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Football Notes

Patriots in good hands with Medfield native

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / October 2, 2011

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A familiar scene played out Friday night, in a back room of a San Francisco restaurant.

Patriots receiver Wes Welker was seated on one side, and ordered several courses. No, not to eat two days before a game. Only to run up the tab.

Normally, tight end Aaron Hernandez would be on the other side, arguing with Welker about which one is Tom Brady’s favorite target, but Hernandez didn’t make the trip because of his knee injury.

Punter Zoltan Mesko was conversing with the wait staff in one of the five languages he knows.

Sprinkled elsewhere were the rookies - tackle Nate Solder, running back Shane Vereen, quarterback Ryan Mallett. They kept their heads down, hoping to avoid the inevitable shots fired from Welker.

Keeping the peace and adding much-needed maturity to the table was veteran guard Brian Waters.

Those are the eight players on the Patriots represented by the Irvine, Calif.-based Athletes First agency, the largest number for any agent. Drew Rosenhaus is next with five.

Picking up the tab and reveling in being around players from his hometown team was Medfield native Brian Murphy, the 40-year-old president of Athletes First.

“Dinner was expensive, but I called the bank beforehand,’’ Murphy said. “It’s quite a group. Thank goodness we and the Patriots just signed Brian Waters. He adds some order and maturity. That’s one thing we don’t have a lot of among our Patriots clients, and that’s maturity. But we’re working on it.’’

That, obviously, includes Welker. When asked about Murphy’s role at Athletes First and in Welker’s career, the receiver gave a typical Welker response.

“Supposedly Murph has this big role over there and everything -I’m still waiting to see exactly what that role is,’’ Welker said. “He’s picked up a couple meals, things like that. Made some reservations for me, but beyond that, I’m still waiting for him to kind of earn something.’’

The most powerful agents in the NFL are Rosenhaus, Tom Condon, Ben Dogra, David Dunn, Todd France, Eugene Parker, Joel Segal, and Jimmy Sexton.

Athletes First, headed by Dunn, is one of the signature sports agencies in the NFL with about 90 active players, including marquee names such as Aaron Rodgers, Ray Lewis, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker, Clay Matthews, Matt Cassel, B.J. Raji, Von Miller, Carson Palmer, and Reggie Wayne.

Murphy handles the day-to-day operations of the agency.

“Murph is truly indispensable,’’ said Dunn, who is in his 20th year. “Of anybody I’ve ever been around, he has the best mixture of people skills and intelligence. If you put him in a room with the collective bargaining agreement and a problem to solve, he’ll solve it. If you put him in a social situation, he’ll win everyone over as well.

“He’s the president of our company and what that means is he takes care of all the company-related business so I can do what I love, which is represent athletes. And he represents them as well. He puts our company in the right direction, and he works his tail off for our clients.’’

Murphy graduated from Notre Dame and Harvard Law School before starting at Ropes & Gray. Knowing his passion for sports, a friend passed along an ad from the Steinberg Moorad & Dunn law firm asking, “Do you want to be the next Jerry Maguire?’’

“He caught our attention by sending this mock Sports Illustrated about him being an agent,’’ Dunn said. “That certainly caught our eye. I think he demonstrated that he’s awfully bright and he can still hang. It was a pretty easy decision for all of us.’’

The draw of Dunn caused Murphy and his seven-months-pregnant wife, Lauren, to move from Boston to California in 1999. Lauren, a Foxborough native, had been a social worker at Massachusetts General Hospital. Murphy had to take a significant pay cut.

“I didn’t always want to be a sports agent because I was very leery about the types of people who were sports agents,’’ Murphy said. “I probably wouldn’t have taken that jump if it wasn’t for Dave. He’s the name, been doing it for 20 years, but he gives me complete authority to run our company and we share a vision for our company.

“We really enjoy representing a lot of powerful names in the NFL, but we represent just a bunch of good people off the field. We really take pride in people who are committed to family and personal relationships.

“We weren’t sure if there was a place for that in the industry. We started off with people like Drew Bledsoe and John Lynch, and it took off. We’re probably more excited about the quality of people we represent than the quantity of clients we have.’’

But Athletes First certainly does have quantity, especially on the Patriots, and that gives it some clout.

Next on the agenda is a new contract for Welker, who is in the final year of his deal. Murphy and Dunn would seem to have some leverage after Welker tied the franchise record for receptions (16) and set it for receiving yards (217) in last Sunday’s loss to the Bills.

But agents work at the discretion of their client, and Welker isn’t pushing for a new deal.

“I talked to him right after the game, and he would have given it all back for a win,’’ Murphy said. “Right now, all he’s focused on is getting better and better and winning a Super Bowl.

“If he continues to play really well and the team has success and hopefully wins a Super Bowl, then I think it would behoove both parties to sit down and figure out a way to make Wes Welker a Patriot for the rest of his career.

“He has never complained or talked about his contract. I think if I tried to bring up the subject of contract negotiations with him, he might just run right through me.’’

It sounds like the only way a new contract for Welker gets done before the end of the season is if the Patriots decide to lock him down and not let him test free agency.

“Without question, at the end of the season, if his contract expires, then we’ll sit down with the Patriots and do everything in our power to make him a Patriot for the long-term,’’ Murphy said.

Murphy also said that Vereen, the team’s second second-round pick, hopes to get in the mix soon.

“He was frustrated by the [hamstring] injury he suffered right when he got to training camp,’’ Murphy said. “That set him back, as with any rookie back, but he’s working really hard with the playbook and practice, and he stands ready to contribute whenever the team wants him to contribute.

“I think fans in New England are going to love him. He’s a very smart, articulate player, hard-nosed and he’s the type of guy Boston sports fans love.’’

Murphy should know; he’s still one of those Boston fans. He is sick over the Red Sox’ collapse. His 9-year-old daughter, Brittany, is dressing up as Welker for Halloween. Mackenzie, 12, got yelled at by Welker for nearly killing the two of them when she drove their golf cart off the path during the agency’s charity golf tournament in 2010 while Welker was recovering from shoulder surgery.

“If you yell at me again, I’m going to break your other shoulder,’’ McKenzie replied.

Just another day for Murphy and Athletes First representing their Patriots.

“It is absolutely a dream job,’’ said Murphy. “I can’t wait to get to the office.

“It’s kind of a jack-of-all trades job in that every day presents a different challenge. But the one common thread is trying to create an experience for our athletes so we can really enrich their lives.’’

“We really try hard to do everything in our power to make our clients’ lives better.’’

Including picking up the check and keeping everyone in line during dinner two nights before the Patriots take on the Raiders.

CHIEF ENDORSEMENT
Shields gets Waters’s vote There was a fairly significant outcry last year when former Saints and Chiefs tackle Willie Roaf failed to make the final cut for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Another former Chiefs offensive lineman, Will Shields, is in his first year of eligibility this year.

It will be interesting to see if one or both gets in.

Patriots guard Brian Waters played with them on some vaunted Chiefs offensive lines. There’s little doubt in his mind which player is the first-ballot Hall of Famer.

“I kind of went through this a little bit last year with Roaf because I played with both of them,’’ Waters said. “I just think it shouldn’t be a second’s thought: Will Shields should make it into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.’’

A third-round draft pick in 1993 out of Nebraska, Shields didn’t start in his first NFL game. But he started the next 223, which is fifth on the all-time list.

Shields played 14 years and went to 12 Pro Bowls. He was All-Pro nine times, with two first-team appearances.

“I think that offensive linemen never get their just due; they just never do,’’ Waters said. “You would think with this being the highest individual accomplishment as a football player, you want to make sure you give it to guys that very few people have done what they’ve done in their career.

“I know there’s always the backlog of those more high-profile players - receivers, running backs, and people like that. But between the two of those guys, in Will’s case especially, there have only been a handful of any linemen in the history of the game that have done what he’s done.’’

Waters tried to soak up everything he could suiting up next to Shields.

“His technique was as sound as you can get for an offensive lineman,’’ Waters said. “He wasn’t an overpowering guy but yet he used such great technique that he was able to move people off the ball.

“But then in the pass game, the way that his hands and feet worked together, he was always very balanced. You almost never saw him get out of balance, and he went against everybody.

“A close second to that is his high intelligence for the game. He saw things coming way before they did. He always had a great understanding of defenses and what they were trying to accomplish.

“He had a huge role in really setting the standard for how the game was played. More than just on the field. The preparation, the things that you need to do during the week. And that’s something that I really didn’t have a great understanding for before being around him for a while.

“Seeing all the preparation and time that he put in film, the details that he went about, how he practiced. The things he knew that were going to come up in the game. Those are the things that I was really able to take from him. And his professionalism. Just a great guy and player.’’

ETC.
Nickel package 1. Congratulations to Patriots owner Robert Kraft for being inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. It’s quite an honor. Since its founding in 1780 by John Adams, James Bowdoin, John Hancock, and other scholar-patriots, the Academy has elected leading “thinkers and doers’’ from each generation. The current membership includes more than 250 Nobel laureates and some 100 Pulitzer Prize winners.

2. The Patriots have not shown any interest in trading for Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry, who is on the block just three years removed from being the fourth overall pick. At 6 feet 2 inches and 255 pounds, Curry would probably be best as a weak-side linebacker, which is Jerod Mayo’s position.

3. This being Richard Seymour week, it sure would have been nice to have anything from “Bill Belichick: A Football Life’’ to give us some insight into the trade. But there was nothing.

4. The New York media should stop quoting Joe Namath about the current Jets. Last week, he criticized Rex Ryan for the way he prepares his team. Namath isn’t there, so he doesn’t know. So no one should care about his opinion. Wait, let me go ask John Hannah what he thinks about Bill Belichick’s personnel moves.

5. Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio had a tough week. He screwed up the final 16 seconds of his team’s 16-10 loss to the Panthers. He also encouraged defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to catch punts at practice. Tucker tore a quad and had to have surgery.

By the numbers 2: Teams (the Bills and Lions) that could do what only four others have done since 1990 - start 4-0 the year after an 0-4 start.

4: Longest-yardage play by the Chiefs as they failed to pick up a first down in the first half of their 20-17 loss at San Diego.

16: Teams that currently own or share a division lead, the most through Week 3 since realignment in 2002. Twelve of those 16 did not reach the postseason in 2010.

145.7: Passer rating for Eli Manning in a 29-16 upset of the Eagles, the fifth-highest passer rating by a Giants quarterback since 1978. His career rating is 80.8.

New England update Dolphins right tackle Marc Colombo, a Bridgewater native and Boston College product, is taking some heat with Chad Henne getting sacked 11 times and hit another 25. Colombo, a 10-year veteran released by Dallas in August, is tied for the league lead in quarterback pressures allowed (13), according to profootballfocus.com . . . Matthew Mulligan (University of Maine/Howland, Maine) will likely be boosted up the Jets’ tight end depth chart after Jeff Cumberland was placed on injured reserve. Mulligan has been used as a blocking tight end . . . Texans end Tim Bulman is from Milton, not Milford as we reported last week.

Short yardage What’s gotten into the Jets and Ravens? Hardly any trash talking before tonight’s showdown. “I think the last time when we opened up the season, I think I was feeling it then,’’ said Rex Ryan. “Now, maybe after the defeat [against Oakland] or whatever, our focus has been on our football team and getting better.’’ Rex, you let us down . . . The offensive line has played a big role in the Falcons’ 1-2 start, which could have been 0-3 if Michael Vick hadn’t been injured in the Falcons’ victory. Atlanta will try to use more quick passes and backs out of the backfield because of its struggles blocking. The line has given up 13 sacks, and Matt Ryan has been hit 21 times this season. Letting guard Harvey Dahl sign with the Rams looks like a mistake . . . Former Harvard quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has now played 16 games under Chan Gailey after the win over the Patriots. The results: Fitzpatrick has passed for 3,841 yards, with 32 touchdown passes and 18 interceptions. Only two Bills quarterbacks have produced more yards in a single season, and only Jim Kelly produced more touchdowns. Through the first three weeks of the season, the Bills are the highest-scoring team in the NFL, with 113 points (37.7 per game). They’re averaging 431 yards, which is third in the league. Buffalo hasn’t finished in the top 10 in yards per game in the last 10 seasons. In eight of those years, it finished 25th or worse . . . To stop blowing leads, the Texans hired Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, used their first draft choices on defense, and signed cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning. Well, the Texans blew two leads in a 23-point fourth quarter by the Saints and lost, 40-33 . . . Pink is back: The NFL and NFLPA will support Breast Cancer Awareness Month with games this month featuring pink cleats, gloves, wristbands, chin straps, footballs with pink ribbon decals, and on-field pink ribbon stencils.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at gbedard@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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