Six years ago, the fortunes of two NFL franchises changed forever. Those two teams are the San Diego Chargers and the Atlanta Falcons. The Chargers were coming off of a 1-15 season and still trying to escape the tragedy of selecting Ryan Leaf 2nd overall back in 1998. The Falcons, just a couple years removed from the Super Bowl, were in a state of transition and finished 4-12. The Chargers were slated to have the first overall pick, while the Falcons had the 5th pick.
While Vick and Tomlinson weren’t traded for each other, the picks that were used to select them were swapped. There were a few reasons the Chargers were afraid of Vick. Signability was one of them, as was the Chargers’ need for additional picks. But it was also the influence of then Chargers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who reportedly tested Vick on a number of drills. After being left unimpressed by Vick’s prowess in the pocket, the groundwork was laid for the deal. San Diego traded the rights to the 1st overall pick for the 5th pick (used to select Tomlinson), a 3rd round pick (Tay Cody), a 2002 second round pick (Reche Caldwell) and Tim Dwight. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Chargers made a number of great decisions on that fateful day in 2001. In the second round, they selected an undersized quarterback by the name of Drew Brees, who went on to become a Pro Bowler. However, Brees’ early struggles in San Diego caused the team’s fortunes to turn around even more, when they traded Eli Manning for Philip Rivers and a few draft picks, which ultimately became Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding.
So what if the Chargers ultimately chose Vick? There’s no doubt that he was one of the most electric talents to ever come into the league. Hell, he led the Falcons to a win at Lambeau Field back in the 2003 playoffs while Tomlinson was still gaining yards in near-secrecy for bad Charger teams. Could Vick’s problems have been alleviated if he was a Charger? I think it’s doubtful. While he may have been away from the dog fighting culture of the Deep South, Vick/Mexico would have been just miles away from the international border, where he’d be subjected to even more STDs, cockfighting, and even the occasional donkey show. Remember when Barrett Robbins disappeared into Tijuana a night before the Super Bowl? That would have been Vick every single Sunday.
As far as LT goes, it’s hard to say where he would have ended up. Between Tomlinson taken first and Vick taken fifth, there were two busts and one solid pro. Leonard Davis was selected by Arizona, Gerard Warren by Cleveland and Justin Smith by Cincinnati. Both Arizona and Cleveland could have used running backs at the time. The Cardinals split carries between Michael Pittman and Thomas Jones, while the Browns’ last-ranked offense were led by Errict Rhett and Travis Prentice. The Browns were this close to LT. Instead, they’ve given up 374 rushing yards to him in just three meetings.