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Vick the top pick? Chargers prepared to 'move on'

Maybe it's one chance in five, but it is possible that Michael Vick will not be the first pick of the San Diego Chargers when the NFL draft gets under way Saturday. Don't rule out TCU running back LaDainian Tomlinson as a last-minute substitution.

Michael Vick
If the Chargers don't take Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick with the first pick, he could slide to the Falcons at No. 5.

League sources say the Chargers are serious about "not getting burned again" by giving Vick a huge up-front signing bonus, as they did when the franchise dumped $11.2 million on quarterback Ryan Leaf in the 1998 draft.

"That's not how I would state our point," said Chargers president Dean Spanos. "But we are going to make a deal that makes sense for the Chargers. If we can't, we'll move on. I don't think (general manager) John Butler is bluffing. He's not afraid to make a decision and move on."

Moving on could mean a trade. Atlanta Falcons general manager Harold Richardson contacted Butler on Thursday about a possible trade for the first overall pick in Saturday's draft. The Falcons, who would use the pick for Vick, made no specific trade offer, but the teams are expected to have further discussions Friday.

Butler could impose a deadline for Vick to come to terms with the Chargers. Then he would turn to a player he covets, Tomlinson, with defensive tackle Gerard Warren as another option. In fact, the Chargers have contacted representatives for both Tomlinson and Warren.

But because Atlanta has officially expressed interest in a trade, a deadline would not serve the Chargers well because they must maintain interest in Vick.

"We want Michael, we really like Michael, but we can get a running back or a lineman that can come in and help us compete in year one," said Spanos.

Negotiations between the Chargers and Vick hit a roadblock when the Chargers did not call Vick's agents, Andre Colona and Michael Sullivan of Octagon Sports, on Wednesday after two days of face-to-face negotiations produced "substantial obstacles," according to Sullivan.

However, ESPN's Ed Werder reported Thursday that the two sides resumed negotiations. Again, no significant progress was made in reaching an agreement, a source said.

Is all this talk about Tomlinson just posturing by the Chargers? Maybe, maybe not.

Why should Michael Vick pay for the sins of Ryan Leaf? Good question, but that may be a reality.

Vick is willing to give the Chargers an extra year on a voidable clause -- at the end of four years instead of three -- to acknowledge the conservative developmental approach the team will take with the 20-year-old Virginia Tech star. However, Vick still wants the traditional up-front signing bonus in the $12 million-plus range, or guarantees that equal about $15 million. The Chargers would give a reduced signing bonus with bonuses and escalator clauses built into a six-year contract.

The Chargers have pitched to Vick's representatives that the total package will be similar to recent No. 1 picks (in the $40- to $50-million range), but with more safeguards in case Vick does not develop into a starter.

A league source, familiar with the positions of both sides, said, "I don't know if the Chargers are going to blink. This might come down to Michael Vick deciding whether he wants to be the No. 1 pick with a nontraditional arrangement. That's a pride thing."

A source close to Vick said, "If they think Michael is going to cave just to be the first pick in the draft, they don't know Michael Vick." But if Vick rejects San Diego's offer, he will likely slip to the Atlanta Falcons at the No. 5 slot, where the money might be identical.

It is unlikely the Chargers will draft Vick if he does not agree to a deal before the draft, a team source said, "because this is a kid who can't afford a holdout, and neither can we ... even if the plans are for him to sit a year or two."

While Chargers coach Mike Riley has often stated he would "hate to become the Portland Trail Blazers of the NFL," in reference to that NBA team passing on Michael Jordan for Sam Bowie, there is not a consensus in the San Diego organization that Vick is a can't-miss franchise quarterback.

If the Chargers do not reach a predraft agreement with Vick, sources say a more likely scenario would be to simply sign Tomlinson as the top pick and hope Purdue quarterback Drew Brees is available at the top of the second round. If Brees were already taken, the Chargers may gamble that Washington QB Marques Tuiasosopo will be available to open the fourth round (the team does not have a third-round pick) or could simply wait another year to draft a young QB because they are committed to veteran Doug Flutie for at least two seasons.

Outrageous? Two weeks ago, a reliable source said Butler would love to be choosing "second or third" so he could take Tomlinson without controversy.

Unless the Chargers get an attractive offer for the top choice, they appear reluctant to trade down too far because of their attraction to Tomlinson.

While Chargers coach Mike Riley has often stated he would "hate to become the Portland Trail Blazers of the NFL," in reference to that NBA team passing on Michael Jordan for Sam Bowie, there is not a consensus in the San Diego organization that Vick is a can't-miss franchise quarterback. In fact, there is a consensus that while he has tremendous "upside" he is also a risk.

Surprisingly, public sentiment in San Diego also has been lukewarm on Vick; many have urged the Chargers to trade the pick, ignoring that it takes two to make a deal. Alas, public sentiment can be overrated. Who can forget irate Philadelphia Eagles fans who wanted Ricky Williams over Donovan McNabb in 1999?

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