Throughout the 1990s, it was common for the Cincinnati Bengals to be picking toward the top of the draft. In fact, in the post-Sam Wyche/pre-Marvin Lewis era (AKA “The Lost Decade”, spanning from 1992-2002), the Bengals picked in the top 10, a staggering nine times out of 11 possible drafts.
Names like David Klingler, Dan Wilkinson, Ki-Jana Carter, and Akili Smith were selected within the first six picks of their respective classes, with Wilkinson and Carter both going No. 1 overall. Wilkinson enjoyed a solid 13-year NFL career but never could live up to the “Big Daddy” hype as the top pick of 1994.
We know the fate of the others. This unfortunate trend was kicked off with the selection of Klingler at No. 6 overall in the 1992 draft, as the team hoped to usher in the post-Boomer Esiason era with a splash.
One commonality of those four aforementioned names was in the agent who represented them. Leigh Steinberg, a titan in the NFL landscape and represented these Bengals players and many other high-profile ones across the NFL in years past.
We caught up with Mr. Steinberg on the Eve of the Draft, talking about some of these picks and the draft process for their side of the table.
When it came to Klingler, we showed him an infamous picture of him waiting on the couch with the former Houston quarterback on Draft day. He recalled the experience of Klingler going to Cincinnati at No. 6.
“We’re watching the draft, so we’ve got it all charted out, like I said ‘hot teams’ (ones noted interest) and Cincinnati wasn’t one of them,” Steinberg recounted. “So, we’re just sitting, waiting for the next picks to come up because we knew he’d be picked later. Well, the Bengals picked him and to my everlasting regret, I said: “OH, NO—Mike Brown!”, which wasn’t meant to be said publicly,” Steinberg said with a laugh.
It wasn’t so much of a statement on where Klingler landed, but rather the surprise of his client landing with the Bengals. You know what they say about the best laid plans...
“But, it all started in 1975, where I had Steve Bartkowski (former Falcons quarterback), and then the second player who asked me to represent him was a punter/wide receiver named Pat McInally,” Steinberg remembered on the former Bengals’ pick. “And, back then, there was no guaranteed right of representation—the team could say: ‘We don’t deal with agents, and that’s how it started. Mike Brown said: ‘I’m not talking to you, we don’t deal with agents, and that got the relationship going about the way it continued,” Steinberg chuckled.
Three years after the Klingler pick, Cincinnati had the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 Draft for the second consecutive year. They got this one in a trade-up and selected a generational talent at running back in Ki-Jana Carter.
“In 1995, I had two players that were slated to go No. 1 and No. 2 in the Draft,” Steinberg said. “Carolina had the first pick, and I had a quarterback, Kerry Collins, that they especially wanted. I remember talking to Carolina, and they said they were going to take Collins No. 1, and then Jacksonville was at No. 2, and they were going to take...Ki-Jana Carter.”
Cincinnati was poised to move around the draft with their No. 5 pick, but really wanted Carter. They ultimately gave up their No. 5 and No. 36 picks to swap with Carolina to get to No. 1 overall. Even with teams scrambling for the same blue-chip players, Steinberg noted there are a lot of “gentleman’s agreements”, so to speak.
“Teams are pretty honest about their intentions, as long as the agent doesn’t cross-fertilize the information they’re getting,” he said. “Of course, Mike Brown’s singular focus is Ohio State, and Ki-Jana didn’t go there, but he was from Westerville, Ohio, which is a suburb of Columbus, so I think they had a special feeling.”
“And, you’ll never really have a sense of just how great Ki-Jana could have been because he had a non-contact injury where he blew out his knee and nobody hit him. He just said: ‘My foot stuck in the rug’ and that was it,” Steinberg said.
Of course, the streaks of poor picks began to dissipate when the 2000s came. Peter Warrick, Justin Smith, Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, and Levi Jones highlighted the first three classes preceding Lewis’ arrival.
Leigh Steinberg continues to give back to the sports industry. He is engaging in his Sports Academy. He is hosting an in-person event in Las Vegas during the July 23-24 timeframe, while also engaging in a virtual academy on September 1st. More information can be found on Twitter @TheSportsAcademy or his own @LeighSteinberg.
Our thanks to Mr. Steinberg and his representatives at Steinberg Sports & Entertainment!
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