NEWPORT BEACH — Leigh Steinberg showed up to the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel & Spa to work on an NFL rookie contract on Thursday. He has negotiated these types of contracts with this NFL team before as a sports agent.
His clients with the Indianapolis Colts have included a couple of top draft choices in the past. There was Jeff George, the No. 1 overall pick in 1990, and Duane Bickett, the fifth overall pick in 1985.
How times have changed for Steinberg. No longer is he landing first-round players.
Now, he only gets to deal with the bottom, as in Mr. Irrelevant, the dead-last player selected in the NFL Draft.
Since the 1980s, Steinberg said he has been the designated agent during Irrelevant Week. These days, it's the only work he can find in this cutthroat business of representing professional athletes.
He met with this year's Mr. Irrelevant, Justice Cunningham, during the Lowsman Banquet. Even on a day his daughter graduated from Corona del Mar High, Steinberg, a Daily Pilot columnist, found time to cook up a lucrative contract for Mr. Irrelevant.
"I just ignored the salary cap," said Steinberg, adding that Cunningham, a blocking tight end, earned a $20-million signing bonus, along with some clauses. "He doesn't have to practice any days that end in the letter 'y.' He's guaranteed at least five passes thrown his way every game, or he's granted instant free agency.
"He went to South Carolina, he's tough, but not necessarily hardy, and so he doesn't have to play in any non-dome contests where the temperature [at] game time is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. He just gets a pass, because we don't want to do major freezing damage to him. This is not a meat locker. It's a football game. And of course, he gets a single room and concierge service on the road. [All of] this is guaranteed until the plane takes off at the … airport."
Cunningham isn't going to want to leave Newport Beach come Saturday for the NFL Rookie Symposium in Aurora, Ohio.
Thursday marked the first of three straight days organizers of Irrelevant Week planned to treat Cunningham as the No. 1 overall pick.
On Friday, he goofed around at Disneyland and at night dragged the infield during a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game. On Saturday, he's taking surfing lessons at 30th Street from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then attending a welcome to Newport Beach party at the Newport Beach Civic Center from noon to 2 p.m.
"This is more than anybody could ask for," Cunningham said during Thursday's banquet, which raised money for Special Olympics Southern California. "I've learned a few things since I've been in the league for … two months now. Networking is very important. You got to meet people. I was always shy.
"But now, seeing the people that have been here tonight, and seeing all this money people are throwing out today, I'd like some business cards later on."
Before he networked with the crowd of 350, Cunningham visited the NFL Network studios in Culver City. He went with his mother, Marvella Saint Julien, 7-year-old sister, Niella, and childhood friend, Marcus Miller.
Cunningham got more than a tour.
"It was fun to see him get interviewed like that and being all professional," Saint Julien said.
When there are no football games to break down, the NFL Network has to fill airtime. Is there a better way to captivate an audience than by showing an interview with the 254th pick in April's draft?
The real fun began at the banquet, at Cunningham's expense during a roast. Saint Julien found out that every Mr. Irrelevant is clowned, no matter how nice her son is.
John Robinson, the former USC and Los Angeles Rams coach, was the emcee. He brought on his former USC quarterback, Paul McDonald, to say a few words.
McDonald told Cunningham why he stood out in college.
"I played with two Heisman Trophy winners," McDonald said before naming the winners, Charles White and Marcus Allen.
Well, Cunningham hopes to play with a two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up in Andrew Luck.
Luck is the Colts' franchise quarterback. This upcoming season will be his second in the NFL.
Steinberg believes Cunningham, a 6-foot-3, 258-pounder, has a chance to catch passes from Luck and block for him. Before he went into the reasons why, Robinson introduced Steinberg to the crowd.
"The NFL's about money. There's no question that you got to take care of your financial interests," Robinson said. "Out here in Newport Beach, we over the years have had one of the great agents. This guy has screwed up more great players than any other agent in football.
"Leigh Steinberg had a phenomenal run where he had the No. 1 draft choice."
For one more day, Steinberg is stuck with the last draft choice.