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Birds flap to the top

Falcons deal Dwight, three picks to Chargers for top pick

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Posted: Friday April 20, 2001 4:26 PM

  Michael Vick Michael Vick will likely be a Falcon after the Chargers dealt the top pick to Atlanta on Friday. AP

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The San Diego Chargers traded the top pick in the NFL draft to the Atlanta Falcons on Friday after apparently failing to reach a deal with Michael Vick.

The Falcons got the opening pick in exchange for the fifth overall pick in the first round, their third-round pick, their second-round pick in 2002 and wide receiver Tim Dwight.

"I still have to talk to my agent to find out what really went down, why the Chargers came to the decision. I didn't know Atlanta was making the trade," Vick 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."

Chargers president Dean Spanos has said that if they were unable to agree to a deal with Vick by Saturday, the team would trade the pick or use it on someone else.

"We think he's an exceptional young man," Atlanta head coach Dan Reeves said of Vick, who played just 20 games in college. "He's a great football player, but he's an exceptional young man who I think will set this franchise up for a long time to come."

The Chargers, who get Atlanta's first pick, fifth overall, hope to use it on TCU running back LaDanian Tomlinson, whom John Butler, the Chargers' general manager, is know to covet and also have two other players in mind, Leonard Davis, the 370-pound offensive tackle from Texas and defensive tackle Gerard Warren of Florida.

SI's Don Banks
Falcons general manager Harold Richardson thinks his teams' trade for the No. 1 pick is comparable to when the Denver Broncos dealt for the top pick in 1983 and selected John Elway. 

Butler considers Tomlinson similar to Thurman Thomas, who he drafted in 1988 when he was in Buffalo.

The deal proved that the Chargers weren't bluffing when team president Dean Spanos warned Vick and his agents that they better have a deal done by the start of the draft.

"We got this trade opportunity while we were working on the deal and it was too good to pass up," Chargers head coach Mike Riley said, adding that he still likes Vick but was worried about a holdout. "It's going to help our team in so many ways. We know we'll get an impact player with the fifth pick in the draft as well as help from the third-round pick."

The Chargers originally had no third-round pick.

The Falcons need an eventual replacement for the aging and injury-prone Chris Chandler.

Had the Chargers taken Vick, he would have sat on the bench for a year or two behind Doug Flutie.'s Pat Kirwan
What I was told, when I talked to the people in San Diego as this trade was going down, is the Chargers are looking for a "now" player. A "now" player to me means that San Diego will get a running back. 

"I'd be lying if I didn't say I was disappointed. I really like Coach Riley. I really like Coach Norv Turner. I would have loved being down there. But things do happen," Vick said. "I don't think they had any doubts about me, but there are some business decisions that have to be made also."

The Chargers may not have gotten as much in the deal as they had hoped, but it at least gives them the chance to take players who can contribute immediately to one of the NFL's worst offenses.

Before they traded the pick, the Chargers had been in contact with Tomlinson's agent, team spokesman Bill Johnston confirmed Friday. However, they can no longer negotiate with Tomlinson because only the team holding the first choice can do that.

The Chargers desperately need a running back, but they also need offensive linemen.

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The Falcons now likely will pick Vick, who left Virginia Tech with two years of eligibility left.

"I'm looking forward to playing for Atlanta," said Vick, who spoke with Atlanta general manager Harold Richardson on Friday and met with coach Dan Reeves two weeks ago.

The Chargers, who were 1-15 last year, had done extensive homework on Vick, including sending nine representatives to a private workout in Blacksburg, Va., on March 30.

They liked him so much that Riley often said that he'd hate for the Chargers to be known as the Portland Trail Blazers of the NFL, a reference to the Blazers picking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in the 1984 NBA Draft.

But talks with Vick's agents hit serious snags from the beginning. The agents wanted Vick treated as a first pick even though he would sit for a year or two, while the Chargers didn't want to get burned like they did in taking Ryan Leaf with the second pick overall in 1998.

The Chargers gave Leaf an $11.25 million signing bonus, then endured his numerous meltdowns on and off the field. He was waived in March and picked up by Tampa Bay.

In the Falcons' 35-year history, they've held the first overall pick in the draft three times, most recently in 1988 when they took linebacker Aundray Bruce from Auburn. Bruce turned out to be one of the worst first overall picks ever.

Dwight, a three-year veteran, was a restricted free agent who was signed Friday.

Last season, Dwight had 26 receptions for 406 yards and three touchdowns, returned 33 punts for 309 yards, including a 70-yard TD and ran back 32 kickoffs for 680 yards.

The Vick trade may be the first in what could be an intriguing draft, which begins at noon EDT Saturday at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

Most teams want to trade down because there appears to be little difference in the caliber of players available from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second.

Only a few want to go up, like Green Bay, which would like to move into the top four to get Warren, a defensive tackle from Florida who reminds scouts of Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp.

But Vick remains the first choice.

He is from the new mold: mobile, just a little over 6 feet, and very green. But he's also the kind of prospect who could carry a team for years. Atlanta can groom him behind Chandler and hope the 35-year-old Chandler can avoid the injuries that have plagued him every year but the Falcons' Super Bowl season in 1998.

"I think it's an ideal situation with a guy like Chris Chandler who's been in the league a long time and has the great skills that he has," Reeves said. "He's a great guy for Michael to learn from. We'll have to try to get him involved in some packages to create some problems for other teams. When you've got that kind of speed and ability, you've got to utilize it somewhat."

The Chargers, meanwhile, are either hoping, or know that Cleveland, which picks third, will pass on Tomlinson and take a wide receiver, probably David Terrell of Michigan. Arizona, which picks second and Cincinnati, which picks fourth, both are expected to take linemen -- the three possibilities are Warren, Davis or offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker of Florida.

The other intriguing player is Dan Morgan, a linebacker from Miami.

Butch Davis, who coached Morgan in college, now coaches the Browns. Davis compares Morgan with Super Bowl MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Ray Lewis, another Miami product, and would like to trade down to get both Morgan and an extra draft pick.

"He's got the complete package," Davis said of Morgan.

That could mean a deal between the Browns and Packers, who pick 10th, depending on whether Cleveland is sure that San Francisco won't take Morgan at nine. Cleveland might have ways of getting that information. Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark, who run the Browns' front office, spent their entire careers with the 49ers until taking over the expansion Cleveland operation.

Along with Vick, Tomlinson, Terrell, Warren, Davis, Walker and Morgan, the potential top picks include Missouri defensive end Justin Smith, wide receiver Koren Robinson of North Carolina State and running back Deuce McAllister of Mississippi.

The only other quarterback projected as a first rounder is Drew Brees of Purdue. He could go to Miami, which has the 26th pick. Brees would be the eventual successor to Dan Marino, who was picked 27th in 1983.

Brees also might fall to the second round and give San Diego a quarterback alternative to Vick.

Related information
Life of Reilly: Liccing My Wounds
Experts' First-Round Draft Picks
Legacy of Packers' Wolf entrenched in conviction
In his own words: Ron Wolf
SI's Banks: Chargers may not be sold on Vick's 2001 NFL Mock Draft
SI's Dr. Z: Draft nix
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