Bill Parcells and quarterback Jacoby Brissett at a recent lunch meeting at Duffy’s Sports Grill in Jupiter, Fla.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The NFL Players Association keeps track of every player-agent relationship in the NFL. Next to Jacoby Brissett’s name is one word: Self.
It implies that Brissett is venturing out naively into the NFL world without much guidance or direction. Of the 253 players drafted last weekend, Brissett is the only one without an agent.
But do not fret for Brissett. The talented quarterback from North Carolina State has the most unusual and knowledgeable posse of any player in the draft.
Among those in his corner — prepping him for predraft workouts and interviews, helping him with his footwork, negotiating his rookie contract, and advising him about life in the NFL — are a seven-year NFL safety, a top NFLPA executive, and, most notably, a Hall of Fame coach.
“He’s just an awesome kid. He’s awesome,” said that coach, Bill Parcells. “He’s got great character, he’s committed, and I just have a very high regard for him personally.”
Brissett, 23, was drafted by the Patriots in the third round, but has unofficially been a member of the Patriots family since he was a star quarterback and basketball player at Dwyer High School in suburban West Palm Beach.
Former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis took the same position at the University of Florida in January 2011, and immediately set his sights on Brissett, a dominant 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound athlete who led Dwyer to a football state championship his junior year and a basketball state championship his senior year.
The Gators had only senior John Brantley and true freshman Jeff Driskel on their roster at quarterback, and even though Driskel arrived in Gainesville with five stars and a lot of hype, Weis believed in Brissett, who at the time was choosing between offers from Wisconsin and Miami.
“I liked that he was the leader in his school,” said Weis. “He was like the Pied Piper — everybody followed Jacoby.
“I challenged him a little bit. I said, ‘There are only two reasons not to go to Florida. One, you don’t think you’re good enough to beat out Driskel. Or two, you just think I’m a liar and I would never play you.’ And he took that personally.”
To help seal the deal, Weis had one of his star pupils call Brissett’s mother to vouch for Weis and his coaching ability.
“He was like, ‘Let me let you talk to the best quarterback in the NFL,’ ” said Lisa Brown, a special needs teacher and nursing home aide. “So I had the opportunity to speak to Tom Brady. It was very exciting. He was just telling me that Charlie Weis is a very good person, and my son would be in good hands.”
Tuna for lunch
It was also in 2011 that Brissett struck up a relationship with Parcells, the former Giants, Patriots, Jets, and Cowboys coach. Parcells now spends his winters in nearby Jupiter, Fla., and is golfing buddies with the father-in-law of Brissett’s high school coach, Jack Daniels.
Dwyer was an athletic powerhouse, with several players who have since reached the NFL — Ravens safety Matt Elam, Bills tight end Nick O’Leary, and others — and Parcells started coming around the school to take in practice and work with the kids.
Parcells immediately took to Brissett, and the two had lunch at Duffy’s Sports Grill in Jupiter, a tradition that continues five years later.
“I’ve known him since he was 16 or 17, and if you can help kids along the way, that’s something I get a great deal of satisfaction out of,” Parcells said.
Brissett did sign with Florida, and his career started out as Weis had promised. Brantley sprained his ankle five games into the season, and suddenly Brissett, a true freshman, became the Gators’ quarterback, earning his first start at No. 2 LSU — in “Death Valley,” arguably the most daunting stadium environment in the country.
The Gators got blown out, but Brissett did enough to earn the start again the next week against Auburn before Brantley returned. Had Weis remained at Florida, Brissett would have been his starting quarterback in 2012.
Florida used a pared-down version of the same playbook the Patriots have used for 16 years. Weis said the verbiage was the same they use in New England.
“It wasn’t all of the playbook, since you don’t have the time to put it all in, but it was the same system,” Weis said. “Same formations and plays, exactly what he learned as a freshman. It will come back to him real quick.”
But Weis left for Kansas the next year, and Brissett lost his supporter. The new offensive coordinator preferred Driskel, and let it be known that there would not be a quarterback competition. After the 2012 season, Brissett decided to transfer to North Carolina State, whose coaches had been on the Wisconsin staff that recruited him in high school.
Brissett sat out the 2013 season under NCAA transfer rules, but was still voted to the Wolfpack’s Leadership Council, and was named Scout Team Player of the Year. In fact, he was voted to the Leadership Council in all three of his seasons at North Carolina State, leading the Wolfpack to a 15-11 overall record and a bowl appearance each year.
Brown, his mother, compares her son to the Biblical figure Job.
“He lost everything that he was looking for at Florida, but he found it again at N.C. State,” she said. “I’ve always told him, it was a setback for a great comeback.”
‘A Patriot-type guy’
Brissett is more of a classic drop-back passer, taking snaps under center as well as shotgun at Dwyer and North Carolina State. Though he completed only about 60 percent of his passes in two years, his coaches rave about his accuracy, and, most notably, his character.
“He’s a Patriot-type guy,” Weis said. “He’s not a leave-the-pocket quarterback. He’s a true drop-back guy. He’s always around, he’s cerebral, he likes to study and work extra. He fits their system very well.”
“I texted Josh [McDaniels] and I texted Tommy, and told them both that I thought he’d be a great fit and they’ll both like him a lot.”
Which takes us back to the predraft process. Instead of signing an agent, Brissett enlisted the services of Abram Elam, a longtime neighbor and family friend. Elam played in the NFL from 2006-12 (Cowboys, Jets, Browns, Chiefs) and is somewhat of a local legend in Palm Beach County football circles.
Elam mentors several current South Florida football stars, including Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Elam, his younger brother who was the Ravens’ first-round pick in 2013. Elam also helped former Dwyer stars Tommylee Lewis and Curt Maggitt sign undrafted rookie contracts with the Saints and Colts last weekend.
Abram Elam isn’t doing this by himself, of course. Mark Levin, the director of salary cap and agent administration for the NFLPA, is in daily contact with Brissett to help him negotiate his rookie contract. And Parcells, who brought Elam into the NFL in 2006 with the Cowboys, has taken a special interest in mentoring Brissett, Lewis, and Maggitt.
“I’m a big football fan,” said Brown, “and I’ve watched Parcells coach in New England and Dallas, and I’m overjoyed for [Brissett] to have a mentor like that.”
Parcells is 74 now, already has a bust in the Hall of Fame, and should be spending his days at the golf course and the horse track (though he still does plenty of both). But over the past four months, he made Brissett his special project.
“We go to lunch every few weeks at Duffy’s, and always sit in the same spot, and just listen to him talk to Jacoby and tell him stories,” Daniels said.
“Then he’s out here [at Dwyer], it’s pouring rain, he’s in his sweatpants, down on one knee snapping the ball to Jacoby. It was funny seeing him out there snapping the ball in the mud. They’ve just really hit it off.”
Elam and Parcells helped generate a lot of interest for Brissett, hoping to steer him to a team that already had a veteran quarterback in place so he could sit for a couple years and learn.
Brissett had workouts in South Florida and North Carolina with the Steelers, Buccaneers, and Saints. A workout with Brissett and German receiver Moritz Boehringer, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Vikings, was attended by 10 teams.
Brissett then traveled to San Diego and Dallas for official visits with the Chargers and Cowboys. Parcells has strong relationships with Saints coach Sean Payton and Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, and many thought Brissett would end up with one of those teams.
“Jacoby did a thing for the Chargers, and [Parcells] said, ‘That’s it. You’re not going anywhere else. We’re shutting it down,’ ” Daniels said. “Then the Patriots called, and he goes, ‘Get on that plane.’ So he flew up and had a great visit with the Patriots.”
Brissett was drafted by the Patriots with the 29th pick of the third round. Before he flew up to New England this weekend to participate in rookie minicamp, he had one last meeting with Parcells at Duffy’s.
Parcells laid out the rules for Brissett. You don’t live in Boston or Providence, you live in Foxborough, near the facility. Find a laundromat. Find a restaurant near your home, introduce yourself, and hopefully they can customize your meals for you.
Who better to prepare Brissett for life as a Patriot under Bill Belichick than Parcells?
“I just tell him what to expect and what to be prepared for, that’s all,” Parcells said. “I don’t know everything, that’s for sure, but I’m very happy because I know he’s going to get good coaching and a good opportunity, and that’s all any player can ask for.”
Parcells gives similar pointers to Lewis, Maggitt, and Matt Elam, imparting his wisdom to give them the best possible chance of succeeding in the NFL.
“Bill Parcells has been such an awesome blessing for Jacoby and my son,” said Addie Elam-Lewis. “He’s just done so much, talking to them and making sure they stay on the right track.
“I don’t understand why he is so good to these young men, but I’m thankful that he is. We are so grateful to have Bill Parcells in our lives.”
Along for the ride
As for Brissett’s NFL future, Parcells pumps the brakes a bit. Brissett will begin his career as the Patriots’ No. 3 quarterback, with the hopes of replacing Jimmy Garoppolo within a year or two (Garoppolo’s contract runs through the 2017 season).
After that? Who knows how long Brady will play, or how Brissett will develop?
“You never really know what’s going to happen until the players get under the gun,” Parcells said. “I think he has a good skill level, and he’s very smart, but that doesn’t guarantee success.
“I do think he has some attributes that you can’t see that are going to serve him well, but I don’t know that for a fact. You just have to do your best based on what you’ve seen him do and his commitment and how willing he is to work at it.”
That last part shouldn’t be much of a problem. Brissett and his mother went TV shopping last week so he can watch film at home. Brissett is a prudent spender who has never owned a car, and told his mother that he can catch rides to Gillette Stadium with Joe Thuney, his left tackle at North Carolina State who also was drafted by the Patriots.
“He’s all about football and clean living,” Daniels said. “He’s not a guy that’s going to be doing commercials. He listens to what his coach says, he’s serious, and he’s got the skill set to match all of the personality characteristics. Everybody loves him. He’s such a good kid.”
And Brissett thanks a Hall of Fame coach for putting him in a position to succeed and helping him get adopted into the Patriot family.
“I can’t even describe what type of person he is and what he’s meant to my life,” Brissett said of Parcells. “Just him grooming me as a man and preparing me for tough times, hard times, good times.
“He’s been so helpful to me throughout this process, and just keeping me steady and keeping a good head on my shoulders, and you know, I just can’t thank him enough.”