:
- How he helped turn Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson on to social media in the early days of Twitter in 2009 during a Paul Brown Stadium summit and then watched him become a global platform pioneer. (24:00).
"He was a rock star," says Thornton, who realized the impact of the service when he live tweeted the Feb. 1, 2009 Super Bowl as he called out the Steelers' plays.
- He also says Johnson is the hardest working and most talented player he was ever around and is one of the four best Bengals players that were his teammates from 2003-09. Check out Thornton's other three. (22:00).
- How new Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis influenced his decision to become the first major acquisition of Lewis' overhaul of the franchise in March of 2003. Lewis still calls him "a brick," of the culture he built as they continue one of the relationships Thornton covets in a game of relationships. (16:20).
- He details which Bengals team he feels is the best in the 18 seasons he's been on the scene. (17:30).
- Why he believes the Bengals should address the defense first when protecting quarterback Joe Burrow. (31:20).
- Thornton, who wrote his own web sites when he was playing for the Bengals and Titans and dabbled in being a game analyst, very nearly joined the media when he retired after the 2008 season. But helping players struck a chord and here's why he's happy with the decision. (33:00).