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From bad to worse

Falcons fear serious consequences if Vick practices

Posted: Monday July 23, 2007 1:57AM; Updated: Monday July 23, 2007 11:11AM
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Michael Vick is scheduled to appear in a Virginia federal court on Thursday, the same day the Falcons will begin training camp.
Michael Vick is scheduled to appear in a Virginia federal court on Thursday, the same day the Falcons will begin training camp.
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Summing up what I know and what I think is likely to happen in the Michael Vick dogfighting case this week:

WHAT I KNOW

The league has told Atlanta owner Arthur Blank the disciplinary ball is in his court, and Blank intends to act by disciplining Vick in some way by the end of Tuesday.

No matter what Blank does -- and this is in contrast to the NFL's original statement about letting the judicial process run its course -- commissioner Roger Goodell reserves the right to add on to whatever punitive action Blank will take. Both men can justify acting before Vick's trial in federal court because Vick insisted to Goodell and Blank he had no involvement at the property in question, an assertion that has been shot full of holes by four corroborating witnesses in the case.

Blank spent a couple of days anguishing over the case, and now, I am told, he is thinking about what to do next. He was at his ranch in Montana on Sunday, pondering his options. I am told he feels he has to take a stand and do something to discipline Vick or risk losing face in the eyes of the majority of sponsors and Georgians who back the team.

I also strongly believe new coach Bobby Petrino would rather have a training camp with the much-maligned Joey Harrington as his starting quarterback than have a training camp with Vick as his starter, considering all the attendant problems Vick's presence could cause. Would there be daily picketing by animal-rights groups? Would Vick, the face of the franchise, be booed lustily by most fans? Imagine the nightmare of preparing for the season with the Falcons faithful ripping the home team daily. The team has considered just that possibility.

I know the Falcons are deeply worried about the circus that training camp would be if Vick were on the field. There is concern over security at the 50-acre training-camp site and training complex in Flowery Branch, 40 minutes north of Atlanta. Would metal detectors be needed? Would critical signs be allowed? If Vick were scheduled to take the field on Friday, it's conceivable the Falcons would have to spend thousands -- and work nearly round the clock before then -- to ensure the security and safety of players and fans at camp, and to make sure the team could do its job in some sort of productive and harmonious way. "The work would get done, but I can't imagine getting booed at your own training camp,'' one longtime Falcon told me Saturday. "I guess you'd get used to it, but I don't know.''

And you can take this to the bank: If Vick does not play for any reason relating to the case, he will not earn all of the $6 million he's owed this year in base salary. The Falcons will find a way to take some money away as part of their dissatisfaction with Vick for putting them in this position -- a mess that has ruined any chance they had to be a contender this season. At the end of the day, Blank runs a football business. And imagine his bitterness knowing his franchise player, a player he committed $130 million to just 30 months ago, a player he personally wheeled around the sidelines when Vick broke his leg in 2003, got himself involved in something as distracting and hurtful as a federal dogfighting case.

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