Top NFL draft pick Vick signs with Falcons

Michael Vick, the top pick in the NFL draft, signed a $62-million, six-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons on Wednesday.

Vick is guaranteed $15.3 million through the first three years, including an initial signing bonus of $3 million. It's the largest contract in NFL history for a rookie.

"There's been a lot of hard work," Vick said. "It all paid off in the end."

Chris Chandler, who remains the number-one quarterback in Atlanta, agreed to restructure his contract to fit Vick's deal under the salary cap. General manager Harold Richardson said the Falcons would probably have about $400,000 left to spend after signing their remaining rookies.

The negotiations with Vick were a mere formality after the Falcons traded with San Diego for the number-one pick a day before the draft.

Vick's agents had already discussed their terms with the Chargers, who weren't willing to meet the price. The Falcons were.

"It's important for a young man to have his contract out of the way so he can focus on football," coach Dan Reeves said. "We're asking an awful lot from these guys. They have to play faster than they have in the past."

While the Falcons want to get Vick into the lineup as soon as possible, they also want to give him time to learn the offensive system and get more comfortable with pro defences, which are much more complicated than anything he faced at Virginia Tech.

"If anyone thinks he's going to come in here and every day will be sunshine and roses, well, that's just not life," Reeves said. "He's not gotten where he's at without dealing with some tough times. That's why he's such a great player."

Vick had the pen used to sign the contract in the front pocket of his jacket.

"That's a souvenir I'm going to keep forever," he said, grinning.

The Falcons, who have a 9-23 record since an improbable run to the 1999 Super Bowl, gave up three draft picks and receiver-returner Tim Dwight to get Vick. The 20-year-old quarterback played just two years at Virginia Tech before turning pro.

At a rookie mini-camp last weekend, Vick ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds, the fastest time among the 19 draft picks and college free agents at the mandatory camp. He later sat out some drills with an upset stomach, which he attributed to overeating at lunch.

At six-foot-one, Vick is slightly shorter than the optimum height pro scouts look for in a quarterback. But his quickness and agility made him one of the best players in college football the past two seasons.

As a redshirt freshman, Vick led Division I-A in passing efficiency and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting. In one of his best performances, he passed for 225 yards and ran for 97 more against Florida State in the 2000 championship game, which the Hokies lost 46-29.

Last season, Virginia Tech's hopes were hampered by Vick's severely sprained right ankle. But he finished his career with a solid performance in a 41-20 victory over Clemson in the Gator Bowl.

By Paul Newberry