Friday, August 14, 2009

Eagles take a flyer on dog-fighting Vick's second chance

Until yesterday, there had been much speculation of teams that were interested in Michael Vick and teams that weren't. Twenty-six teams were supposedly "uninterested" but one had a change of heart, possibly when their backup quarterback went down with a strained knee. Kevin Kolb's injury, as serious as it may or may not be, might have opened the door for Vick's return to the NFL, at least in a Philadelphia Eagles uniform.

Vick will make $1.6 million in his first season with a team option for a second year at $5.2 million, as well as up to $3 million in incentives. With Donovan McNabb already entrenched as their quarterback, the Eagles will likely look to deploy Vick as an offensive weapon multiple times on every drive. These options include the Wildcat formation, splitting Vick out as a receiver or having him share a backfield with McNabb, Brian Westbrook or possibly both. Defenses won't be able to key on just one player. Add rookie running back LeSean McCoy to the mix and Philadelphia's backfield could become a nightmare for opposing defense.

But let's remember how Vick got to this point. In six seasons in Atlanta, he amassed 92 total touchdowns (21 rushing) in 74 games and led the Falcons to the NFC championship game in 2002, losing to McNabb's Eagles. Now let's forget about football for a second.

I am a dog LOVER but I'm not PETA, nor do I want to be. But when I heard Vick was indicted for dogfighting in 2007, I was repulsed. I became even more disgusted when I found out exactly what he did to these dogs, besides bankrolling the operation and related gambling. He fought them against one another in a battle to the death. He personally electrocuted, drowned, shot and hung dogs. Just let that sit in your mind for a minute, and tell me that you can accept that. It's hard. Really, really hard.

Without his money (don't forget the 10-year, $130 million contract extension he signed in 2005 which made him the highest-paid player in the NFL), this federal ring would have never gotten off the ground. Vick began fighting dogs at his parents' house in 2001, according to his father, the same season he was drafted and signed to a six-year, $62 million dollar deal (the largest ever for a rookie). And people say money hasn't corrupted sports? But that's a topic for another day.

Vick spent 18 months in prison and came out remorseful, or so it seems. Then again, after costing yourself millions of dollars, including filing for bankruptcy in 2008, and spending two seasons in the middle of your prime in federal prison, who wouldn't? That being said, I believe Vick deserves a second chance and Roger Goodell obviously agrees with that assessment, as he has set Week 6 as the latest date he will reinstate Vick from his suspension. Personally, I think Vick chose a very interesting destination for that opportunity.

I was in "The City of Brotherly Love" over the July 4th weekend to watch the Mets-Phillies series, so I know firsthand how unbrotherly and unloving the brutal Philly fans can be. And I wasn't even wearing Mets clothing. Some New Yorkers will sarcastically snide that he'll fit in great, but he will undoubtedly be on a short leash with many dog-loving fans.

Vick's best bet is to continue the contrition he has shown, which seems genuine but is really nothing but talk at this juncture. He needs to go out and make an impact in the community to put an end to dogfighting, whether he legitimately means it or not. It's his only option, and it's definitely the only way fans will even considering overlooking his past disgressions.

I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to sincerity. At the very least he has to be remorseful for selfish reasons. Vick has to realize his involvement in dogfighting and subsequent time spent in prison likely ruined what had the potential to be a Hall of Fame career, not to mention one with a great deal of financial security towards the future. Vick obviously regrets his actions even if it's only because he got caught, and I think he will do whatever is necessary to repair his virtually irreparable image.

Now back to football. Vick has essentially no chance of being an impact player in the season's first half. He has been out of the league for two seasons and will have to sit multiple games at the beginning of the season. Once reinstated, he will need a few weeks to work up to game speed, meaning he likely won't make an impact in the season's first 10 weeks.

But if he quickly develops an understanding of the Eagles' offense (or a few unique packages) and the Eagles find useful ways to deploy his explosive speed and ability in the open field, Vick can become an impact player and quickly. If I was offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, I would be salivating at the idea of adding a dynamic player like Vick to my offense regardless of the uncertainty surrounding what "position" he will play. Vick is a football player and a really good one, at least he was.

He is the quintessential quarterback for the Wildcat offense. He can line up in the backfield, he can split out wide and come in motion and he can even line up under center or in the shotgun formation. The options are endless with Vick's skill set and if Mornhinweg can find effective ways to utilize his game-breaking ability, this offense has the potential to be dangerous. When everything starts to come together for Vick is anybody's guess.

I'm intrigued to see what happens with Vick down the line. McNabb has two years left on his contract, so the Eagles could look to develop Vick into McNabb's replacement if they don't see a starting position in Kolb's future. If Philadelphia picks up Vick's option for year two, both him and McNabb will have expiring contracts in 2011.

Everything Michael Vick can do on the field for the Eagles is purely on his shoulders. But it won't be enough if he doesn't work even harder off the field. This will not be an easy task for Vick and the Eagles are taking an obvious risk, less in terms of money and more in terms of the perception of their fan base. Signs of protest in Philadelphia have included "Hide your beagle, Vick's an eagle."

If Vick can't shake the dog-fighting tag that will follow him wherever he goes, he may struggle to live up to the on-field expectations of some. But in a fall to rock bottom, some people gain perspective. Let's hope Michael Vick turns out to one of them. Maybe then he will have my respect. Maybe.

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