Rookie Sales tries to make Falcons as longshot WR
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Most Falcons players checked in for training camp last Wednesday afternoon, as camp was scheduled to start the next day with a 10:40 a.m. walkthrough.
That same Wednesday night, Marcus Sales was sitting at home, watching television when his agent called. In a few minutes, he was told, the Atlanta Falcons would call him.
“I was just happy to see that area code,” Sales said.
What a difference two years makes. The Falcons’ fifth day of training camp marked the two-year anniversary of Sales’ arrest on felony drug charges -- charges that were later dropped but not without a steep cost.
So after Sales hung up with the Falcons last Wednesday, he packed a bag with all of his essentials and caught a 6 a.m. flight bound for Atlanta. The 6-foot, 192-pound wide receiver, an undrafted free agent out of Syracuse who participated in the Falcons’ rookie minicamp, benefited from the team’s decision to waive Tim Toone, who was on the team’s active roster last November for two games. That’s life in the NFL. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. Next man up, as they say.
Sales might be fortunate in another way: Since Thomas Dimitroff arrived as general manager in 2008, he has selected wide receivers only three times in six drafts: Harry Douglas (’08), Kerry Meier (’10) and Julio Jones (’11). To compare, the Falcons have selected three safeties in the last two drafts alone.
Early in Dimitroff’s tenure, the Falcons filled the Nos. 4 and 5 spots with veterans -- be they Brian Finneran or Marty Booker -- but increasingly they have filled them with undrafted free agents. Players like Eric Weems (who became a Pro-Bowl special teams player), Kevin Cone and Drew Davis.
This year, the Falcons have 11 wide receivers in camp. Five are likely to make the team. Roddy White, Jones and Douglas are locks. That leaves two spots for the other eight. (One, James Rodgers, was on the practice squad last season.)
“I think there are some real battles, I really do,” Falcons head coach Mike Smith said. “Four and five, I think, there are at least four guys that have a legitimate shot for that. It could possibly be more.”
Smith was asked to comment on what seems an organizational preference for undrafted players at the No. 4 and No. 5 wide receiver spots.
“No, I don’t believe that’s the way we go and say, ‘This is what we’re trying to do,’” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate with our depth at wide receiver and we’ve had some guys that have been able to step in. One, two and three are usually pretty set. Four and five, and if you carry six, those are the guys that are going to come out and compete. We’ve had some guys that have come in here that have been undrafted that have won the job.
“I think that says a lot about, not only our draft philosophy and what we do, but it also says that our scouts do a great job in evaluating free agents. We’ve had a number of free agents in the five years that we’ve been here that have contributed and helped us win a lot of football games.”
After the first week of camp, Sales, who at 23 is only 10 months younger than Jones, a third-year player, appears to be a longshot. Wednesday represented the team’s first off day of camp, as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement. Not only are Cone and Davis ahead of Sales in terms of experience, but Martel Moore, an undrafted player out of Northern Illinois, has impressed with his speed and hands.
In his final season at Syracuse in 2012, Sales caught 64 passes for 882 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2011, he did not play a single game. That’s because he was suspended from the team after he and his brother, Michael Sales Jr., 25 at the time, were arrested on felony drug possession charges on July 29 of that year. The charges against Marcus were later dropped when a grand jury found insufficient evidence to indict him but it still ended up costing him the entire season. (His brother was indicted and received five years’ probation.)
“I got over it,” Marcus Sales said. “I grew up. It was just something I had to get over. I came back and I bounced back.”
Sales was reinstated by then-Syracuse coach Doug Marrone, now the Buffalo Bills’ head coach, in March 2012. Sales said he learned from the experience.
“You definitely got to learn from your mistakes,” he said. “Whatever the situation is, if you make the same mistakes twice -- even if you were in the wrong situation or whatever the problem was -- you definitely have to learn from your mistakes.”
Sales said he had heard from a couple of NFL teams prior to the draft and said he was disappointed when he did not get selected. However, he would not say that his past might have hurt his chances of getting drafted.
“I mean, I don’t know,” he said. “I just try to control what I can control. My job is to go out there and catch passes. That’s what I try to go out there and do.”
He said that during rookie minicamp, the coaches only gave the players a few plays to learn. Now, he’s trying to make up for lost time -- in more ways than one.
“They only give us a few a few plays during rookie camp so now I’m trying to learn the whole playbook,” he said. “I’ve got to double up on everything. Right now, I’m just trying to pick the older guys’ brains and just get the playbook down.”
Asked if he thinks the organization’s history of filling out its receiving corps with undrafted players could help him, Sales demurred.
“I’m not even looking at it like that,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out there and do what I do. If I go out there and catch the ball, I’m pretty sure the coaches will see it. I’m just trying to go out there and compete for a job.”