Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams and Super Bowl hero Adam Vinatieri were once among Andrew Brandt's prized clients.
Now Brandt oversees $71 million in annual allocations for the Green Bay Packers after trading the high-pressure existence of a player agent for the hectic life of an NFL salary cap manager and contract negotiator.
"He has a thankless job," said former general manager Ron Wolf, who persuaded Brandt to switch sides in 1999. "It's like trying to climb a greased pole. You can never get up off the ground. As soon as you get one thing done, there's two, three, five, 10 other things you have to do."
Every move the cap guy makes affects so many other facets. It's an enormously difficult but increasingly important job in the NFL.
"As an agent, you do a big deal and you don't have any ramifications," said Brandt, one of the field's rising stars. "On this side of the fence, if you get a big deal done, there's moments of happiness and satisfaction and kudos from your peers, but you're always thinking about the cap effect.
"It's like that bird on your shoulder that is always there."
And headlines? The agents grab those.
"The media's not too interested in an under-market contract," Brandt said. "They want to blast the big numbers."
Along with Jack Mula of New England and Bruce Allen of Oakland, Brandt is among a handful of former agents who have taken front office jobs with NFL teams in recent years.
After graduating cum laude from Stanford, where he was a tournament level tennis player, and Georgetown law school, Brandt went to work in 1987 for ProServe, Inc., where he helped manage Michael Jordan.
In 1992 at age 31, Brandt became general manager of the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football (now NFL Europe), then taught at George Washington and American universities in his hometown of Washington, D.C., and created a sports management and sports law program at the University of Illinois.
In 1996, back he went to being an agent, and that's when he met Williams, then a minor leaguer in the Philadelphia Phillies organization.
Three years later, he added Williams to his list of a dozen other NFL clients that included quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was drafted by the Packers in 1998.
Soon, however, Williams was being wooed from Brandt's firm, Bob Woolf Associates, by rapper Percy Miller - "Master P" - who was venturing into the agent business.
Williams and Miller wanted Brandt to join them at No Limit Sports Inc. While Brandt was mulling his future, Wolf called.
Brandt thought it was about Hasselbeck, but Wolf was actually looking for a new cap manager because Mike Reinfeldt was leaving.
"How would you feel about switching sides?" Wolf wondered.
Brandt and his wife, Lisa, who have a 4-year-old son and a baby on the way, hated leaving Boston but loved the lifestyle change.
"Recruiting involves a ton of time and a ton of travel and things that aren't as intellectually satisfying as on this side," Brandt said.
Plus, his experience with the Dragons had shown Brandt that he didn't want to be "chasing players around when I'm 50."
By that time, Brandt could very well be running an NFL team.
"His resume is being built such that he could be in a position like that," Packers president Bob Harlan said. "He's got a great grasp of the salary cap, he's a highly intelligent guy, a tireless worker. And he's been on both sides."
Brandt's background in representing players makes him a "fair but tough negotiator," said agent Joel Segal. "He commands respect."
Wolf said Brandt has proven adept at managing the salary cap.
Last year, Brandt got several Super Bowl veterans to take pay cuts or restructure their contracts. It all paid off with a 13-5 season and a return to the playoffs.
Brandt has steered the Packers clear of salary cap purgatory by rejecting the temptation to frequently renegotiate big contracts for short-term gain but long-term pain.
"I think you have to do some of that," Brandt said. "But it's almost like eating chocolate - if you can do it in moderation, you can stay all right."
The Packers used to have had a habit of putting off deals with their own free agents, costing them dearly at contract time.
"And it happened to me with Darren Sharper where he had a stunning year in his contract year and we paid top of the market to keep him," Brandt said.
So, last year, Brandt re-signed running back Ahman Green (five years, $17.5 million) and cornerback Mike McKenzie (five years, $17.1 million) before they could maximize their earning potential.
Green had a Pro Bowl season; McKenzie allowed but one touchdown pass.
"If I watched this year knowing Ahman Green was a free agent, I would never have slept," Brandt said.
Just a week after signing his extension, McKenzie made the game-winning play in a wild-card game, instantly turning his $3.5 million bonus into a bargain.
And Brandt found himself cheering instead of cringing.
"A lot of times, I'm watching a game and I'm thinking, 'OK what did he just make in incentives? How is that affecting our cap?'" Brandt said. "I remember last year watching Sharper's interceptions and everyone would look at me and say, 'Cha-ching!' But the bottom line in all this is we're here for Super Bowls.
"There's no Super Bowl for saving cap money."
copyright Associated Press