NFL recruiters paying ex-FBI agents to spy on troublesome talents
Clubs have spent $3m trying to work out if Jameis Winston is worth the gamble
Quarterback Jameis Winston of Florida State University has been accused of rape by a fellow student. Photograph: Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Jameis Winston might be the most talented quarterback available in the forthcoming NFL Draft. He may well turn into the type of break-out star whose gifts are so unique they can turn a moribund club into a Super Bowl contender in a matter of seasons. Yet, wherever he’s gone this past while, Winston has had very peculiar company, shadowy figures lurking a few steps behind, lingering after he’s left any building to question those whose paths he’s crossed.
It seems some of those interested in selecting him on April 30th and gambling the future of their club on his ability to throw a football have detailed private investigators to tail him on his travels around the country. In the quest for more intelligence on the true nature of his character, they’ve booked seats behind him on airplanes to observe the way he conducted himself during flights. What others might regard as borderline stalking and kind of creepy, the teams involved prefer to think of as mere due diligence.
If he is the first player picked, Winston’s initial professional contract is likely to be a four-year $23 million (€21.7 million) deal. Organisations intending to invest that kind of sum in a mercurial 21-year-old might feel entitled to pry deeper into his private life but this extraordinary level of scrutiny goes way beyond that. And with good reason. Winston departs Florida State University with a resume showing 26 wins from 27 starts, a national championship, a Heisman trophy (college gridiron’s player of the year award) and a disturbing dossier of bad behaviour.
The reason people may think he’s a sociopath could have less to do with performances on the field and more to do with some of the stupid stuff he’s said, including, “The only thing as vicious as rape is falsely accusing someone of rape.”
If all of the above explains why clubs have spent an estimated $3m trying to figure out whether he’s worth the gamble, the extent of their snooping has brought into focus how NFL outfits examine potential recruits each year. Beyond rigorous aptitude testing, physical work-outs, and obvious stuff like sifting through social media to see what individuals have posted, they also deploy former secret service and FBI agents to conduct background checks.
In wanting to establish if there are extra-curricular habits or anything else that make a player too risky a choice, they sometimes, infamously, overstep the mark. In a 2010 pre-draft interview, Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland asked wide receiver Dez Bryant whether his mother had, in fact, been a prostitute. She hadn’t. More recently, another player was asked if he liked girls. He did. Not that it should have mattered either way.
The prurient nature of those inquiries demonstrate how these future employers regard themselves as entitled to know every minute detail about an athlete’s existence. Given how many draft picks subsequently end up on police blotters, the approach doesn’t seem to have quite the desired results.
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After a stellar if often controversial college career quarterbacking Texas A&M, he was selected 22nd by the Cleveland Browns last year. His calamitous debut season culminated in a trip to rehab for alcoholism, and even Winston has name-dropped him as a cautionary tale of the pitfalls to avoid. “Jameis is ready to be an NFL player on the field,” said David Cornwell, his lawyer, speaking at a conference last weekend. “But he’s not ready to be an NFL player off the field.”
Although Cornwell put his comments into context by claiming this is true of almost every young player on the cusp of entering the league’s unforgiving limelight, the headlines they generated fed the growing belief Winston is, for so many reasons, a risk too far.
Indeed, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, owners of the first pick in the draft, could be inclining towards using that to snag Marcus Mariota, a promising quarterback out of the University of Oregon, rather than Winston.
Reports suggest the late Malcolm Glazer’s daughter Darcie, co-owner of the Buccaneers with her brothers, is against bringing in a player with so much tawdry baggage. Winston need not worry unduly if Tampa Bay passes him up. He can throw the ball, and for some club somewhere, that will ultimately, regardless of everything else, be all that matters.