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Michael Cohen wrote:

Packers' Russ Ball plays hardball with a heart 

What's it like to sit across the bargaining table from Russ Ball,
the Packers' vice president of football administration/player finance?
NFL agents pull back the curtain and explain the art of dealing with Green Bay's chief negotiator and salary-cap savant.

Michael Cohen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Ever since the arrival of general manager Ted Thompson, who assumed his post in 2005, fans of the Green Bay Packers have developed a twisted sense of enjoyment surrounding the advent of free agency each spring. Banded by snark, they revel in the annual chance to lob scripted volleys at Thompson’s passivity on the open market, a core tenet of his draft-and-develop philosophy.

The irony of such apoplexy is that Thompson plays an absentee role in the actual negotiation of contracts, both with his own players and those from other teams. Aside from establishing financial parameters, during which he is a crucial figure, Thompson keeps his distance from ongoing discussions. He has, according to league sources and Thompson himself, almost no direct contact with agents.

Instead, the executor of Thompson’s frugality is Russ Ball, the vice present of football administration/player finance for the Packers — better known as the team’s chief negotiator and salary-cap savant.

“I think there’s an extraordinary amount of trust, and the trust factor certainly rears its head in this particular case,” Thompson said in an interview last week. “I think (my approach) is a little bit more hands-off. I think the combination of Russ sweet-talking them and me not saying anything is a good combination.”

Ball, 57, is the most influential person in the organization whom the public knows the least information about. He has been barred from speaking to the media since his arrival in 2008 from New Orleans, where he managed the salary cap and handled contract negotiations as vice president of football administration. The Packers declined to make Ball available for this story, citing the longstanding policy.

But interviews with nearly a dozen agents — all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity — pulled back the curtain on how Ball does business, from his genial personality to his accommodating approach to negotiations. Representatives said they admire his unwavering fairness, and more than one described Ball as being among their favorite people in the league.

Their remarks mirrored everything Ball’s older brother, Randy, heard during his own football journey from college coaching to the United Football League and, eventually, to his current role as a pro scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs.

“It was so interesting to talk to all the agents,” Randy Ball said, “and every one of them would bring up how good a guy my brother is and how much they love dealing with him. Then they would bring up how tight he is sometimes. I told them the problem is he thinks that’s his money instead of the Packers’ money. He treats it like it’s his.

“I’ve had agent after agent tell me how good a job he did negotiating with them and how mad they got at him. But they couldn’t stay mad at him because he was such a good guy.”

So consider the following a user's guide to negotiating with the Packers, and by extension Russ Ball. This is everything you need to know explained by the agents who’ve lived it many times.

Know the opponent

Just as teams around the league are identified by offensive and defensive philosophies, agents with enough experience can recognize organizational tendencies from one negotiation to the next. Each front office has its own contractual footprint, so to speak, and it behooves the deal seekers to understand their quirks.

“You only get that feel from being around the league long enough to know the negotiator at each team,” said one agent who has worked with Ball for decades.

When it comes to the Packers, who have had the same pairing of general manager and contract negotiator since 2008, agents identified several tendencies that have become synonymous with the organization. They are the non-negotiables of every negotiation, and those who are most successful will have anticipated them from the start.

“The problem is he thinks that’s his money instead of the Packers’ money. He treats it like it’s his.”
Randy Ball

It begins with weathering the low-ball storm.

“Russ will typically reach out first and have a conversation and just say, ‘Hey, we’re interested in seeing if we can do something with so and so,’” said one agent who has secured multiple long-term deals with the Packers. “Then he’ll send an email and it will always be a low offer. Always.”

What follows is a very real, if often overlooked, educational process for players negotiating with the Packers for the first time. With rare exceptions, players have no direct involvement in the actual negotiations until a contract is ready to be signed. They are forced to rely on patience and the communicative skills of their representatives.

As such, more than one agent said the organization’s preference to slow play contract talks — sticking to a low offer until the very last minute — can be difficult for some players to endure, especially as other teams around the league complete their deals at a faster pace.

“A lot of players talk a tough game but they can be very weak at the negotiation table,” an agent said. “That’s the art of being an agent I guess is working with both the club and your client and making sure your client allows you to do your job.

“(Russ) has his convictions, which is great and fine, but you just know from experience that you have to weather the early low offer.”

The particulars of modern-day negotiations often center on guaranteed money, and in this regard the Packers are among the most rigid teams in the league: Since Ball’s arrival, the Packers have flat-out refused to guarantee base salaries for future years of veteran contracts, according to an agent who has done numerous deals with the team.

Consider the four-year, $41 million extension given to defensive end Mike Daniels late in the 2015 season. The only guaranteed money was a $12 million signing bonus deposited into Daniels’ account the day he signed the contract.

Next consider the five-year, $60 million deal the Packers inked with outside linebacker Nick Perry earlier this spring. Perry’s only guaranteed money was an $18.5 million signing bonus.

By contrast, when right guard T.J. Lang signed a three-year, $28.5 million contract with the Detroit Lions, he had his salary fully guaranteed for the next two seasons in addition to an $8 million signing bonus. In total, the contract was shorter than deals extended to Daniels or Perry but still contained more guaranteed money ($19 million).

While there have been several exceptions in which the Packers guaranteed roster bonuses in future years, the last veteran who had his base salary guaranteed beyond year one was defensive back Charles Woodson. His seven-year, $39 million deal signed in 2006 included a base salary of $1.25 million for the second year, $1 million of which was guaranteed.

At that point, Ball was still working for the Saints.

“With any veteran contracts they are the team in the NFL that you will get some signing bonus from them, and that’s of course guaranteed, but the Packers will not guarantee future years of salary,” an agent said. “That’s the one kind of trait that they’ve created that is absolutely unique to them.”

Instead, the Packers litter their veteran contracts with incentives that protect the team. These incentives take the form of workout bonuses, which require players to appear at Lambeau Field on pre-determined dates during the offseason, and roster bonuses, which require players to be on the Packers’ roster at certain points throughout the year.

The Packers also have set a precedent when it comes to the minimum salary benefit applicable to veteran players, according to a longtime agent. By design, the rule allows teams to sign players with at least four accrued seasons to minimum contracts with reduced salary-cap charges. Regardless of how many seasons the veteran has played, the team only absorbs the cap hit of a second-year player.

All contracts under the minimum salary benefit must be one-year deals and can include up to $80,000 in bonus money, which the Packers never distribute.

“The Packers just don’t do that,” an agent said. “They don’t want to put in the $80,000. It doesn’t matter to them that everyone else does it without a fight. They just have a way of doing things and they kind of stick to that plan.”

Friendly face

Many of the contracts signed during free agency have origins at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, where the decision makers for every team stuff a handful of downtown hotels. It is both the unofficial start to free agency and the largest collection of league power each year.

Scattered among the prospect interviews and workout footage that saturate television coverage are meetings between contract negotiators and agents. Legal meetings consist of agents talking with personnel men for the team employing their client. Discussions can focus on players whose contracts are about to expire, or the two sides can meet for a yearly status report of how the organization views a particular player.

(There also are illegal meetings that consist of agents sitting down with other teams because their client is set to become a free agent, but that’s another story.)

Several agents said they meet with Ball nearly every year in Indianapolis, and some have standing annual appointments. They convene over coffee in the lobbies of the JW Marriott or The Westin — some teams will invite agents to a hotel suite instead — and shoot the breeze before addressing any pertinent business.

“It’s a yearly thing where you sit down, you have a cup of coffee and you kind of come to the realization that you’re dealing with a person here and not just some (expletive) whose money you’re trying steal,” an agent said.

Agents pointed to Ball’s demeanor during combine meetings as evidence of why they respect and admire his approach to the job. In a business where friendships often are discouraged, Ball spends as much time learning about the person across the table as he does discussing brass tacks.

Ball, whose daughter attends Duke, is known to commiserate with fellow agents about the rising costs of college tuition. He has shared his Christian faith on occasion and is quite knowledgeable about world events. He often references past conversations to demonstrate listening skills.

“What’s great about him — and maybe he’s a great note taker — he always remembers,” an agent said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, your son is doing this and doing that.’ I think he has that ability to relate and to learn about people on a personal level.”

Said another agent: “I’ve always liked Russ. … You could have a genuine personal relationship with him. It wasn’t just strictly business, which I enjoy.”

Said a third: “Very professional, and I would say somewhat caring relative to some of the other people out there in the league. … He’s just a really good person.”

State your case

The modern negotiating table is mostly metaphorical, with smoke-filled boardrooms and scotch on the rocks left antiquated by smart phones and laptops. Gone, for the most part, are face-to-face showdowns reminiscent of courthouse dramas, and in their place are texts and emails that give negotiating a distinctly non-verbal component.

“I go back to colleges and law schools and I always lecture on this stuff,” an agent said. “People think you show up and it’s all in person and you sit in a room and some guy is smoking a cigar, everybody is up in their face yelling and screaming. Maybe that’s happening, it just hasn’t happened with me yet.”

Instead, the outline of a contract might be hashed out over the phone and the particulars sent back and forth via spreadsheet with adjustable figures. The agent, who always signs the deal first, will do so with an emailed copy. The player, who signs it second, will receive a FedEx version in the mail if he isn’t in Green Bay at the time an agreement is reached.

“Did you ever see the movie ‘Jerry Maguire’?” an agent said. “Toward the end when they finally decide they want to make a proposal for Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character, they send a fax that has the outline of the contract. Once you finally say, ‘Hey, make me a proposal,’ one of the two groups will send something that looks very similar to that.”

To reach that point and arrive at a veritable “Show me the money!” moment, agents traverse what they describe as a fair and honest negotiation process with Ball, one that is predicated on an equal exchange of information.

Though it begins with the awkwardness of a high school dance — “Everybody is hesitant to go first,” an agent said — the eventual first step is a detailed discussion of the client that agents liken to a status report. Ball, who serves as a conduit to the coaching staff and personnel department during negotiations, relays the latest X’s and O’s evaluation of each particular player. He uses this breakdown as justification for whatever contract(s) the Packers offer.

Feedback ranges from unpleasantly honest to warmly reassuring, and every verdict is softened by Ball’s trademark tact.

“It’s hard for us as agents because a lot of times the way the team is operating is very much behind the curtain,” an agent said. “So we’re not privy to what their thoughts are, what their philosophy is, where your client fits into what they’re doing scheme-wise, roster-wise, etc. So when you have someone that’s willing to open the kimono a little bit and tell you these things about your player and why he makes sense for them and why the numbers are where they’re at, that lends itself in my opinion to a good working relationship.”

Said another agent: “Dealing with him, you don’t feel slimy like you can in some negotiations. You get a pretty honest opinion of what the organization thinks of your guy, which kind of tends to make the agent make a reasonable sales pitch based upon why a player should get what he’s getting. They’re not a big organization with regard to hey, you hit them high and they’ll hit you low and you meet in the middle. You pretty much have to really justify why you’re asking for what you’re asking when talking to Russ about a contract.”

Where Ball differs from many of his contemporaries is the open-mindedness with which he approaches each negotiation, according to multiple agents. After Ball shares the organization’s reasoning for certain structures or financial terms, he invites agents to make sales pitches of their own.

What follows is an earnest discussion of the market, from comparable players around the league to an examination of price points set during free agency. To say that Ball rewards preparedness would be incorrect — there is no direct correlation between amount of research and favorable contract offers — but he certainly has been swayed at times, according to multiple agents. More than one described it as a fair exchange of information.

“He doesn’t feel like he has to win every argument,” an agent said. “A lot of times you get the sense that the team feels it has to win at everything. Russ wants to do a fair deal, what he sees as a fair deal for both sides. I think he will admit if he’s undervalued the market after an initial offer.”

“A lot of times in negotiations there is a take-it-or-leave-it nature, and you just don’t get that sense with Russ,” another agent said. “He’s going to hear your counterpoints and take them into consideration. It doesn’t mean he’s always going to agree or act on them, but I do get a strong sense that Russ listens. I think that’s big.

He continued: “Then Russ likes to make sure it’s in concert with Ted. You hear Ted’s name a lot in these negotiations. I’m not sure if I always buy that Ted has got that strong of an opinion when it comes to contract structures and actual dollars, but you certainly do hear Ted’s name a lot in these negotiations.”

The collaborative approach to negotiations has been known to trigger creative contract structures. Perry’s deal, for example, came with a low cap number of $6 million for the 2017 season, and larger cap chargers will be absorbed later as the cap is expected to rise.

When the Packers rewarded quarterback Aaron Rodgers with a five-year, $110 million extension in 2013, they included a massive $35 million signing bonus that would be prorated over the length of the deal. In doing so they minimized cap hits and afforded themselves additional flexibility to surround Rodgers with expensive talent. Unlike many teams, the Packers have been largely unencumbered by an enormous quarterback contract.

“It takes two to tango,” an agent said, “so you have to have someone on the other side of the phone that is willing to get creative and willing to hear ideas that are outside the box because many teams aren’t.”

Tough love

When Ball worked for the Chiefs in the 1990s, his parents, Craig and Bobbi, convinced their sons to join them in splitting a vacation home on Lake of the Ozarks in their native Missouri. The three boys — Russ, Randy and Rick — still bring their families together for annual trips.

But Russ Ball is known to bring his work, too, and both older brothers recall watching Russ duck outside to negotiate contracts between OTAs and training camp. He winced over every detail or concession, even on vacation.

“It was just killing him,” Randy Ball said. “It would take all summer and drag it out, kind of ruin your summer if you’re a negotiator like that.”

The story reinforces what agents have come to realize about Ball — that despite his jovial disposition, he approaches each negotiation as if his wallet were footing the bill. He is hard on issues but soft on people, according to one agent, and will draw lines in the sand if he needs to protect the team.

“I like Russ a lot,” the agent said. “He’s one of my favorite people in the business. … But don’t mistake friendly and outgoing for being a pushover. He’s a damn good negotiator.”

Disagreements are inevitable, but the mutual respect never wanes.

“He knows the art of the deal, so to speak,” Thompson said. “He has the ability to kind of look down the road and see the different moves that might be made to get the deal done.

“There’s not a lot of people that are telling truths during negotiating times, and I think in our case we have one of the few that might be telling the truth.”

  • Posts: 18219
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Oops, it appears that this is a repost . Feel free to merge or delete as you see fit.
  • Posts: 18219
  • Joined: 9/14/2008
Here is Part 1 of the series, which I don't think was posted here before:

Michael Cohen wrote:

Packers' Russ Ball a man of immense influence and intrigue 

The widely respected lead contract negotiator and salary-cap guru
has extensive behind-the-scenes responsibilities and a body of
work that makes him a compelling candidate as a team president
or general manager.

Michael Cohen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


On a frigid December afternoon at Soldier Field, the chief power brokers for the Green Bay Packers leapt from their chairs to celebrate a touchdown.

The three of them — President Mark Murphy, general manager Ted Thompson and vice president of football administration/player finance Russ Ball — traded high fives as the Packers raced to a 17-point lead over the Chicago Bears. When the celebration was finished, Ball gave his colleagues individual pats on the back.

Fans of the Packers will recognize Murphy and Thompson as the foremost executives for a franchise valued at almost $2 billion last year. The former represents the business face of a brand with global outreach. The latter serves as the football architect for a perennial Super Bowl contender.

But fans are much less likely to recognize Ball, the third oligarch and a man the Packers intentionally shroud whenever possible.

“I don’t think they really let Russ talk to anyone,” a league source said.

Ball, 57, is among the most intriguing figures in the Packers organization simply because the general public knows nothing about a man with immense influence. He is lauded as the team’s lead contract negotiator and salary-cap guru, but his responsibilities are said to extend much further. His talents are viewed as indispensable.

He has been described by Murphy as the “unsung hero of our Super Bowl” and by coach Mike McCarthy as “the best I’ve ever been around.” He is devoutly loyal to the organization and the epitome of a company man. He will not discuss business dealings with his family. He cuts off contact with his brother during the draft and free agency each year. (Randy Ball, a former collegiate head coach, is a pro scouting assistant for the Kansas City Chiefs.)

Around the league, Ball’s peers view him as a legitimate candidate for general manager jobs and wonder why he doesn’t have one already. In Green Bay, Ball is the dark horse to take over whenever the 64-year-old Thompson retires.

“He likes what he does now,” said Russ’ oldest brother, Rick Ball, “but he would love the opportunity to be a general manager.”

Obscurity lingers because Ball has been barred from speaking to the media since his arrival from New Orleans in 2008. The Packers declined multiple requests to interview Ball for this article, citing the longstanding team policy. Even Thompson would not discuss the specifics of Ball’s responsibilities during an interview with the Journal Sentinel last week. (The media guide says his daily supervision includes the following departments: athletic training, equipment, video, corporate travel, player development, family programs and public relations.)

Instead, the story of Russ Ball is told through interviews with those around him, and more than 30 agents, team executives, current and former coaches, family members, owners and college teammates offered a window into a man whose talents extend far beyond the nebulous titles he has held.

Taken together, their insights trace his silent rise from a Missouri weight room to the inner circle of the Packers’ front office.


On Aug. 28, 1959, a car salesman named Craig and a stay-at-home mom named Roberta welcomed their third and final child to the family, a redheaded baby called Russell. He was eight years younger than his middle brother, Randy, and 10 years younger than his oldest brother, Rick.

The family lived in Columbia, Mo., home to the state’s flagship university. Craig worked as an auto wholesaler buying cars with minor defects from dealers around the city. He fixed the problems and sold the cars at auction for a profit. Rick eventually followed him into the family business; Russ followed Randy into coaching.

Roberta managed the house and monitored the youth sports careers of her three boys. She was a soothing presence for Russ and a disciplinarian for Randy. Everyone in Columbia knew her as Bobbi.

“We were blessed to have two great parents,” Randy said. “A lot of kids don’t have two parents nowadays, and both our parents were very active in our lives and showed us a lot of love and showed us the right way to do things.”

As the boys fell in love with sports, every game became a family outing. It began with Russ watching his older brothers in football at David H. Hickman High School. It continued with long drives across the state to support Randy, who played guard at Northeast Missouri State (now Truman State). In between, the whole family cheered for the Missouri Tigers, led by future Packers coach Dan Devine.

The older brothers returned the favor by watching Russ play just about everything: football, baseball and basketball. Despite the age difference, Rick and Randy hardly ever missed a game. And they never missed a chance to pick apart Russ’ performance the way siblings do.

“This wasn’t anything our parents really endorsed or really knew about,” Rick Ball said. “We were thinking to ourselves, 'This is a little embarrassing, we can do better than this.' So we’d take him (in the backyard) and work him over. I remember him sweating so hard, but he stayed with it. He did just what we asked him to do.”

Many of those traits were derived from their father, who served as a role model for all three boys. Craig had become a terrific conversationalist through his career in sales. He could talk to anyone at any time and always made sure to listen. He did his best to impart those skills in his sons.

Just as admirable was his quiet sense of determination, the extent of which remained veiled until the boys matured. Craig steered the family through monetary hardships in the early 1960s, according to Rick, but the struggles never were apparent because he always made things work.

“He gave everything to the family, he really did,” Rick said.

The notion that family supersedes everything came from their parents, both of whom are deceased. But in the 1990s Craig and Bobbi convinced their sons to join them in buying a house on Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The cost was split four ways, and every year their families convened for swimming, boating and fishing. The parents viewed the house as a way of keeping everyone close.

“They just drilled to us there’s nothing more important than family,” Rick said. “If things get bad or rough, the people you can count on will always be your family.”

(An aside: Rick recalls a memorable evening in which Russ took the family’s 26-foot pontoon boat out on the lake. The boat ran out of gas during the return trip. Russ dove in and pulled it to shore.)


The old grandstand at Vernon Kennedy Field held 5,800 people when Russ Ball arrived at Central Missouri in 1977. The Mules hadn’t enjoyed a winning season in seven years, but teammates remembered the stadium as being mostly full — at least until the second half.

“People would come to watch the band,” said Jim Giokaris, an outside linebacker. Most of them left shortly thereafter.

Ball caught the attention of teammates and coach Walt Hicklin during his first training camp. Though he was an undersized offensive lineman, Ball played with admirable determination. He was known for being the first player on the practice field each day.

“In fact, normally he was early,” Hicklin said. “And he just had a great attitude with the kids, with his fellow teammates. A real team man all the way.”

Ball was named the starting center as a true freshman and held his post for the next four years. The Mules ran an I-formation offense under Hicklin, and offensive linemen pulled to lead the way. Ball had quick feet and a low center of gravity. He looped around the line and flashed a hint of speed with tailbacks in tow.

Al Molde took over as head coach for Ball’s senior season in 1980. Molde was a stickler for conditioning, so every Sunday his players ran the length of the field 28 times. Ball was known to offer encouragement in the brutal Missouri heat.

“That’s pretty tough after you hung out all night Saturday drinking beer,” nose guard Perry Foster said with a laugh. “I ran down the field several times puking and stuff.”

Teammates respected Ball for his maturity on and off the field. He was the “demo-type athlete to do things perfectly and do things right,” according to defensive tackle Elmer Thornton, and led the Mules out of the locker room before kickoff. He often gave a speech in the pre-game huddle.

“He was a heck of a guy, man,” Foster said. “Just a good, down-home, All-American guy. Everybody loved Russ Ball.”

“He was also very loyal,” Giokaris said. “I mean, if you were his friend you were his friend. He’d do anything for you.”

Off the field Ball was known as the consummate student-athlete. He brought his schoolwork on road trips so he could study before the games. He helped his teammates with assignments during mandated study hours.

Thornton described him as “a king of all boy scouts.” Everyone expected him to be successful.

“You know those stories that say nice guys finish last?” free safety Phil Burbridge said. “Well, that’s not a true story when it comes to Russ Ball. A nice guy finished first.”


Ball graduated from Central Missouri in 1981 and immediately pursued strength and conditioning, the latest fad in sports. He spent eight years as the head strength coach at Missouri while earning a master’s degree in human performance. By 1989, he’d latched on with the Kansas City Chiefs and first-year coach Marty Schottenheimer.

As the assistant strength and conditioning coach, Ball worked alongside Dave Redding, better known as Redman. They were part of a staff that included future head coaches Bruce Arians, Bill Cowher and Tony Dungy. In the next three years, Herm Edwards and Mike McCarthy would arrive as well.

Redding and Ball brought opposite personalities to the weight room. In Redding the Chiefs had their bellowing taskmaster whose ferocity matched the sport itself. In Ball they uncovered a keen thinker and tireless worker whose skills were universal.

As a balancing act, it worked.

“Redman was the energy bunny, and Russ was the calming force,” said Edwards, who coached defensive backs. “Redman knew how to get them to the mountain, but you needed a plan to get them to the (top). Russ would always plan out the strategy.”

Fellow coaches said it was obvious Ball’s ambition stretched beyond the strength and conditioning program. His role expanded as Schottenheimer recognized new applications for his talents.

Schottenheimer trusted Ball with everything from player attitude problems to disputes between assistant coaches, and every successful task led to three or four more. Ball became known as a fixer who never turned down a job. His jack-of-all-trades reputation still applies today.

“That boy had his hands in more pies than anybody I’ve ever seen,” offensive line coach Alex Gibbs said. “ … It didn’t matter to him what it was, how bad it was, what he had to do. He was going to do it and he would do it better than everybody else.

“Guys like Russ save head coaches. I mean, they just save them.”

Ball started his days early and ended his nights late. He arrived at the facility long before practice began to interact with players and learn more about their lives. He spent his evenings holed up watching film. Sometimes he watched alone; sometimes he shadowed scouts or assistant coaches to see how their jobs were done.

“He was always pushing that envelope of trying to learn more to try and develop players,” Edwards said. “ … He gets a lot of respect from the players and agents alone because of what he’s done to get there. He wasn’t given the job (in Green Bay). He actually had to work for it. He ain’t part of the family that owns the team and guess what, 'Wanna learn how to be a scout? OK, you can go over there and learn.' No, no, no, no, no. He had to earn it. He was on the back end of it. He was in the weight room.”

Ball stayed in the weight room for eight years before crossing over to the front office in 1997, escaping before his body broke down. He spent two seasons as Schottenheimer’s administrative assistant to lay the groundwork for the remainder of his career: two years as a senior football administrator for the Minnesota Vikings; one year in Washington as director of football administration; six years and multiple job titles with the New Orleans Saints; and the last nine years with the Packers.

The constants of Ball’s administrative path have been salary-cap management and contract negotiations, which are among his chief responsibilities in Green Bay. He honed those skills in Minnesota under-then director of football administration Rob Brezezinski. He was described by former Vikings President Gary Woods as having an IQ “far above that of a strength coach.”

“He’s a mathematician,” Woods said, “and one has to be a mathematician to deal with salary cap. Many teams have PhDs dealing with salary-cap issues.”

In 2002, Ball interviewed with New Orleans on the strength of a recommendation from McCarthy, who had become the offensive coordinator of the Saints. And just as he did everywhere else, Ball made a sterling first impression on owner Tom Benson, general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Jim Haslett.

The Saints, who declined all interview requests for this story, hired Ball as senior football administrator.

“You fall in love with everything that he did,” said Haslett, now the linebackers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. “You see the way he works, the way he interacts with people, the way he interacts with players and agents and everybody else in the building. He’s a tireless worker; he’s a great family man; he’s a great person to deal with.”

Ball’s experience with different facets of an organization allowed for a complete understanding of the Saints’ franchise, according to Doug Marrone, who took over as offensive coordinator in 2006 and is now the head coach in Jacksonville. Ball knew the game well enough to hold his own in football discussions with players and coaches. He also flashed the requisite business savvy to run the financial arm of a professional team.

During lighter moments, Ball could converse about anything from league issues to the current political landscape. The people skills gleaned from his father could be applied in every setting, and Marrone described him as someone you’d gravitate toward at a picnic.

“I just know that if I walked into his room and I was down a little bit,” Marrone said, “he was someone that when you walked out of his office you felt better, you were ready to go.

“I really thought he did an outstanding job and I know that we didn’t want to lose him.”

The sentiment stretched from the Superdome across a parking lot to the offices of the New Orleans VooDoo, an Arena Football League team run by Benson. Ball worked for the VooDoo in a capacity similar to his job with the Saints — managing the salary cap and negotiating contracts.

During four years of double duty, Ball developed a friendship with VooDoo coach Mike Neu, now the head coach at Ball State. Ball was in the room when Neu interviewed in 2004, and their relationship blossomed into daily conference calls and weekly in-person meetings.

Neu was crushed when Ball accepted a job with the Packers.

“It was like losing a brother,” Neu said. “ … I was really torn up the day he came to meet me in the VooDoo building and let me know. I mean, I took it hard. I certainly wrote him a letter to thank him and tell him how much I appreciated our time together.”


After nine years in Green Bay and two decades of prior experience, Ball sits at an interesting point in his career. He’s proved himself at every job he’s ever had, and the only positions above him are general manager and team president — Thompson and Murphy.

The idea of Ball as a general manager is one that surfaced repeatedly during the reporting of this story. A number of former coaches believed he has earned the opportunity, and roughly 80% of the agents interviewed by the Journal Sentinel agreed.

Haslett: “I’m surprised that he’s not a general manager in the NFL. … There’s nothing that he hasn’t done to qualify him to be a successful general manager. He’s done it all.”

Edwards: “No doubt. I hope that’s in his future because he is a credible man.”

Neu: “Without question because he values relationships. … Russ is one of those guys that can be the glue that brings all those different departments together and do a great job out of it.”

Kurt Schottenheimer, former Chiefs’ assistant: “It’s kind of been a little surprise to me that his name hasn’t come up. … I don’t know why people wouldn’t take advantage.”

The reality is that Ball must fight the stigma attached to executives whose backgrounds are primarily financial: Without experience in a personnel department, people question his ability to make football decisions.

“We’ve talked about it,” Ball’s oldest brother Rick said. “The only thing that’s ever knocked him and he’s been underestimated on is his ability to recognize talent. He’s even concentrated more on talent the last probably five or six years, just so that he does know that (it) isn’t a hindrance to him.”

Ball’s heightened emphasis on talent evaluation has included more time observing practice, more attention to the on-field portion of the NFL scouting combine and more direct contact with players, his brother said, “even though that’s not his job.” He often works until 9 or 10 p.m. regardless of the time of year.

Those efforts align with Thompson’s yearly assertion that Ball is involved in personnel and draft meetings to absorb as much information as he can. But it’s clear Ball is proactively seeking more knowledge on his own, just as he has done throughout his career.

“He doesn’t want to have that as a reason for not being able to assume the position,” Rick Ball said.

Until a general manager opportunity arises — if it ever does — Ball will plug away in anonymity behind the public personas of Murphy and Thompson, whose faces are synonymous with the organization.

But Ball should not be understated, even if we never hear his voice.

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Originally Posted by: Nonstopdrivel 

Oops, it appears that this is a repost . Feel free to merge or delete as you see fit.

Thanks for saying so. As I was reading this I kept thinking that I had seen it before.
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