Sam Mellinger

The inside story of a legendary agent’s successful recruitment of Patrick Mahomes

The first meeting happened over brunch in a restaurant in the suburbs of Dallas. On one side of the table sat the people who loved Patrick Mahomes the most: his father Pat, his mother Randi, his younger sister Mia.

On the other side sat two men gaining ground quickly: Leigh Steinberg, perhaps the most well-known sports agent in the history of the profession, and Chris Cabott, now the president and COO of Steinberg Sports & Entertainment.

The moment represented ground zero in the recruitment of a Texas Tech quarterback who would soon change so many things — the NFL, whichever team drafted him, and whoever signed him.

This is the story of how a small agency landed a quarterback so good he’d win the NFL’s MVP award in his first year as a starter, and what we can learn about Mahomes from the decision.

“It’s definitely a huge process,” Mahomes, who turns 24 next month, said. “It’s like choosing a school when you’re going to a college.”

Except bigger, in some ways. Especially for Mahomes. His college decision came fairly easily. Texas Tech was the only school from a so-called Power Five conference to offer him a scholarship to play quarterback.

But his father estimated as many as 10 firms reached out in the year before the 2017 NFL Draft, from giants like Creative Artists Agency that offered bigger infrastructure to smaller boutique firms that focused on personal attention.

The experience can feel a bit surreal, with strangers desperate to become friends, promises flying, visions being sold. Mahomes felt that more than most. He’d only been a full-time football player for a year, after all.

“We didn’t even know he’d come out early yet,” Pat Mahomes Sr. said. “We didn’t know that. That wasn’t his plan yet.”

Today, we know that Mahomes is a virtual lock to sign the biggest contract in league history after this season, when he becomes eligible for an extension with the Chiefs. We know that the Chiefs’ front office and Mahomes’ agents will start banging out the framework soon.

We also know he will be worth every dollar, both in terms of what he does for the Chiefs’ Super Bowl chances and what he means to their bottom line — in tickets, suites, merchandise, sponsorships, national exposure, franchise value ... everything.

chiefs draft
The family of Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes helped him make his decision about which agency to hire, but ultimately the choice was his. KC Star file photo

Unbelievable skills

Back then, in the summer of 2016, Mahomes carried considerably less weight: He was a rising junior with the Red Raiders, a former baseball player with intriguing talent and bloodlines but a guy who played in a system with a reputation for producing professional busts.

Steinberg and Cabott thought more of this prospect. Steinberg had worked with a few players from Mahomes’ hometown of Tyler, Texas, including Earl Campbell. He asked around about Mahomes and everyone raved about him as a man.

They also watched his games and thought enough of his talent that a few months before the initial meeting, Cabott texted a board member at the agency to watch Texas Tech play LSU in the Texas Bowl “for the best quarterback in next year’s draft.”

“The arm strength, the touch and the rest of it was unbelievable,” Steinberg said. “The draft is a projection of how a player is going to be for 10, 12 years. It’s not a merit badge. So you had to look past that he played in an Air Raid offense, and that they (Texas Tech) had such little defense.”

Steinberg and Cabott first reached out to Mahomes through social media and heard no response. They called Pat Sr., and still nothing. They called Randi, and silence. Cabbot found an email address for Randi, but it got kicked back. He called her at work, left a message, and still ... nothing.

Then, finally, a few weeks after the last message they left, she called back. Cabott took the call at a 7-Eleven near his condo in Los Angeles.

“I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing, because I finally knew we might get an opportunity,” Cabott said.

Randi gave Cabott an address. Cabott sent some information, and a month later they met in Grapevine, Texas, the meeting worked around Pat’s summer baseball coaching schedule.

Steinberg, 70, had done thousands of these presentations before. He sort of backed into the profession when quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who he’d known as a student at Cal-Berkeley, asked him for help after being selected No. 1 overall in 1975.

Teams had all the power in those days, and the Atlanta Falcons negotiated hard. Steinberg created some leverage by floating the idea of Bartkowski joining the short-lived World Football League.

Eventually, they negotiated what was then the richest rookie contract in league history. One of the most successful careers in sports agency took off from there.

“He’s the godfather of this industry,” Cabott, 40, said.

Rise and fall, and rise

By the mid 1990s, Steinberg had represented eight No. 1 overall picks. His client list had included Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Warren Moon and five others who’d be inducted to Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.

Then came the rain. Steinberg’s father died, two of his children were sick, and he lost a house because of mold. One drink became three, and more. Alcohol became an escape. In March 2010, he chugged a bottle of vodka and began a 12-step program.

“I turned to the wrong thing,” Steinberg said about alcohol.

By the time of the brunch meeting with Mahomes’ parents, Steinberg had been sober six years. He had to start over from scratch, but the agency represented Paxton Lynch, who had just been selected in the first round by the Denver Broncos. He was on his way back. He did not wait for a question before discussing his problems.

Steinberg describes his current situation like this: He doesn’t have a divine right to represent athletes, and parents looking out for their children should him ask the hard questions. Are you too old? Are you still relevant? What about the earlier problems?

So he talks about the past before the parents have a chance to ask.

“My thinking was he didn’t have to tell us anything about that,” Pat Mahomes said. “The name Leigh Steinberg kind of speaks for itself. This was a guy who knew what he was doing, but for him to come out and lay it all open, that was big, too.”

The restaurant grew louder as the meal went on. Steinberg has a naturally soft speaking voice, and at times the family struggled to hear. Cabott’s voice booms and he had no trouble usurping the white noise.

“The main cog in the whole thing was Chris,” Pat said. “He was sharp, knew how to treat people. I knew that was the way to win Patrick over, because family is close to his heart.”

The presentation followed the template developed by Steinberg over more than 40 years. He and Cabott described two plans. One short-term, and one long.

In the short-term, they would put Mahomes with trainers in San Diego. They would hire coaches to sooth the concerns they knew existed in his technique (footwork and comfort under center) and grasp of NFL offenses (command of terminology and calling plays).

The long-term plan, in Pat’s memory, looked like this: use the first year to focus entirely on football, with no endorsements, earning the respect of teammates and learning how lead grown men.

The second year would be a focus on performance with some endorsements, and the third would build on that and hopefully set up the second contract.

Steinberg’s strategy also includes what he calls “retracing roots.” In the beginning, a scholarship is established at the athlete’s high school. Then, one at the university. Finally, a charitable foundation is established, based in the player’s NFL city with political and business leaders on board to help.

The presentation was bold, even including a prediction that Mahomes could be a Hall of Famer.

“They had a plan, and Patrick likes a plan,” Pat said. “He likes to know what we’re doing, where we’re going, what we’re trying to do. He likes structure. That’s why he likes (Chiefs) Coach (Andy) Reid. He likes structure, and he wants to be challenged, every day.”

A few other points stood out. Steinberg and Cabott earned trust, and not just with what they said but with what they didn’t say. Other agencies offered money, Pat said. Steinberg and Cabott never did, instead focusing on the work.

One other thing: Steinberg and Cabott put Mahomes first. That’s an agent’s job, and they all try to do it. But they’re all a bit different.

Steinberg and Cabott made it clear that the foundation would not be set up until Mahomes felt ready, and the purpose would be entirely his own idea.

Also, the style of representation the agents would provide would be built around Mahomes’ personality and desires. They gave him a list of a dozen or so priorities — from short-term money to offensive system to geographic location to a second career — and asked Mahomes to rank them.

“The biggest thing for me is the sport of football, taking care of my family, and loving everything I do,” Mahomes said. “I don’t ever want to lose that love for the game. The money’s awesome. The money’s cool, for sure. You dream about making money and stuff like that. But I always say football is what I loved first.”

Closing the deal

Steinberg and Cabott met with Mahomes’ parents a second time at a steakhouse in Patrick’s hometown. That night, the two agents traveled to a Dallas hotel to meet with Mahomes’ godfather, LaTroy Hawkins.

Hawkins referenced some notes he had taken a year or so before that meeting. He and Pat had driven to Lubbock for Patrick’s spring game his sophomore year. The main topic of discussion there: If you get to the point of preparing for a professional career, what do you want in an agent?

Hawkins’ notes related that Mahomes was looking for a smaller agency, but one with experience and personable representation that would treat him like family. Steinberg and Cabott seemed an impossibly perfect fit, and by the time Hawkins sat down with other agents, he said he was “checked out.”

“The humbleness, the realness, that’s what stood out with Leigh and Chris,” Hawkins said. “When you have people coming in trying to recruit you they blow so much smoke up your ass they want your eyes to turn brown like theirs. I don’t know how you want to write that, but that’s the truth.

“There was none of that with Leigh and Chris. It was all about the business.”

Steinberg and Cabott finally met Patrick after Texas Tech played Louisiana Tech on Sept. 17, 2016. That happened to be his 21st birthday. The conversation was somewhat brief, but Cabott went back for the Oklahoma game in October, and both attended the Baylor game the day after Thanksgiving.

“I could see he was surrounded by a great group of mentors and bright people,” Steinberg said. “There was a bonding and a click based on values.”

Mahomes trusted his parents and Hawkins to filter the 10 or so agencies that reached out down to five. At one point, Patrick asked his father, mother and godfather to rank their top three. Each listed a different agency first.

“’It doesn’t matter what we think,’” Pat remembered telling Patrick. “’It matters what you think, because you’re going to be married to him. So you tell us. Because we’re going to support you no matter what.’”

In the end, Mahomes simplified the decision as much as possible. He considered what each agency might bring and how it aligned with his highest priorities. His comparison to a decision about choosing a college is apt. The same way recruits often say the campus of their choice felt like home, Mahomes began to think of Cabott and those who worked with him as family.

The thing that stood above all else: Mahomes became convinced that Cabott and Steinberg would do whatever it took to give him the best opportunities and career possible.

Basically, he went back to what he said over that lunch with his dad and godfather. By then, the answer seemed clear.

“Just the way they approached it,” Mahomes said. “They told me they would make me a top priority. They believed I could be a top 10 draft pick, and they’d help me elevate my off-the-field stuff in the best possible way.

“Them connecting with my family was huge. Them having that same vision. I felt we were on the same page as far as how the process should go.”

Draft Chiefs Football.JPG
The Chiefs hat fits Patrick Mahomes pretty well. Chelsea Purgahn AP

Don't have a KC Star subscription? Help support our sports coverage

If you already subscribe to The Star, thanks for your support. If not, our digital sports-only subscription is just $30 per year. It's your ticket to everything sports in Kansas City ... and beyond, and supports our award-winning coverage.
Related stories from Kansas City Star

Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.