Vick me up
Falcons set tone for future with blockbuster deal
Updated: Friday April 20, 2001 11:05 PM
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
When the Atlanta Falcons pulled the trigger Friday on the deal that will land them quarterback Michael Vick with the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, Falcons general manager Harold Richardson couldn't help but think back to another pre-draft blockbuster that involved a top-pick quarterback.
"I relate it to when [Falcons head coach] Dan Reeves was in Denver and made the deal for John Elway [with Baltimore in 1983]," Richardson said. "Like with Elway, it might be a little rough for a couple of years at the beginning. But look at what he turned into for that franchise.
"And I think we're even in a little bit better position because we've got [starting quarterback] Chris Chandler. We like Chris and we don't have to throw Michael out there right from the start and have him play early. That's why we're so excited. For the franchise it really sets the tone for the future."
Richardson said trade talks with the Chargers began three days ago, about the time San Diego was getting nowhere in early contract negotiations with Vick. They intensified slowly, until the Falcons found themselves staring at a deal they couldn't refuse.
"We talked to probably 20 clubs about the possibility of moving up or moving down, and they were one of those clubs," Richardson said. "Initially we said we're probably not going to move out of it [the No. 5 spot]. Then all of a sudden we were talking a little bit more seriously, and the parameters got to where we were saying, 'Wait a minute now, this might be workable.'
"But it was just kind of a gradual process. It wasn't just one heated phone call."
And if you're wondering, no, there is no debate about who the Falcons will spend the No. 1 selection on. Vick is the pick. Count on it.
"I would think so," Richardson said. "Put it this way, it would come as a heck of a shock to me if it wasn't Michael."
The Falcons do not have aspirations of reaching a contract agreement with Vick before they make him the top pick, Richardson said. "I doubt that we will be able to do that, given this timetable. But we can come to some agreement on some parameters before we take him. They'll be some negotiation, but I doubt seriously that we'd have a deal."
How soon Vick will be able to contribute in Atlanta is a topic that will only be answered in time. Whereas San Diego had been open about its intentions to let starter Doug Flutie handle the job for two seasons, the Falcons will not set any definitive timetables for Vick's development.
"I think that's just going to be something that plays itself out," Richardson said. "We'll bring him in and work him into our situation and see what happens."
Much speculation centered on how the ultra-competitive Flutie would handle the role of being Vick's mentor, a role that now shifts to the equally competitive Chandler. The Falcons' starter has three more seasons remaining on his contract, but has had an injury plagued career that has spanned five teams.
"I think Chris can handle it," Richardson said. "I think he'll be fine. Chris wants to do what's best for the football team. He knows we're going to try and win a lot of games this year, as well as in the future."
While Richardson refused to disclose which piece of the Falcons' package of three picks and a player sealed the deal for the Chargers, he admitted losing kick returner Tim Dwight was difficult.
"We obviously gave up something we were comfortable giving up, or we wouldn't have done it," Richardson said. "You obviously don't like to ever lose a good football player, but to make a deal like this you'ver got to give something up."
The Falcons didn't focus on Vick throughout their pre-draft preparation process, but they still know what they're getting in this year's premier playmaker.
"I think he's one of those exceptional talents," Richardson said. "Obviously that's our evaluation of him. We certainly feel like our fans will be excited to watch him, and we're excited about getting them excited about Falcons football again."