|Friday, March 7
Updated: March 11, 2:02 PM ET
Price heading to Falcons, pending NFL approval
By Len Pasquarelli
The Falcons have agreed in principle to send their first-round choice in this year's draft, the 23rd overall selection, to the Bills in exchange for Price.
Atlanta confirmed the trade at a news conference Friday. The deal still must be approved by the league.
Because the Bills designated Price a "franchise" free agent, Buffalo must technically sign the wide receiver to the contract negotiated by Atlanta, and then transfer to the deal to the Falcons. In essence, it is similar to the kind of sign-and-trade deals more typically seen in the NBA.
League approval is considered academic by both teams involved.
ESPN.com has learned that it is a seven-year deal, totals $42 million, and includes a $10 million signing bonus.This will mark the second time in two weeks the Falcons have signed a player to a contract that included a signing bonus of $10 million or more, the team having retained middle linebacker Keith Brooking with $10.6 million in upfront money.
The contract includes stipulations that will allow the seventh year to void if Price achieves predetermined playing time levels.
The steep price for Price aside, the Falcons desperately needed a deep threat for quarterback Michael Vick, and the emerging Buffalo star was a player the club targeted months ago. The Falcons haven't had a true burner since Tony Martin in the team's 1998 Super Bowl season.
"It's always great to play with a guy like Mike Vick,'' Price said Friday. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.''
"This gentleman adds a dimension that we didn't have last year,'' Falcons owner Arthur Blank said. "Mike is only going to get better.''
Until Friday morning, however, the Falcons had declined to meet the asking price of Buffalo general manager Tom Donahoe, who would not have made the trade unless he got a first-round choice in return.
Buffalo did not have a pick in the first round of this year's draft, having dealt it to New England last spring for quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Bills adamantly wanted to recoup that first-round choice and used Price as the bait for doing so.
In fact, part of the reason the Bills assigned the "franchise" marker to their talented young wide receiver, rather than permit him to exit in free agency, was to gain something in return for him via a trade.
The four-year veteran enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2002, posting 94 catches for 1,252 yards and nine touchdowns. The former Tennessee star was a second-round choice in the 1999 draft. For his career, he has played in 64 games and started 52 of them. He has 232 receptions for 3,302 yards and 22 touchdowns.
There is no small degree of irony attached to the acquisition of Price and, had the Falcons made a better call in the second round of the '99 draft, they would have had him then. In that draft, Atlanta dealt its first-round pick in 2000 to Baltimore for the Ravens' second-round choice in 1999. Most felt the trade was being made so that the Falcons could grab Price, who was still on the board at the time.
Instead, the Falcons chose tight end Reggie Kelly, who is probably going to exit Atlanta in free agency in the next few days.
ESPN.com had learned that, before Friday morning, the Falcons had offered only their second-round pick in this year's draft or their first-round choice in 2004. Donahoe was holding firm on his price of a 2003 first-rounder.
Donahoe had to Atlanta officials that, without a first-round pick, he would simply retain Price for 2003 under the "franchise" marker and pay him the one-year qualifying offer of $5.01 million if necessary.
Talks between the Bills and McGee on a longer-term contract had proven fruitless before free agency. Price, in fact, had made it clear that he wanted to play in Atlanta, where he makes his offseason home, and had declined to visit with any other franchises.
Atlanta officials had hinted to some other teams in the league that, if they could finish a trade for Price, they might pursue Jets restricted free agent Laveranues Coles. But the Jets made a qualifying offer to Coles at the first-round level. That meant Atlanta would have had to compensate the Jets with a first-rounder if it signed Coles and New York didn't match the offer sheet.
It was easier, the Falcons finally concluded Friday, to simply send the first-round choice to Buffalo to complete a Price deal.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.