Monday, April 21, 2003
Falcons, Chargers both came out winners
By Len Pasquarelli
Over the past 20 years, there have been five occasions on which the top overall choice in the draft was dealt away, and the results have pretty much been a mixed bag for the teams involved.
But the most recent first-pick swap, the 2001 deal in which the Atlanta Falcons moved up to choose quarterback Michael Vick and the San Diego Chargers flipped from No. 1 to No. 5 and opted for running back LaDainian Tomlinson, still seems to be a winner for both franchises.
The Falcons obtained not only a star on the field but a also marquee player and an electrifying performer around whom owner Arthur Blank was able to market. And the Chargers, unable to strike a contract accord despite the long negotiations with agent Mike Sullivan over Vick, got a workhorse back, a starting wide receiver in Tim Dwight, and still were able to get quarterback Drew Brees at the top of the second round.
"It's a deal," said late Chargers general manager John Butler in the weeks following the swap, "that should make us stronger. You'd love to get a guy like (Vick). But this helped both teams get better."
Two years later the strength of the trade is that both teams, even provided the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, would make the deal again.
Certainly the same cannot be said about some other trade-backs from the top spot. In 1997, for instance, the New York Jets flipped out of the No. 1 perch and then fell back one more time before settling for James Farrior, a solid linebacker, but hardly the player they could have selected if they had simply kept the choice and taken tackle Orlando Pace.
In 1995, the Carolina Panthers dealt the top spot to Cincinnati, which took starcrossed tailback Ki-Jana Carter. The Panther chose quarterback Kerry Collins, who led the team to a conference championship appearance in just the franchise's second year, but who then ostensibly quit on the team.
Any case study of the Atlanta-San Diego trade would almost certainly have to conclude it was mutually beneficial.
For weeks preceding the draft, San Diego vice president and top negotiator Ed McGuire bargained with Sullivan in an attempt to reach an agreement before the draft. And then, less than four full days before the lottery, San Diego officials began calling selected teams to shop the pick, convinced they could not reach a satisfactory contract accord.
The Chargers did not want to drop down below No. 5 overall, because they feared not getting Tomlinson, the man they believed could be a force for a long time in the league. The Falcons, who needed a franchise savior after having failed to take full advantage of the team's magical Super Bowl year of 1998, worked with McGuire to identify Vick's contract demands.
One stumbling block in the deal was the Chargers insistence that Dwight, a scintillating return man and human pin ball, be included in the bounty they received from the Falcons. The Falcons grudgingly made him a part of the package they finally offered the day before the draft. And not much later, Atlanta struck an accord with Vick, and completed the deal.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.