The Man Behind The NFL’s Biggest Underdog Story
Mike McCartney, director of football at priority Sports & Entertainment, has been involved in football for more than 25 years as a coach, scout, front office executive and NFLPA certified agent. His clientele over the years includes Haloti Ngata, Kurt Warner, Arian Foster, Sean Lee, Mohammad Sanu and Kirk Cousins.
In March, McCartney negotiated a three-year, $84 million fully guaranteed contract for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. As a result of McCartney’s work, Cousins became the highest-paid player in the NFL.
McCartney’s father, Bill, was the winningest football coach at the University of Colorado Boulder. As the sophomore running back for the Buffalos, Phillip Lindsay caught McCartney’s eye. But, McCartney kept telling himself that he couldn’t sign Lindsay due to his size.
As an experienced veteran NFL agent, McCartney took a chance on a 5-foot-8, 185-pound running back from Colorado. Despite not receiving an invite to the NFL Combine, McCartney got his client an invite to play in the East-West Shrine Game. Throughout the entirety of the draft process, McCartney pleaded Lindsay’s case to NFL executives all across the league begging for one team to give Lindsay a shot. McCartney said, “All I ever heard was, ‘Oh, Mike, he’s a really good football player, but he’s too small. He’s too small’”.
When the 2018 NFL Draft came to an end, Lindsay did not hear his name called. McCartney knew that Lindsay would most likely not be drafted however he did everything he could to keep his client’s spirits high. McCartney said, “I kept encouraging Phillip – ‘Keep getting better your day is coming. All we need is a shot, and when you get your shot we are going to run with it.’” As an undrafted free agent, who grew up in Denver, Colorado, it was only fitting that the Denver Broncos were the only NFL organization willing to take a chance on the undersized running back.
When the Broncos gave Lindsay the opportunity, the 5’8” running back has definitely ran with it. Perhaps the biggest underdog story in the NFL, Lindsay has broken numerous records and he is the first undrafted free agent in NFL history with 100 yard-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first two games. Through 14 games, Lindsay ranks 8th in the league in rushing yards and 7th in rushing touchdowns with 991 yards and 9 touchdowns, respectively.
As a result of his performance on the field, his wild hair, personality and his journey to playing for his hometown team has attracted the likes of several companies looking to sign him for endorsement deals. Brian Mattoni, Priority’s director of athlete marketing, is being patient on signing Lindsay to local and national deals. “This is his first year and I think going out there and doing a bunch of deals – whether they are local or national – just doesn’t necessarily set the right example,” Mattoni said.
It has been a year to remember for McCartney and his clients. In addition to the record-breaking deal that he negotiated for Kirk Cousins, McCartney negotiated a three-year free-agent deal for Lindsay with the Broncos that included a $15,000 signing bonus, which is rare for an undrafted free agent.
The Cousins contract and Lindsay’s deal are two contracts on opposite ends of the spectrum. But, representing Lindsay has given McCartney something more. “I have a lot of pride in representing Phillip just because I feel like I saw he had something different inside of him,” McCartney said. “I have a lot of joy watching him doing, really, what he did in college and now at the highest level and helping his team win.”