No escape route?
Vick's options narrowing, his career in jeopardy
Posted: Tuesday August 14, 2007 11:34AM; Updated: Tuesday August 14, 2007 12:29PM
Michael Vick is all alone now. As his remaining two co-defendants prepare to enter plea agreements later this week in their federal dogfighting case, Vick's increasing state of isolation has been underlined in the most dramatic terms.
The corporate sponsors who once lavished him with attention and income have retreated, one by one. The NFL, which had him take a very public bow as recently as April's draft, ordered him to become invisible. And the Atlanta Falcons have turned the page on the Vick era in a way that seemed almost unimaginable a few weeks ago.
Whatever is looming as the next shoe to drop in this saga -- be it a plea agreement from Vick, a league-issued suspension, or some other development -- the scenario that grows a little closer to a certainty by the day is that Vick has played his last game of football for quite some time. Perhaps ever. The Falcons, the NFL and the federal authorities seem to know it. It's as if now we're all waiting for Vick to come to the same realization, and begin facing whatever this next painful chapter holds.
Vick's goal of "clearing his good name'' would appear to be the longest of long shots in the current field of potential outcomes. His choices are narrowing to the lesser of two evils: cut the best possible deal he can still get in exchange for a guilty plea, or go to trial in a case where his three co-defendants would be prepared to testify against him. And let's not forget the potential filing of a superseding indictment by federal investigators, which could stack more dogfighting charges against Vick.
Spending a day at the Falcons team complex last week, I was struck by how no one -- either on or off the record -- seemed the slightest bit hopeful Vick's plight would somehow improve and he would return to the team in the near future. It wasn't just talk designed to sound united on the matter of going forward with the 2007 season without Vick. It was as if the verdict was already in, but had to be left unspoken for now.
New starting quarterback Joey Harrington called Vick's case "a non-issue'' within the team and added that "obviously we all wish him well.'' Veteran tight end Alge Crumpler assured me, "We're so busy putting in plays in coach (Bobby) Petrino's offense, I promise you no one's thinking of Michael's situation.'' And safety Lawyer Milloy, while acknowledging the loss of Vick "stung,'' went to great length in explaining why "all things happen for a reason,'' and how the Falcons are "a team that has a plan'' with Petrino in charge.
That plan clearly doesn't include Vick. Sources within the organization told me how critical it was Petrino brought a sense of "closure'' in regard to the Vick situation. The Falcons first-year coach stood before his team in late July and made it clear No. 7 was a past-tense issue that required no further explanation or expended energy.
"By design, that was a very important thing to [Petrino],'' a team source said. "And these players are completely unphased by the situation. There's no sense of 'Woe is me' around here. There hasn't been any of that with these guys.''
Crumpler told me because of Vick's legal drama, he assumed there would be chaos and a sense of turbulence heading into camp this year. He braced for it, but it never came. The Vick distraction factor has been blunted by a team-wide move-on mentality. Maybe the Falcons figured out where things were headed with Vick even quicker than the rest of us.
"It's been all about football and this season,'' Crumpler said. "That's been it. I mean that's it. The course is right. Where we go this season is a mystery to me. But I know the course is right. There are a few great stories that unfold every year in the NFL.''
And even without their now-isolated quarterback, the Falcons think they can be one of them.
"You're damn right,'' Crumpler said. "Yes we do.''