INDIANAPOLIS — Ron Slavin’s alarm clock clangs at the crack of dawn and he’s off and running.
It’s Combine week and that means early mornings, late nights, and days jam-packed with meetings that will test Slavin’s mental and physical endurance.
Nobody will be clocking Slavin’s 40 time as he zips through the hallways and skywalks of the Indianapolis Convention Center and connecting hotels making myriad stops at appointments across the city.
Slavin isn’t looking to get drafted. He’s looking out for those looking to get drafted.
Welcome to the craziest week of the year for NFL agents.
“This week and the week leading up to the draft probably. Trading season, you’re busy that week. Cut day, you’re busy. Throughout this. Every week there’s something going on, an injury, somebody gets waived. Stuff’s always going on,’’ said Slavin, who is with Sportstars. “But for the amount of time that you spend, yeah, it’s up at 6:30 and to bed by midnight or 2 every night. So, it’s a very busy week.’’
Pretty much every minute of every day is booked.
“My Google calendar looks like Skittles,’’ said Evan Brennan, who is with United Athlete Sports Agency. “Meetings all over the place with a variety of different people, whether it’s front offices who want to start talking about veteran deals, whether it’s meeting with directors of college scouting talking about my rookies that are vetting the guys. I meet with a lot of vendors, training facilities, marketing people, PR people, potential new partners at the firm.’’
While NFL teams are looking to invest in players, agents already have invested thousands of dollars in their players before they’re ever poked, prodded, or peppered with quizzes at the Combine. Agents pay for anything a player needs leading up to the draft. That can include lodging, training, travel, and medical expenses. Agents can receive up to 3 percent of a player’s salary, including signing bonuses and game checks.
With only so many players available, it can be very cutthroat business with agents stealing players from competitors. Slavin acknowledges a lot of agents don’t like one another.
“It’s no different than any other business, right? I grew up in the construction world. My dad had a construction business and he thought there was other guys building houses that were not building quality houses and that were not doing quality work, or they were shady with what they were doing,’’ he said. “And that’s kind of the same with the agent business. There are guys walking around cutting their fees and giving large amounts of money to steal clients, and it’s shady business.’’
Being an honest, straight shooter has always been what’s worked for Slavin.
“I think what makes a good agent is somebody who’s not going to B.S. a player and who’s actually going to be honest with them,’’ said Slavin, who’s been representing players since 1999. “In the world that we live in now, everybody wants to be told they’re the greatest, and everything’s always great, but it’s a hard profession to be in. As a pro football player, you need people who are going to tell you the truth and people that are going to, no matter what it is, tell you what’s really going on.’’
Slavin takes a hands-on approach to his work and the week — it’s one of the reasons it can be a blur.
“I think what separates me is, I’m here at the Combine, and I don’t have a million handlers or interns or whatever,’’ he said. “I see all these other agents walking around and they have all these people here that are handling their kids. It’s like, ‘Wait a minute, I signed you. You should expect me to be taking you around, introducing you to a team, or taking you to the Nike Suite,’ or doing whatever that we do here with our players. This year more than ever I’ve seen they have more handlers handling instead of the actual agent doing the job with a player.’’
Related: Sunday Football Notes: What we learned this past week at the NFL Combine
When players decide to switch agents, it can cause some uncomfortable moments during Combine week, when agents attend a yearly seminar.
“[Tampa Bay’s] Ben Gottschalk left a big agency to come be with me. And yeah, things were a little interesting whenever he saw that agent,’’ said Brennan. “I’ve seen fights break out. I mean, that’s literally tens of thousands, if not more, money that just changed hands.’’
The week can be both exhilarating and exasperating for players — and agents. While competitors are going through the paces in front of coaches, scouts, and general managers, their agents are pacing the floor like an excited parent waiting for news.
“It’s nerve-racking. But it’s nerve-racking because they put in the work. And they’ve done this,’’ said Slavin. “Since Jan. 1, they put in all this work. People forget, 90 percent of where you’re drafted is still the film, but this 10 percent is pretty big.’’
Slavin said the pressure on the players can be enormous, and part of his job is to keep his client’s emotions in check even as his own are churning like a hurricane.
“I got guys stressing out about their arm length today, or they’re a pound lighter than they wanted to be, so you’re just kind of living with these ups and downs,’’ he said. “You’re texting with the players’ parents, letting them know what’s going on because they don’t want to bother their kid.’’
One of Slavin’s client’s here is Baylor receiver Denzel Mims, whose dazzling workout Thursday night, including a 4.38 in the 40, has him in some first-round conversations.
“Denzel and I kept his numbers to ourselves,’’ said Slavin, who said Mims celebrated with some post-workout onion rings, the first unhealthy thing he’s eaten in eight weeks. “Players and agents make the mistake of saying times before they run. I always advise against that. Because once Denzel had the workout he did, he boosted his stock even more because it wasn’t expected by many teams.’’
Slavin said the toughest part of this week is when an evaluator tells him one of his players isn’t as good as he believes they are.
“I know that I have these kids,” Slavin said, “that they’ve done everything right and I think a kid’s a second-round pick, and they go, ‘Oh, he might go [in the fourth, fifth round] . . . ’ At the end of the day, hopefully, he goes second, but when you hear that . . . You can’t argue with them. What are you going to do?”
While everyone is familiar with the physical drills players will be asked to perform, the mental exercises are a little more of the unknown. Interviews can be taxing as questions can be about every topic under the sun. This year Slavin enlisted the help of an expert.
“I brought in Mark Dominik, who was the general manager at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and had Mark work with these guys one-on-one . . . group setting and one-on-one and just kind of let them know the things that they should expect,” said Slavin. “But he was really good because he sat in these meetings for 20 years.”
The misconception about agents, Slavin believes, is that they negotiate a contract and disappear.
“There’s so much more to it. On a daily basis you’re doing so many things,’’ he said. “I’m talking to a wife, a girlfriend, a mom, a grandma, a grandpa. You’re talking to so many different people trying to help these guys make good decisions, put themselves in a good position and be successful.’’
Agents must wear many hats: adviser, friend, parent, sounding board, advocate.
“Family therapist — which my wife is,’’ added Slavin, who relies on her advice often. “She’ll say things or try to give me some opinions on stuff. Definitely. And when you’re dealing with the moms and wives, that helps big time.’’
Jim McBride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.