In case of a plea ...
NFL personnel candidly address Vick's future impact
Posted: Friday August 17, 2007 12:39AM; Updated: Friday August 17, 2007 12:31PM
So much for clearing his good name.
Even without a law degree, I know this much: A plea agreement isn't about clearing your name. It's about saving your bacon. Cutting your losses. And most importantly, reducing the length of time you'll spend in prison.
It's about finding a way to end the fight, in order to have the opportunity to live and, in Michael Vick's case, play another day.
That's what the Falcons quarterback has been trying to accomplish this week in negotiating to plead guilty to the federal charges he was involved in -- that Virginia-based dogfighting operation we all know far too much about at this point.
But by going that route, will Vick indeed save his NFL career? In a saga that still has so many unanswered questions, what seems more apparent all the time is that Vick may not be in position to return to the field until 2009, at the age of 29. And that could be his best-case scenario.
If that's surprising, it shouldn't be. Do the math. Logic tells you that his 2007 season is already lost, and the one-year prison term that appears likely to be part of any plea agreement could wind up consuming most or all of 2008. And that's not taking into account how a potential NFL suspension could alter that timetable.
Would a suspension run concurrently with Vick's jail time, or begin after his prison sentence has ended? Would the league allow him back on the field if he were on probation? Would NFL commissioner Roger Goodell throw the book at Vick, handing out a multiyear suspension in response to the gambling element involved in the charges?
But if it's 2009 before we again see Vick in a football uniform, when he tries to resurrect a career that came so far off track ... it's difficult to even compare it to any other instance in NFL history, what would his comeback look like? How likely is it that his game would return to its pre-2007 form? And how interested would other teams be in giving him the second chance he covets, should the Falcons part ways with him as most expect?
I put those types of questions to NFL personnel men, general managers, coaches and ex-players this week and received a variety of responses, both on the record and not for attribution. But there was unanimity on some fronts: No one I queried said they could forsee Vick re-starting his career in Atlanta, where the damage to his name and reputation is beyond repair.
"I don't have any inside information to base this on, but he's not going back to Atlanta,'' said former Falcons head coach Jim Mora, now the Seahawks defensive backs coach. "It would be too difficult a situation. By then, the Falcons will have moved on as an organization. It'll take a fresh start for Mike. What's that saying, you can't go home again? I think it applies here.''
The other consensus opinion was that while Vick likely will play again somewhere in the NFL, whoever signs him won't consider him starting quarterback material until he goes through a long process of re-proving himself --both on and off the field. He will have forfeited the benefit of the doubt.
"Whichever team needs another quarterback and decides to take him in '09, its general manager can't go out and get Michael Vick and then say 'I'm putting all my eggs in that basket,''' said one veteran NFL defensive coordinator. "You can't do that. He'll be coming off such a long break, and he'll be such a question mark. I see a lot of people staying away from him.''
League sources I talked to struggled to come up with any comparable situation from the past that could be used to help project how Vick might respond after two years away from the game in the prime of his career. Paul Hornung and Alex Karras served one-year league suspensions for gambling in 1963, but neither played the game's most difficult position -- quarterback. Roger Staubach's NFL career couldn't begin in Dallas until he served a five-year military commitment from 1964-69, but the layoff wasn't mid-career and it wasn't caused by incarceration.