GREEN BAY, Wis. -- There are two sides to the NFL: there’s the football, and then there’s the business.
Rashan Gary doesn’t see why they should be mutually exclusive.
The 12th overall pick in last month’s NFL draft plans to change that with Rashan Gary Sports -- an agency that specializes in branding and marketing professional athletes.
In short, Gary not only is a player, he’s also an agent.
No, he’s not certified by the NFL Players Association as an official agent, but he has one who works for him. That’s Ian Clarke, a longtime agent who has joined Gary on a retainer. Clarke negotiated Gary’s deal, the first for Rashan Gary Sports.
Gary was like every high-profile, potentially high draft pick. He had all the big agencies after him. He said he met with Athletes First and CAA.
“I just didn’t like the idea that they had for me,” Gary said.
“The No. 1 reason why I put together a sports agency was to help my family have a better life,” Gary added. “When I say that: my mom, my sister and my two nephews, just putting them in a better spot. ... I’ve had this dream of playing in the NFL since I was 10. This is something I’m very excited about. I can’t wait to be a great football player and work for that.”
The business plan
With the help of his mother and several other family members, Gary took a meeting with Clarke.
“He was a small-type guy, doesn’t have a big company,” Gary said. “So me and my mom, my sister talked to him, and before I even said something, he had the same mindset that I have going to the process. So my mom liked him, my sister liked him, and when my two core [family members] liked him, we’re in the good.”
But there’s more to Rashan Gary Sports than just a player, an agent and a fancy logo.
Gary is chief executive officer and Clarke the lead agent. But Gary's mother, Jennifer Coney-Shepherd, is the president, and there’s also a general counsel.
“I’m not just an agent, but I’m looking at his dreams and his goals and ensuring those things were met,” Clarke said. “Being able to offer a lot more than, ‘Hey, I’m your agent, I’m going to take some [of your] money. The focus was, ‘Let’s put the money back in your pocket and get you to a place where you’re going to have something when football is over.’”
The next step is building a stable of clients.
But for now, the focus is on Gary’s budding career.
“This is his business that he put in place,” Clarke said. “It’s family, and as an agent, I’m just a contractor or a subcontractor for the company. I’m just there to provide ancillary services as I would with any other player or person, but it will allow them to focus on the other aspects of building their brand into a business. How I can assist and help, I do.”
Clarke handled Gary’s rookie contract -- a four-year, $15,877,312 deal that included a $9,567,136 signing bonus -- and there have already been endorsement deals with Tropicana juice and Lincoln automobiles. Clarke said a shoe/apparel deal is in the works.
“He’s had marketing opportunities that many kids don’t have, and especially at his position,” Clarke said. “It’s one thing to be a quarterback or wide receiver or running back, but to be on the other side of the ball and have that marketing ability goes a long way and speaks to his personality and his character.”
Clarke called Gary “extremely smart,” which is something Gary thought he’d never hear as a child.
He struggled in school until seventh grade, when he was diagnosed with dyslexia. That’s when things started to turn around for him.
By the time he declared for the draft, forgoing his senior year at Michigan, he was a two-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree (2017 and '18).
“I’ve got to give credit to my mom when it comes to that,” Gary said. “She always told me, 'C's don’t get degrees.' So my main thing was getting A's and B's, and it got to the point where if I did get a C on a test or a quiz, it’d mess me up on the football field. So I had to make sure both of them were in line.”
Added Gary: “It’s still a battle I’m fighting with today.”
His reported score of a 9 on the Wonderlic test is evidence of that.
“But day by day, using the tools that I was taught at the dyslexia center,” he said. “And just keep working on it; it never goes away.”
Gary has not been shy about sharing his experiences with dyslexia.
“Before, I just thought I was different from the others,” Gary said. “Now, like, looking down, just questioning myself why I couldn’t read like others could read, and I thought something was wrong with me. But me finding out I had dyslexia was the best thing that happened to me, because now I know the problem, and now I can fight to make things better.”
The football plan
Gary was the No. 1-ranked player in the high school class of 2016 by all the major recruiting sites, including ESPN.com.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur, then an assistant coach at Notre Dame, noticed that right away.
“I was in his high school -- he probably doesn’t remember it -- but it was Paramus Catholic, and I was in his high school when I was recruiting Brandon Wimbush out there, and I met him for the first time,” LaFleur recalled after the draft. “Man, they were doing some agility drills in one of their indoors on a basketball court, and I was like, I was pretty impressed. There’s a big guy that can move like that. It’s kind of ironic how this has come full circle and now we’ll be coaching him here. I’m really excited. I’ll tell you what, he’s a guy that’s passionate about football. You could see by his reaction on getting drafted the other night.”
No one has ever questioned Gary's athletic ability.
That held true after the combine, where Gary measured 6-foot-4¾ and 277 pounds and ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, the fastest ever at the combine (since results became official in 2003) by a player who weighed more than 275 pounds.
Yet there were questions about his production -- or lack of it -- at Michigan. He recorded just 3.5 sacks in nine games last season and posted just 10 sacks in his three seasons. He also battled a right shoulder injury last season and showed up for rookie orientation camp with a brace on that shoulder.
“I know there’s been a lot made about his production,” Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “I think production is just the way you look at it, right? If you watch the tape and you look at some of the different kind of stats, he affected the passer. He affected the game, and at times he wrecked it. Certainly, he is a premier athlete. He has an exceptional motor on the field. Really since February, we really locked in on him. I thought this guy could really do some different things and add to our group."