When I met with Vince Calo, a 38-year-old NFL agent who lives in Mentor, on Sept. 23, he was giddy about the possibility of his top-earning client, defensive lineman John Hughes, signing with the New England Patriots.
That set up the possibility of Hughes, a third-round pick by the Browns in 2012, facing his former team in Week 5 at FirstEnergy Stadium.
But Hughes never played a game for the Pats. On Saturday, he was released by New England, which needed room to add a tight end, Greg Scruggs, to its roster.
Not For Long indeed.
“Give us a one-year (deal), let us go play ball,” Calo said of Hughes a couple weeks ago. “There’s a risk that he doesn’t have a huge year. But there’s also the chance that he’s in a better spot.”
Maybe that will be the case for Hughes’ third home of the 2016 season. Monday, he was signedby the Buccaneers, who needed defensive-line help after the unit had been hit hard by injuries.
The good news for Hughes in such a topsy-turvy season is any money he makes from Tampa Bay is added to the $2.4 million he’s already owed by the Browns.
As a vested veteran, Hughes’ 2016 salary became guaranteed once he was on the club’s 53-man roster in Week 1. He played 22 snaps in the season-opening loss to Carson Wentz and the Eagles, and was a healthy scratch the following week. Soon after, he was a free agent for the first time.
“I think they want to put ‘their guys’ in, this new regime,” Calo said of the Browns. “They said they wanted to go with some of their younger guys. I think John is a good football player, a veteran, who became a bit disgruntled with what his role was there. He knows what his talent level is and what he brings to the team. The expectation was he was going to be a starter and help the Browns’ young guys mature and become better players.”
In the Browns’ defense, it’s not as if Hughes was a wrecking ball on the defensive line.
He started 10 games and compiled 5.5 sacks (three of them as a rookie) in his Cleveland career. But the timing of Hughes’ release — shortly after the season had started, and so soon after he signed an extension — was curious.
But new regimes cut ties with the former bosses’ draft picks and free-agent signings all the time. One ironic twist in Hughes’ story, though, is that Calo negotiated the four-year extension primarily with Sashi Brown — then the Browns’ general counsel and now the organization’s vice president of football operations.
The contract was every bit as crucial for Calo, who has been an agent since 2010, as it was Hughes.
When the latter ended his career at the University of Cincinnati, he selected an agent without a lot of experience, nor many clients, to represent him. Hughes was chosen 87th overall in Round 3 — two rounds after the Browns’ infamous Trent Richardson-Brandon Weeden combo.
“What’s great about John is he took a little risk on me,” Calo said. “I was in my third year of doing this. I had some other clients from Cincinnati, my first year or two of doing the agent stuff. I was able to meet with him and his family, and we hit it off. He took a chance on me, I took a chance on him, and we kind of shook up the 2012 draft together. I think when he got drafted, it was one of the bigger surprises of the draft. That breakthrough moment was elation. In a crazy way, it was on par with getting married and having a baby, but in a professional sense.”
Calo’s client list now includes five other NFL players. The group features Quinton Spain, an undrafted second-year player who is the Titans’ starting left guard, and Eagles rookie running back Wendell Smallwood. The latter was a fifth-round pick, No. 153 overall, last spring. Smallwood had an impressive 17-carry, 79-yard, one-TD performance in Philly’s Week 3 rout of the Steelers.
Calo also reps two Michigan products — Jaguars safety Jarrod Wilson (an undrafted rookie from Akron) and third-year Steelers running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Shaquille Riddick, a fifth-round pick by the Cardinals in 2015, also works with Calo. Riddick was released from Arizona’s practice squad last week.
Riddick, Smallwood and Spain all played at West Virginia.
“Just in general, I sort of took a grassroots approach,” Calo said. “I knew I wasn’t going to get on a plane and go to USC and say, ‘Hey, I’m Vince Calo. I’ve been an NFL agent for 10 minutes. Come sign me with me.’ It was, ‘Who are my buddies who are high school coaches and have kids that were in college?’ It started with a grassroots, Northeast Ohio, Ohio approach. That led to Hughes within 24 months of being certified.”
It later led Calo to Michigan and West Virginia.
And as we explained in a Crain’s story on Calo and another local agent, Andy Simms, being disgruntled with the NFL Players Association, the West Geauga High School graduate’s business also includes Aaron Turner, an NBA agent whose star client is Celtics guard Terry Rozier.
The Verus Management Team is led by Calo, Turner, investor Gregg Levy and Miles Welo, a recently licensed NFL agent.
Calo says he’s there “24-7” for his clients, which is one of the reasons he’s so against the new NFLPA regulation that sets the default agent fee at 1.5%.
“I think we’re a little bit different than some of the big boys who aren’t giving that kind of attention to their clients,” he said.