Lost Job Blamed on Agent : NFL: Defensive end Andrew Stewart alleges that he was cut because he dumped Bruce Allen.
An NFL player has claimed in sworn testimony and court documents that he was cut by the Cleveland Browns after he failed to retain an agent with links to the club.
Defensive end Andrew Stewart, now of the Cincinnati Bengals, said in a deposition that Cleveland’s pro personnel director, Mike Lombardi, told him in the summer of 1990 that his chances of making the team would be hurt if he did not retain Phoenix-based agent Bruce Allen, with whom Lombardi has had business dealings outside of football.
“If you want to make this team, you better stick with Bruce,” Stewart said he was told by Lombardi.
Lombardi is one of several NFL management and coaching figures who have participated in real estate investments in Phoenix with Allen and Allen’s former partner, Bob Owens, Maricopa (Ariz.) County records show.
In addition, Stewart alleged in court documents that John Teerlinck--a former Cleveland assistant coach who is now the Rams’ defensive line coach--worked with Allen to undermine Stewart’s position with the Browns.
Allen’s attorney, Ethan Lock of Tempe, Ariz., and Lombardi denied Stewart’s claims.
Stewart, who had three sacks as a rookie with the Browns in 1989, did not retain Allen as his agent and was waived by the Browns Nov. 28, after having spent the previous three months on injured reserve because of an Achilles’ tendon injury.
Stewart signed with the Bengals as a free agent last spring and reportedly was impressive in training camp before suffering a torn knee ligament during a workout July 31.
Lombardi’s alleged comment about retaining Allen was recounted by Stewart in a deposition obtained by The Times. The deposition was prepared as part of Stewart’s response to grievance proceedings initiated against him by Allen through the NFL Players Assn. over $7,257 in allegedly unpaid fees. Stewart also alleges in documents filed Sept. 16 in Superior Court in Phoenix that Teerlinck reported derogatory information about him to Brown management at Allen’s behest.
Teerlinck was an assistant coach with the Arizona Wranglers of the United States Football League in 1984, when Allen was the team’s general manager and Allen’s father, the late George Allen, was the team’s coach.
Stewart alleges that Teerlinck, as a Cleveland assistant, was one of Allen’s clients and was acting as part of a scheme conceived by the agent to cause Stewart to lose his job with the Browns.
Stewart’s allegations are part of a counterclaim to a lawsuit in which Allen seeks to recover $21,000 in allegedly unpaid loans and fees from Stewart and Stewart’s brother, Alex, a former Cal State Fullerton player. Stewart charges in his counterclaim that his termination by the Browns was orchestrated by Allen in retaliation for Stewart’s refusal to give Allen’s former associate, Owens, control over the player’s funds.
In his counterclaim, Stewart charges Allen, Owens and Allen’s firm, GBA Sportsworld, Inc., with fraud, racketeering, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence, and seeks damages of more than $3 million.
Stewart said in an interview with The Times: “You think you get a good agent and suddenly you find out that the agent knows more than just you and the players on the team, that he’s calling the shots. It’s like me calling you and saying, ‘You aren’t going to play this week.’ You say, ‘Sure, sure, sure.’ And then, sure enough, you don’t play, or you get released.
“These things shouldn’t be decided in an agent’s office 2,000 miles away.”
Stewart told The Times that he was unaware that Lombardi and Allen had had business dealings together. He declined, however, to address other specific aspects of his charges, preferring, he said, to let “the law work its course.”
Allen referred all comment on the matter to his attorney, Lock, who dismissed Stewart’s allegations. “This is so crazy it is laughable,” Lock said. “So Bruce is now telling teams what to do, and they are making player-personnel decisions based on what (he) says? None of this is even rational.”
Lombardi declined to discuss his business dealings with Allen but denied that the agent influenced the Browns’ decision to release Stewart.
Lombardi said that Stewart, who had an Achilles’ tendon injury, had been placed on injured reserve and the team had planned to release him as soon as he was healthy.
“Our decision was based on the ability shown by Andrew Stewart and the other players we had,” Lombardi said. “It had nothing to do with an agent or an agent’s associations (with members of the Cleveland front office or coaching staff). Our team last year was picked by Bud Carson (then the Browns’ coach) from the best talent available to him.”
Teerlinck declined comment on Stewart’s allegations, calling them “not important to me during the season.”
Should Stewart’s allegations be proven, Bruce Allen would be in violation of the NFLPA’s code of conduct for agents, according to Doug Allen, NFLPA assistant to the executive director. Such a finding can result in an agent’s suspension from the association.
The Times reported last year that several NFL players, among them running backs Craig (Ironhead) Heyward of the New Orleans Saints and Ickey Woods of the Bengals, had left GBA Sportsworld because they questioned Phoenix real estate investments made in their names through the agency. Stewart, drafted in the fourth round by the Browns in 1989, is the first former client of GBA Sportsworld to raise questions about Allen’s links to an NFL franchise.
“I don’t think blacklisting, blackballing--whatever you want to call it--is anything new to the NFL or professional sports,” said Stewart’s lawyer, Christopher Kalis of Dallas. “But I never would have expected an agent to be so powerful or influential that he could call the shots, especially when he’s supposed to be an adversary of management.”
In his counterclaim to Bruce Allen’s suit, Stewart alleges that he never received the proceeds from his $69,000 signing bonus in 1989.
According to the counterclaim, the check was sent by the Browns directly to Allen, although, the counterclaim states, Stewart never gave the Browns the authority to do so. Upon inquiring about the payment, according to the counterclaim, Stewart learned from Lombardi that the check had been sent to Allen.
After the 1989 season, the counterclaim alleges, Allen contacted Stewart, seeking fees allegedly owed by the player. When Stewart disputed Allen’s right to the fees, the counterclaim alleges, Allen threatened to have Stewart’s contract with the Browns terminated.
In his deposition, Stewart said he severed his relationship with Allen during training camp of 1990. According to Stewart’s deposition, Allen responded by saying, “Fine. I’ll get you cut then.”
After that conversation, Stewart said in the deposition, he was approached by Lombardi on the field after a scrimmage in Green Bay. According to Stewart, Lombardi asked whether Stewart had hired another agent, Steve Feldman of Costa Mesa.
Recounting that conversation, Stewart said: "(Lombardi) said, ‘I got a call from Steve Feldman, and he says he’s representing you.’ I said, ‘I was thinking of going with him.’ (Lombardi) said, ‘Well, if you know what’s good for you, you better stick with Bruce. Because if you want to make this team, you better stick with Bruce.’ ”
Lombardi joined the Browns as a scout in 1987 and was promoted to pro personnel director in 1989. His duties include scouting, coordinating the pro personnel department and assisting in contract negotiations. Both he and Owens were assistant coaches at Nevada Las Vegas in the early ‘80s.
Maricopa County records show that Lombardi, Allen and Owens were among eight investors in a 1987 real estate deal in Phoenix.