Robert Ferguson had at least two excellent reasons to pick the Houston Texans over the Vikings in what amounted to a two-team race for his services. One, Ferguson is from Houston and still has a home in the area. Two, the Texans' offensive coordinator is Mike Sherman, who played a key role in Ferguson being selected in the second round of the 2001 draft by the Green Bay Packers.
But there was one thing the Vikings were able to offer the free-agent receiver that Houston could or would not: an opportunity for immediate playing time. And so Tuesday afternoon Ferguson walked onto the practice field at Winter Park having signed a $700,000, one-year contract with the Vikings that could be worth close to $1.3 million if he reaches the incentives.
"Obviously, once I found out I was released, [Houston] was the No. 1 team that came to mind," said Ferguson, who was jettisoned by Green Bay on Friday. "But things changed dramatically once I visited here and got to talk with the coaches and the team. There were a lot of people surprised that I decided to come to Minnesota, but I really feel like this is the perfect decision for me, perfect fit for me, and I feel like I benefit from it."
Ferguson was released by the Packers because he had fallen behind at least five receivers; he could be as high as No. 2 or 3 on the Vikings' depth chart entering Saturday's preseason game in Seattle.
Ferguson, who expects to play in that game, already is the most experienced receiver on the roster in terms of NFL seasons, games played and started, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. In fact, his 12 TD catches are three more than the combined total of the 11 other receivers.
Vikings coach Brad Childress was not available to comment following the signing, but he said the pursuit of Ferguson wasn't out of unhappiness with his young receivers.
"We look at all eventualities and if a guy is on the street that we feel like has a chance to compete and make our team better, we don't ever exclude that guy," he said. "With that said, I think there are a number of those guys that have done a nice job, but it's a dog-eat-dog, hand-to-hand competition at that position."
Ferguson, 27, visited the Vikings on Sunday, taking a physical and catching passes as team personnel looked on. He then went to see the Texans on Monday. Houston wanted to pay Ferguson the sixth-year veteran's minimum of $595,000, but it appears the biggest factor was what type of role he would play.
"We told Robert that we'd evaluate him on the scout team in practice this week," Texans coach Gary Kubiak told the Houston Chronicle. "We're continuing to evaluate the receivers we have, and we've got some tough decisions to make on them. And they've been here the whole camp. We wish Robert the best of luck."
A person with knowledge of the conversations between the Vikings and Ferguson said the team told him he would play on Sundays. In other words, working with the scout team shouldn't be an issue.
Ferguson has spent his entire pro career working in the West Coast system the Vikings employ, so there shouldn't be much of a learning curve. The key for Ferguson will be staying healthy. He has missed 36 of a possible 96 regular-season games in his career and last season sat out 12 games because of a foot sprain.
"It's not 100 percent," Ferguson said of the injury. "It's actually 110 percent. It's not an issue at all, and I look forward to testing it out on Saturday."
Ferguson had not missed a scheduled practice in training camp with Green Bay, but the team did not let him practice twice a day, per its policy on players returning from injury.
By signing with Green Bay's archrival, Ferguson joins a roster that includes former longtime Packers Ryan Longwell and Darren Sharper. Sharper has made it clear one reason he stayed in the NFC North was so he could face his former team twice a season, and he's guessing his new teammate will enjoy doing the same.
"That's definitely icing on the cake," Ferguson said. "The cake was just coming here and being around the guys and communicating well with the coaches and being on the same page with them. The icing was that we definitely get to play them twice a year. I look forward to that."