Even Pros Make Mistakes

Jay Cutler is an American football quarterback for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League. Cutler began his professional football career with the Denver Broncos in 2006, and after three years, which included a Pro Bowl nomination, he was suddenly traded to the Bears in 2009. Why would the Broncos trade such a young talent with a promising career ahead of him?

It all began after the 2008 season when Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan was fired on December 30, 2008. On January 11, 2009, the Broncos named Josh McDaniels, previously the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots, as the new head coach. The very next month rumors began swirling that the Broncos were considering trading Cutler. The rumored deal would have sent Cutler to either Detroit or Tampa Bay while New England’s quarterback Matt Cassel would join the Broncos and be reunited with his former coach, McDaniels. As is customary in football PR, the Broncos said that they did not initiate the trade talks but instead merely listened to an offer.

Cutler was clearly not happy about the trade possibility, which prompted McDaniels in early March to make a definitive statement that there would be no trade.  Despite this, Cutler thought he was being misled and consequently listed his Colorado home for sale on March 15. Later that same day he officially asked the Broncos to trade him.  Over the next ten days Bronco management, including owner Pat Bowlen, tried to reach Cutler, but the calls were not returned. On March 31, the Broncos announced that the team would accommodate Cutler’s request for a trade. The Chicago Bears quickly voiced their interest in Cutler, and trade discussions were under way. On April 2 Cutler was traded to the Bears.

On April 6, Peter King of Sports Illustrated gave readers a peek behind the negotiation curtain. Toward the end of the negotiation, the Bears were sure the deal was collapsing because the Broncos weren’t answering phone calls, e-mails, or texts. After three hours of radio silence, Bears GM Jerry Angelo, a seasoned, professional negotiator, got so nervous that he sent McDaniels a text message that said, in effect, “We gotta get this done. What’s it gonna take for the Bears to win this?”

Buyers of technology have probably heard this a hundred times from salespeople desperate to close a deal at the end of the month or quarter. At the end of the year, the desperation can become even more rigid and go from a question to a statement: “We’ll do anything to get this done.” One of the biggest challenges in any form of negotiation is keeping one’s emotions at bay. In the words of Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything, the mantra should be, “I care … but not that much.” Statements like the ones mentioned above reveal a level of emotional involvement that is easily exploited, and if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of these words you know firsthand how easy it is to extract more concessions.

In the end Jerry Angelo got his man and the financial details probably did not change very much despite Angelo’s desperation call. After all, Cutler did not return Bronco owner Pat Bowlen’s calls, and no one does that and stays around Denver for very long. But had the Broncos been a little more patient and less emotionally involved themselves, and had there been a veteran IT negotiator at the helm, imagine the possibilities: “We’ve had a few other teams express a strong interest in Jay, and we want to take the weekend to think things over.” And after a few-second pause … “You’ve got a reasonable offer on the table, but if you want to end discussions today we’re probably a quarter-million and a second-round draft pick apart.”

When emotions surface on one side of the negotiation table – for the other side, it’s like taking candy from a baby.

ICN has been in the business of helping technology users do better and safer deals with vendors for more than forty two years.