Deal to be finalized this week

Originally Published: December 14, 2003
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

ATLANTA -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay, the architect of last year's Super Bowl champions, will accept the same job with the Atlanta Falcons later this week, league sources have confirmed.

McKay and Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who has coveted the Bucs' front office chief virtually from the day he closed the deal to buy the team in 2002, were scheduled to meet Sunday to discuss the job, the sources told ESPN.com. Falcons vice president Ray Anderson, who is believed to have a good relationship with McKay, was expected to be part of the meeting as well.

While rumors have swirled that the hiring of McKay is a done deal, there are still a few variables in the contract that have to be addressed. That said, McKay has told confidants that most of the contract's key components are in place and that he expects the deal to be finalized this week.

The Bucs play host to the Falcons on Saturday and an accord will be in place by then. McKay was not in the Bucs offices Friday and he will not attend today's home game against the Houston Texans.

Tampa Bay ownership officially announced Thursday that it had granted McKay permission to seek another job without his new team having to pay compensation to the Bucs. Even though the early-week meeting between McKay and Blank will be their first official talks in more than a year, there is plenty of groundwork already in place.

The two sides have been careful not to breach league anti-tampering rules, which would preclude official contact between McKay and Blank, but each side knows precisely what it will take to consummate an agreement.

McKay had additional options he could have considered. But he likes Blank, already feels a loyalty to him, and the Atlanta job is the one he desired. The other options did not include taking a position in the NFL's front office, although McKay has often been mentioned in league circles as a potential candidate for the commissioner's job someday.

Blank first interviewed McKay in 2002, shortly after he bought the Falcons from the heirs of the late Rankin Smith, who founded the franchise. The Bucs sought compensation at the time but Blank was not inclined then to meet the demands, so McKay signed a six-year contract extension worth $2.4 million annually.

Blank interviewed other candidates recommended to him by the Manhattan-based search firm Russell Reynolds Associates, but could not identify a candidate he liked nearly as much as McKay, and the general manager position remained vacant. Within the next week, though, Blank should be able to finally remove from his desk the picture he had taken during a golf outing with McKay, a photo in which the Bucs general manager is wearing a Falcons baseball cap.

McKay, 44, almost certainly will get a long-term contract from the Falcons, with a base salary commensurate to what Tampa Bay is currently paying him.

On the coaching front, LSU athletic director Skip Bertman said Friday that the Falcons have not sought permission to speak with head coach Nick Saban about their vacancy, but that means little. There is no protocol between the NFL and NCAA that would require the Falcons to ask for such permission.

League teams often do, as a matter of courtesy, apprise an athletic director when they are speaking to a school's coach, but are not bound to do so.

Saban has been characterized here as the name atop the Falcons' wish list, but his team is getting ready to play for the national championship, and the Sugar Bowl matchup against Oklahoma will occupy much of his focus in coming days. And there is this angle, too, that might cause Saban to look askance at the Falcons: He may not want to be with a club that could be very top-heavy in the front office and where the system of corporate-type checks and balances might be perceived as ponderous.

That could significantly enhance the possible candidacy of St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Lovie Smith, a one-time Tampa Bay assistant coach who has done a terrific job in his current role, and with whom McKay is very familiar.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Chris Mortensen, who also contributed to the article, covers the NFL for ESPN.