FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. - The San Diego Chargers flinched first, and that will make Michael Vick the newest member of the Atlanta Falcons today during the NFL Draft.
The Chargers feverishly tried to peddle their No. 1 pick in the days leading up to the two-day selection process, and the longer the Falcons waited, the better.
By Friday afternoon, Atlanta had everything it wanted. It traded up to the No. 1 pick - which officially will become Mr. Vick shortly after the process starts at noon today - and it didn't have to trade away the team's future to get it done.
"I think it's a case in a player like Michael, if you can get him without giving up the future of the ball club, you have to explore that," said Atlanta general manager Harold Richardson. "It's one of those deals where you can plan to be successful for a long time.
"I don't think there's any secret to what we're going to do. We're going to draft the quarterback."
Unlike the blockbuster deal of two years ago when the New Orleans Saints gave away all six picks in 1999 and two more in 2000 to draft Ricky Williams with the fifth overall selection, the Falcons got Mr. Vick for the bargain price of a first- and third-round pick this year, a second-round pick in 2002 and wide receiver/kick returner Tim Dwight.
Atlanta was scheduled to pick fifth overall today. The third-round pick was the 67th overall pick.
Mr. Dwight was the team's third receiver and leading kick returner.
Atlanta sensed San Diego's need to move down in the draft order a week ago. The first contact came April 12. Negotiations gained momentum earlier this week as the Chargers got closer to the draft, which meant facing Mr. Vick's reported demand for a $15 million signing bonus.
San Diego was burned two years ago by quarterback Ryan Leaf. The Chargers are still paying on his $11.25 million signing bonus although he was placed on waivers at the end of last season.
Because of that, San Diego owner Dean Spanos told Mr. Vick and his agents they would deal the first overall pick if they didn't have an acceptable contract in place before the draft. Mr. Vick's demand for the signing bonus was enough to scare the team away.
The longer Atlanta waited, the better the deal got.
The Chargers were happy to be rid of the pick. Not only will it save the team millions, but it also helped them avoid committing to a player who wasn't a consensus favorite among team officials.
"Given the circumstances, it was too good to pass up," said Chargers coach Mike Riley.
Mr. Richardson and coach Dan Reeves, the same men who orchestrated the trade that brought John Elway to Denver in 1983, said they expect to get Mr. Vick signed quickly and have him in off-season workouts as soon as possible.
"This was a good deal for the Atlanta Falcons," Mr. Reeves said. "He's a man who can set this franchise up for a long time to come."
"We found a deal that was good for both teams," Mr. Richardson said. "Right now, (getting him signed quickly) is absolutely the situation. I feel like we can reach a pretty reasonable short-term conclusion to it."
Mr. Vick said he was surprised by San Diego's decision. At the same time, he said he is eager to play for the Falcons.
"I didn't know Atlanta was making the trade," he said. "I didn't know anything that was going on other than the San Diego deal, so it's very shocking to me and I'm eager to find out what happened."
Mr. Vick, 20, is expected to arrive in Atlanta a few hours after becoming the team's fourth No. 1 overall pick.
Mr. Vick spent three seasons at Virginia Tech, two as a starter, before declaring himself eligible for this year's draft. He completed 177 of 313 passes in his career for 3,074 yards and 20 touchdowns. He ran for another 1,202 yards and 16 touchdowns.
The Falcons still have six other selections in this year's draft, including a second-round pick (35th overall), two picks in the fourth round and single picks in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds.
|Previous No. 1 overall picks by the Atlanta Falcons:|
1966-Tommy Nobis, Atlanta, LB, Texas.
1975-Steve Bartkowski, Atlanta, QB, California.
1988-Aundray Bruce, Atlanta, LB, Auburn.