Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007 | Chargers general manager A.J. Smith recalls the plan to send Vick’s draft rights to Atlanta in exchange for a pick that turned out to be LaDainian Tomlinson.

As the ugly Michael Vick dog-fighting tale unfolds, let’s take a moment to thank those that spared us watching Vick’s latest chapter, the plea bargain, stain the Chargers.

Thank you John Butler, the Chargers’ late general manager.

In 2001, the Chargers held the first pick of the draft, and Butler wanted franchise running back to rebuild around. He sent A.J. Smith, his successor as general manager, to the Senior Bowl to specifically evaluate LaDainian Tomlinson.

Butler pulled the trigger when he and Smith — formerly with the Buffalo Bills during a run of four straight Super Bowl appearances — judged Tomlinson another Thurman Thomas, the Bills’ running back on those Super Bowl teams. The Chargers sent the rights to the No. 1 pick to Atlanta, which used the choice on Vick, a Virginia Tech quarterback.

In exchange, the Chargers received the Falcons’ fifth pick of the first round and then sat back and hoped Tomlinson would be available. He was.

Thank you Arizona Cardinals, who used the second pick on offensive tackle Leonard Davis. He’s now with the Dallas Cowboys.

Thank you Cleveland Browns, who used the third pick on defensive tackle Gerald Warren. The Browns later traded him to the Denver Broncos, who traded Warren on Monday to the Oakland Raiders.

Thank you Cincinnati Bengals, who used the fourth pick on defensive end Justin Smith.

In addition to the rights to draft Tomlinson, the Chargers received from the Falcons a third round pick, which turned out to be cornerback Tay Cody; a second-round pick in 2002, which turned out to be offensive lineman Toniu Fonoti; and wide receiver Tim Dwight.

None of those three players are still with the Chargers, but a straight-up deal of Tomlinson for Vick worked to the Chargers’ advantage even before Vick’s dog fighting arrest and plea bargain.

As silly as it might sound, Butler and Smith underestimated Tomlinson when they considered him a Thurman Thomas-like back. Thomas is in the Hall-of-Fame, but he wasn’t the sure Hall-of-Famer six years into his career that Tomlinson is considered to be now after his NFL MVP season and NFL record 31 touchdowns in 2006.

Smith says Butler had a Plan B if Tomlinson wasn’t available, but he won’t reveal it.

“We were coming off a 1-15 season, and we had to rebuild brick by brick,” Smith said. “Our thinking was that first brick should be a running back. We wanted a superstar and then we would find complementary players to put around him.”

Thank you, LT, for appearing to be as good as Thurman Thomas in those Senior Bowl evaluations.

This post originally ran Aug. 22 in‘s sports blog “From the Cheap Seats.”

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