Griffin, 30, could relate to a small-school player like Bartell. He played fullback at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Tex., from 1993 to '96. He wasn't an NFL prospect. But his best friend, NFL safety and fellow Abilene Christian alum Justin Lucas, was -- he played for the Cardinals for five years and the Rams last year -- and that helped Griffin get into the agent business. He spent several years doing player-recruiting legwork for San Antonio-based Momentum Sports Management, then was certified by the union for full player-representation duties in January 2002.
He went into business with lawyer Jack Scharf, another just-certified agent who had been around for several years trying to work his way up at other firms. Together they run Momentum's football division, and they now have nearly three dozen clients, a significant number considering union officials estimate about 70 percent of the approximately 1,300 certified agents have no clients. Griffin and Scharf are trying to carve their niche in an ultra-competitive business in which agents' incomes are based on commissions capped by the union at 3 percent of their players' contracts; thus, recruiting clients is the key. They are having a good year, representing nine players -- including Bartell -- who attended the scouting combine in late February.
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)
Going the Extra Mile
Griffin gets close to his players, and he tries to land at least one small-school client per year. He said Green Bay Packers cornerback Joey Thomas is like a little brother to him. The Bartells, Griffin said, immediately reminded him of Thomas's close family. Griffin told Thomas, a third-round draft choice by the Packers last year out of Montana State, about Bartell. When the Packers were in the D.C. area to play the Washington Redskins last year on Oct. 31, Thomas took fellow defensive back Michael Hawthorne with him to Howard's Oct. 30 homecoming game against Norfolk State and met Bartell. Bartell had followed Thomas's career through an online diary that Thomas wrote leading up to last year's draft, and the two became friends.
A few days after Howard's season ended on Nov. 20, Griffin paid for Bartell to travel from Washington to Tempe, Ariz., to see Athletes' Performance, the training facility where Griffin and Scharf pay for their clients to prepare for the Senior Bowl, the scouting combine and their pro workouts. Bartell was close to being sold.
The family screening committee narrowed its list to a group that included Griffin, Ethan Lock, Lenford Rowe and Washington-based Adisa Bakari. Lock was the most prominent of the final group, and the Bartells liked former NFL running back (and one-time Redskins scout) Melvin Bratton, who was recruiting for Lock's Tempe-based firm. But the family offered no final endorsement, holding firm in its conviction that Ron Jr. should make the choice. The Bartells had brought up their children to make their own major decisions, and they wouldn't change that approach now.
"At the end, he asked me, 'Who would you pick?' " Phyllis Bartell said. "I wouldn't answer. I said we'd be comfortable with anyone in the final group."
Bartell mulled the decision and, around Thanksgiving, went with Griffin, based on personal connection. Perhaps he sensed Griffin would stand in a rainstorm for him.
"In the end, it comes down to a gut feeling," Griffin said. "They were looking for someone who is genuine. Not everybody wants to go to a company with 150 clients."