LACKING THE ABILITY TO SELL Jerry Gilbert 8/17/2007
Put yourself in the position of an NFL General Manager. You have a veteran player who may not fit well into your plans in future years. He has perfect size for his position. Although a starter for a couple of years, this player had volunteered for all special teams. Though not a gifted returner, he had sure hands and always gave his best when asked to return punts and kicks. As a wide receiver, this former high draft choice has never excelled, but he will go over the middle, and he has the speed to go long. Described in those terms, Robert Ferguson sounds like a player who could be traded to another team.
However, no person will offer value for what he or she can get for free. Packer General Manager Ted Thompson, aided by coach Mike McCarthy and all the staff, portrayed Robert Ferguson as surplus baggage. It is no surprise that last minute efforts to trade him were unsuccessful. An opportunity was wasted.
Now that he is gone, they praise his effort and attitude, he was great in the locker room, and he was often a victim of bad breaks, such as an illegal close line tackle that ended one of his seasons. On the other hand, all the talk and actions in the last two years have painted a different picture. Two high draft choices have been used at his position, a second last season and a third in 2007. Once Greg Jennings and James Jones were in camp, each was placed in an optimal position to show his stuff in practice and pre-season games. Recent statements by Greg Jennings suggest that James Jones is getting the chances that he got last season. Jones is a primary target for the pass play while Jennings runs a low percentage fly pattern to occupy a safety. Jennings said he identifies with the frustration that Ferguson must have felt.
Please do not misunderstand. Robert Ferguson was not the player you want opposite Donald Driver in the Green Bay offense. On the other hand, a salesman would have made an effort to suggest he could be the answer for someone else. Ferguson could have practiced with the first team and been the first option more often. They did throw to him early against Pittsburgh, but it was not a pass play that let him show his ability. It was too little too late. All the talk about Robert needing to step up even to make the team was too much to overcome as trade talks began.
In another recent situation the Green Bay Packers did it right, although I suspect they fell into it. Samkon Gado was a mid-season free agent pickup who had some success as a running back. He had his limitations as a blocker and receiver, but we heard much more about his natural skills as a runner and his great attitude. Prior to last season, when it was becoming apparent that Gado was not a natural for the new zone blocking offense, he was put on the trading block. Having by word and deed heaped praise on their product, the Packers were able to swap this free agent for good value, a former third round Draft Choice from a Big Twelve University, Vernand Morency. This was good salesmanship.
There are other examples of good and bad sales efforts around the league. Clinton Portis was obviously not the answer at running back in Denver, but they were able to trade him for Champ Bailey. Perceived malcontent Randy Moss has been traded twice for little in return. Back up quarterbacks, with little experience in the regular season, often have significant value in the trading market. Matt Schaub is a recent example. Brett Favre is another. Some would question whether Deion Branch is a good a receiver as others who have garnered less return. Salesmanship and timing are definitely involved.
From this vantage point, it appears that Ted Thompson may have squandered an opportunity to improve his team. His next opportunity may be at kicker. If we start to see lots of Dave Raynor and hear praise heaped upon him, we will know that a sales person has been found in Green Bay.