Ronald Bartell Jr. found an agent who would stand in the rain for him.
When Bartell, the Howard University cornerback with aspirations of being selected in the early rounds of the NFL draft in late April, worked out for scouts from three teams on a wet, chilly afternoon last week at the school, most onlookers temporarily sought refuge in a tunnel adjacent to the field. Bartell's girlfriend, Nicole Francis, endured the elements, then retreated to the tunnel to watch.
Agent Jeff Griffin, right, is ready to work in any conditions -- even rainy ones -- that Ronald Bartell Jr., will put him through.
(Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)
But representing NFL players often requires extra dedication. Bartell's agent, Jeff Griffin, never left the field, standing in the mud with rain blowing in his face until scouts from the Houston Texans, New York Giants and New York Jets had seen enough of Bartell running through drills. "I told him, 'Rain, sleet or snow, I'll be there at your pro day,' " Griffin said this week.
When Bartell and his family began whittling the list of the dozens of agents who contacted him after he emerged as a pro prospect last year, Bartell decided he didn't want a high-profile advocate like Drew Rosenhaus. He wasn't looking for a mega-firm like IMG. He wanted personal attention, and he wanted an agent he could relate to and trust.
"I didn't want to be part of a big agency, where they'd always have someone more important to them to take care of," Bartell said. "I just felt comfortable with Griff. Everything he said, he backed it up."
One of the most potentially overwhelming aspects of the draft buildup is picking an agent. The phone calls and sales pitches rarely stop. Money is thrown around as a lure. It's difficult to slow down and make a sound decision, but it's important because that person will guide the player in making choices that will determine whether his NFL tenure is long and lucrative or brief and disheartening. "It's those kinds of decisions that make or break your future," said Phyllis Bartell, Ronald's mother.
Bartell wasn't regarded as much of a prospect until shortly before his senior season. Agents didn't discover him until late in a college career that began at Central Michigan. But when they did, the rush was on. Bartell estimates he heard from more than 100 agents, some of whom attempted to contact him through friends and teammates. He said about one-fourth of the agents who contacted him offered him improper benefits, including one offer for a car and another for $10,000.
"You can never be fully prepared for it," said Bartell, who declined to name the agents who made the offers. "It was ridiculous. It's almost sickening, the things they throw at you. It's crazy."
Playing by the Rules
The NFL Players Association, which is in charge of the certification and regulation of agents, prohibits agents from offering financial inducements to lure players, regardless of their collegiate eligibility. But it's difficult for the union to catch offenders because agents are permitted to give or loan money to players after signing them as clients, so the issue becomes when the offer was made and whether it was used as an inducement. A player loses his collegiate eligibility when he signs with an agent.
Bartell said he didn't accept any of the offers and immediately eliminated from consideration the agents who made them. "I figured if you're willing to buy me now," he said, "you're going to be willing to sell me later."
His mother, his father, Ronald Sr., and his sister, Nichole, became his screening committee. They did background checks on agents and interviewed about a dozen. Bartell's parents traveled from their home in Detroit to visit the Washington offices of the players' union to find out all they could.
"They're still kids, and they're being asked to make major decisions," Ronald Bartell Sr. said. "We just wanted to help."
Griffin was referred to Bartell's parents after seeing Bartell's name on a scouting list last summer and calling him. Griffin said dealing with the family instead of directly with the player was fine with him. "I hate having to bother the player," Griffin said. "I'll do it if I have to, but the player should be worrying about finishing up his college career. The last thing he needs to be doing is talking to 100 agents a day. The players that handle it for themselves, I think it's a nightmare for them."
Griffin traveled to Detroit for a meeting with the family screening committee. "They had a number of questions -- what we could provide, what we felt we brought to the table," Griffin said. "I said, 'Whatever I tell you, whatever I promise you, I'll deliver on.' I wasn't one to promise what round I could get him drafted in. I'm not a general manager."