Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Vick made his decision Thursday to turn pro. But make no mistake, there was war waged over this gifted young man, who has a chance to be the Michael Jordan of the NFL when he enters the league.
Last week Hokies coach Frank Beamer orchestrated a panel -- consisting of Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly, Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb -- to discuss with Vick by a telephone conference call the pros and cons of leaving school. Colts QB Peyton Manning was sought to participate but was unable to make a connection.
|Virginia Tech QB Michael Vick holds up the MVP trophy after his team defeated Clemson to win the Gator Bowl on Jan. 1. Vick must decide between more college hardware or an NFL bank account.|
Later that evening, Vick was visited by agent Leigh Steinberg, who brought along Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith (a former Hokie) and Chiefs quarterback Warren Moon to make a pitch.
Thus, you have the war.
The conference call itself raises a red flag. The league generally does not allow teams to talk to underclassmen; the system in place allows an underclassman to submit an inquiry to the NFL about his potential draft status.
However, Vick concluded that particular system is useless for him. It only tells a prospect whether he's a possible first rounder, second rounder, etc. Vick is the likely first pick in the 2001 draft. He pretty much understands that now.
It is Beamer who grew concerned that Steinberg has aggressively recruited the underclassman with a guarantee Vick would make $20 million in his rookie year if he came out, according to Casserly. Steinberg steadfastly denies that allegation.
"There's not one part of that statement that is accurate," said Steinberg. "We were just one of several agents who were asked to interview through his high school coach, Tommy Reeman. There were IMG, SFX, Eugene Parker ... and I have never guaranteed anything in my life like [$20 million]. The salary cap, and the rules that go with it, wouldn't allow $20 million if you just did the simple mathematics. Nobody could have ever promised him that."
Steinberg admitted that there was a meeting involving Smith and Moon.
"Bruce picked us up and drove us to the meeting because he lives there," explained Steinberg. "I did take Warren Moon. Nobody is more relevant to a young black quarterback than Warren Moon, so I felt he was a good resource for Vick. But let me say this: I doubt that we're going to be picked as the agent. I don't believe an agent will be selected before he decides what to do. The high school coach is in charge of that process."
What did Steinberg tell Vick?
"We went through the pros and cons of coming out of school," the agent explained. "I said, 'Look, this is very personal. You can go back to school and win big awards, stuff like that. Or you could get injured; you might not have as strong a line blocking for you. You had some injuries this season... .' Really, the obvious stuff, information that he is looking for as he weighs this decision. But the last thing I want to do is alienate a coach like Frank Beamer. What do I care if he comes out this year or next year?"
Beamer had been trying to sell Vick on the basic premise that if he stayed for his third season of football at Virginia Tech, he could win the Heisman, perhaps a national championship and make more money as the NFL salary cap grew.
The conference call Beamer conducted with Casserly, Polian and McNabb could have been perceived as a stacked deck against Vick leaving school. John Butler, the new general manager of the Chargers, who have the first pick in the draft, was not invited to participate.
Casserly had a vested interest in Vick remaining at Virginia Tech because the Texans have the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft. The Houston GM has a core belief that Vick needed one more season of college ball, and then needed to sit a year at the NFL level while he learns the pro game in order to enjoy the full fruits of his potential.
Casserly undoubtedly also shared with Vick the trials and ultimate failure of Heath Shuler, who came out a year early and was drafted No. 3 overall by Casserly and the Redskins.
Polian has no real interest, but he does have the experience of Manning, who opted to stay in school for his senior season with smashing success while Ryan Leaf, who left school a year early, has been a flop.
McNabb stayed until his senior year and was a four-year starter at Syracuse. He was an MVP candidate in his second season with the Eagles.
||We went through the pros and cons of coming out of school. ... Really, the obvious stuff, information that he is looking for as he weighs this decision. But the last thing I want to do is alienate a coach like Frank Beamer. What do I care if he comes out this year or next year? ”
||— agent Leigh Steinberg
Those were all valid, perhaps even compelling, reasons for Vick to remain at Virginia Tech. However...
It's almost a lock that Vick will either be chosen No. 1 by the Chargers or dealt to an established team willing to pay a steep price for the top pick. Even if the Chargers were 1-15, they have the core of a good defense and a seasoned line coach in Joe Bugel. It's not like going to an expansion team (see Tim Couch in Cleveland).
Vick is immensely more talented than Shuler, who also suffered from the impact of protracted contract negotiations and injuries. As the first player in any draft (and Vick will be the first player), negotiations usually are completed before the pick is even made.
Manning did not have a financial need. He stayed in school to pursue a national championship and a Heisman Trophy. He got neither, although he has no regrets. As for Leaf, he has so much emotional baggage that he may have been a flop even if he stayed in school.
McNabb could have used the money, but as a junior he was not considered a first-round pick. He made money by staying in school. Vick likely can get a $50 million contract with a $11-to-$15 million in up-front bonuses.
It's easy for us to tell a guy to stay in school. There are a lot of sound reasons. But regardless of how much insurance Vick could have bought for his junior season, it wouldn't be the amount of money he will get in April to turn pro.
As Steinberg noted, Vick would have played behind a rebuilt offensive line at Virginia Tech, although Beamer and staff expected it to be an outstanding unit. Plus, Vick wasn't going to be a one-man show with the return of running back Lee Suggs.
There were other factors and other considerations. There are many more success stories about players who stay in school longer than those who leave early. Yet it wasn't an easy task confronting Vick, who may be unlike any quarterback who has ever weighed this decision.