Who is Ferragamo, who is on the verge of signing a contract with the Montreal Alouettes after spurning a new offer from the Los Angeles Rams, is probably going to have to change his passing style because the Canadian Football League’s playing field is a lot larger than the sphere in the United States. That is the view of Ralph Sazio, the general manager of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who held the negotiating rights to Ferragamo before trading them to Montreal last week.
Ferragamo, who will be 27 years old this month, is a drop-back passer who releases the ball throughout the blocking pocket in typical National Football League fashion. He seldom runs. But within the Canadian League the quarterback who can roll out right or left and then pass and who offers the threat of running with the ball now and again is the simplest kind.
”There are exceptions, as always, in football,” Sazio said. ”Because he is such an amazing passer, Vince could succeed without changing anything. However, he is such a superb athlete that he may be able to vary over and use our big field.
”I know this. No team is going to win a championship because of its quarterback’s running ability. We’ll just have to attend and see with Ferragamo.” Field One-Third Larger
The Canadian playing field, 110 yards long and 65 yards wide, is one-third larger than the one in the United States. Because only three downs are permitted rather than four to attain a first down, passing is the essential element of the offense. However, many an American drop-back passer has failed in Canada, and the Alouettes have taken on something of a risk in signing Ferragamo to the richest contract in the Canadian league’s history. Sources within the league believe Ferragamo could make as much as $500,000 in his first season and that his signing bonus probably can be $300,000.
”If he comes through for them and they’ve a winning season, the Al’s can get that money back,” said Sazio. ”They’ve that big stadium.” The Alouettes play in the Olympic Stadium whose 65,000 seats make it the biggest in Canada.
Once Nelson Skalbania, the Vancouver entrepreneur, bought the Alouettes from Sam Berger for $2.4 million, negotiations for the rights to Ferragamo began. ”We talked for a month,” said Sazio, who finally made the deal he wanted. For the contractual rights to the handsome Californian the Ti-Cats received from the Alouettes two players, Keith Baker, an all-conference wide receiver, and David Green, the league’s leading ground gainer in 1979. Haden Returns to No. 1
Ferragamo, a super Bowl quarterback for the Rams at the tip of the 1979 season, became a free agent last Feb. 1 after four seasons in Los Angeles.
Don Klosterman, the Rams’ general manager, raised the club’s offer when it became increasingly evident that Montreal wanted to sign Ferragamo. How much was Klosterman willing to pay in annual salary? The figure was said to be $250,000. Ferragamo’s salary last season was $58,000.
The Rams will now restore Pat Haden to regular status. Ferragamo became the team’s No. 1 quarterback by taking Haden’s place in the 1979 and 1980 seasons after Haden broke a bone in his passing hand.
Another free-agent quarterback, Don Strock, has been shopping in Canada, too. The Toronto Argonauts reportedly have offered the previous Miami Dolphin a two-year contract at $300,000 a year.
The Alouettes even have Tom Cousineau, the N.F.L.’s No. 1 draft choice of 1979 (by Buffalo), and the middle linebacker has done well. When his contract expires after this season the Bills say they’ll make a major effort to sign him.
For just a few players, equivalent to Ferragamo and Cousineau, the Canadian league offers an option unavailable within the N.F.L. Ferragamo received no offers from other N.F.L. teams while he was a free agent because any team signing him would have had to provide the Rams its first draft choice this year and next as compensation. The Rams will receive nothing in return for Ferragamo, who had been a fourth-round draft choice for them in 1977.