FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- After interviewing Rich McKay for 3 1/2 hours Thursday in Atlanta, Arthur Blank found the man he wants as the Falcons' next general manager.
Unfortunately, McKay's uncertain status in Tampa Bay is preventing Blank, the Falcons' new owner, from making a job offer.
"He's a very, very bright young man," Blank said Friday afternoon. "He has very good credentials."
Concerned he might violate NFL tampering rules, Blank declined further comment, but a source close to the team said McKay, Tampa Bay's GM for the last seven seasons, is Atlanta's leading contender.
"Rich has a particular issue we have to get worked out if we get to that point," said the source, who requested anonymity. "He has a year left on his contract in Tampa Bay, and there's a lot of moving parts to that puzzle right now."
McKay, who returned home on Thursday night, was not available for comment. Bucs communications assistant Kyle Thomas said he was in town but not expected in the office.
Blank covets McKay, whose credentials are better than the three candidates he's interviewed - Buffalo director of football operations Tom Modrak, New Orleans general manager of football operations Randy Mueller and Mike Reinfeldt, senior vice president in Seattle.
Blank values McKay's experience in player personnel and administration. Blank also is impressed with McKay's past work in helping the Buccaneers move into a new stadium.
McKay is due $1.8 million in the final year of his contract, but Blank has no problem paying top dollar. Wade Phillips was hired as defensive coordinator Feb. 2, receiving at the time a three-year, $2 million deal that made him the NFL's highest-paid assistant.
"My attitude about payroll has never been about expenses," Blank said. "It's an investment. So if we go out and hire the best . . . and you pay them at that level in the top tier, you're going to find that they're going to produce the best results for you."
Blank, a co-founder and former chairman of The Home Depot, paid $545 million for the Falcons - a transaction that closed Wednesday.
McKay's rift with the Glazer family, whose father Malcolm owns the team, has grown since Jan. 14, the day coach Tony Dungy was fired against the GM's wishes. Tampa Bay's question no longer appears to be if McKay will leave but when.
Bill Parcells turned down an offer to take over the team on Jan. 18, the same day his first choice as Bucs GM, Jets assistant general manager Mike Tannenbaum said he was staying in New York. Had Parcells come out of retirement, the Glazers likely would've moved McKay into a less influential front-office position.
The final straw for McKay seemed to be the Glazers' last-minute decision to refuse the offer he made to Marvin Lewis. An attempt also was made to hire Jon Gruden away from Oakland, but Raiders owner Al Davis refused to let his coach out of the final year of his contract leave without compensation.
Davis was reported to want draft picks, cash and even a star player or two, and the Glazers aren't likely to part with McKay without getting something similar from the Falcons. Blank will only go so far to meet Tampa Bay's demands, but money seems to be least serious issue.
McKay, a Princeton graduate who received a law degree at Stetson, has had ties with the Bucs since his father, John McKay, left Southern California to coach the expansion NFL team.
McKay met with the Glazers for two hours on Wednesday and is to meet with them again in a few days when the owners return from a family trip to California.
Blank has no immediate plans to interview another GM candidate.
"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm really not sure. I've been pleased with all of them. They're all different, which is good. We're assessing which one would be best for us."