By Tim Graham
One of Eugene Parker's signature maneuvers as an NFL agent was helping future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin bolt the New England Patriots for the New York Jets with the help of a poison-pill contract.
The saga was too elaborate to detail in my profile of Parker in Sunday's edition of The Buffalo News.
But Martin and Bill Parcells spoke with me about the controversial poison-pill offer sheet that changed the way NFL business is done.
"He's creative, he's insightful and he's a bulldog when it comes to getting what you deserve," Martin said of Parker. "Even if the fans don't respect him, at the end of the day it's the general managers and the players and the league that need to respect him, and they all have such respect for Eugene."
Martin had finished his third season with the Patriots and became a restricted free agent in 1998. Parcells had left the Patriots for the Jets a season earlier and salivated over the chance to insert Martin into his backfield.
Parcells instructed his contract consigliere Mike Tannenbaum to work out a deal with Parker that the Patriots couldn't match, gladly giving up the first- and third-round draft picks that go with signing somebody else's restricted free agent.
The deal took two weeks to craft, but in the end Martin signed an offer sheet for five years and $28 million with a club option for a sixth year at $8 million. The innovative wrinkle was the deal included a clause that allowed Martin to void the deal after one year and prohibited his team to place the franchise tag on him.
The Jets knew Martin wouldn't void the deal, but the Patriots couldn't risk signing Martin for one more season and then lose him for nothing. So they declined to match the offer sheet and took the draft picks.
"We got the deal done, and this was a situation that previously had not been done," Martin said.
The NFL changed its rules on restricted free agency the next year.
"That was what I call borderline attorney ... you know, ambulance-chaser, attorney kind of stuff," Kraft told ESPNNewYork.com last year, when Martin was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "It was something where they took advantage. ... It was not the intent of the deal. It was clever lawyer stuff. It's not in the spirit of what the whole agreement was, and that loophole was plugged."
You could almost hear Parcells playing his tiny violin over the phone from Sarasota Springs on Saturday.
"The rules are the rules, and if you adhere to the rules, then that's good business," Parcells told me. "If you adhere to the rules and it happens to not be in someone else's best interest, then they say you exploited a loophole."
Martin claimed he had no idea Parker was working out a landmark deal at the time.
"The only time I had to talk about my contract with the Jets," Martin said, "was when Parcells told me, 'I don't know what kind of magic this guy Parker is doing, but, son, we're going to make you the highest-paid running back in the NFL. Is that OK?' And I said, 'Yes.'
"Eugene was just clever. I told him, 'I trust you. You just tell me what to do.' "
Parker will be Parcells' guest this summer in Canton, where Parcells will be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"He had a level of respect from Bill Parcells that you usually don't see," Martin said.
"Parcells is not a big fan of agents, but he told me one day in the weight room -- he was on the treadmill -- and he said, 'Son, that guy Eugene Parker that you've got working with you? You stick close to him, and you're going to be all right with your money and your career and everything. And there's not too many people I feel that way about.' "
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