Atlanta Fixes Problems, For A Price

<b>ATLANTA: </b>Falcons hold their draft early by acquiring Price<br> <br> The Falcons got what they wanted Friday - a top-notch wide receiver who can stretch the field and hopefully make flanker Brian Finneran better while creating room for an already dangerous running game to improve as well.

They did it by acquiring Peerless Price, whom many pundits believe the team should have drafted four years ago, from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a first-round pick, No. 23 overall, in next month's draft.

Sure, Price's seven-year contract and its signing bonus of $10 million will cost the Falcons about $31 million or so more over the next seven years than that draft pick will, but owner Arthur Blank was nonetheless ecstatic.

Last season, flanker Brian Finneran lead the team with 54 receptions. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Price, meanwhile, had a career-high 94 receptions (seventh in the NFL and second in Buffalo to Eric Moulds' 100) for 1,252 yards nine touchdowns.

"The official draft date for ... the rest of the NFL is April 26 and 27," Blank said. "Our first-round selection has come early. Peerless Price is our first-round draft choice. The team could not be more excited about today's announcement."

When the Falcons in 1999 sent their 2000 first-round draft pick to the Ravens in exchange for Baltimore's '99 second-round pick, almost everyone assumed that it was in order to select Price, who was projected as a possible first-round pick anyway. Instead, Atlanta tabbed tight end Reggie Kelly, giving way to coach Dan Reeves' combined predilection toward tight ends and apparent aversion to wideouts.

Now, Kelly is visiting other NFL teams as an unrestricted free agent, and the Falcons are another first-round draft pick and more than $35 million poorer. After visiting the Falcons on the first weekend of free agency, Price and his agent, former Bengals wideout Tim McGee, decided against visiting any other teams.

Price, who said he was among the surprised when Atlanta didn't draft him in '99, was smitten with the team in the city where he lives in the offseason.

"Originally, I didn't think this would be my only visit," Price said. "But once I came here and the way Mr. Blank and his guys welcomed me ... it was kind of hard to go to another place. It gave me an opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver, and it is always great to play with a guy like Mike Vick. You don't get that opportunity every day."

A 90-second video featuring highlight footage of the Falcons last year spliced together with highlights of Price last season was playing on the big screens in the Georgia Dome last weekend when team officials took Price there. "Honestly, I think the turning point was the video," McGee said. "We didn't expect that, and you could tell they really went to a lot of trouble."

Falcons officials tried to convince Buffalo officials (who had no first-round pick as a result of the transaction last spring that fetched quarterback Drew Bledsoe) to do the deal for less, namely a second-round pick or a first-rounder next year. No deal, Buffalo general manager Tom Donohoe wasn't going for that.

"Tom is a very professional person, and the dialogue was sane," said Falcons senior vice president of football operations Ron Hill. "It was no problem getting it done once we decided we would give up the pick."

And now, the Falcons have a receiver unlike any they've had since, oh, perhaps Tony Martin in 1998, the first of his two one-year stints with the team.

"He is a guy who can touch the football and go the distance," said coach Dan Reeves, who said Price will play split end. "When you have speed at the running back position, speed at the wide receiver position, and also at quarterback, it will present a lot of problems for other teams."

Falcons officials, meanwhile, better get busy working on signing people to cover wideouts. The only veteran cornerbacks under contract are Ray Buchanan, who had a poor to mediocre injury-riddled season, and Allen Rossum, who is a return specialist who can play cornerback in an emergency.

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