Vick could play pro football next season ... but not in the NFL
SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- Michael Huyghue, commissioner of the United Football League, rival to the NFL. Fancy seeing you here, at Carolina Panthers training camp.
"In the VIP section, no less,'' he said, laughing, the other day, sitting among the families and employees of the Panthers during a torrid afternoon practice.
The UFL is scheduled to kick off -- and I use "scheduled'' because one never knows what can happen with startup leagues -- a year from now, with a season that will last until Thanksgiving. Huyghue said there will be six teams: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Orlando, New York and Hartford. Yes, Mark Cuban will be one of the owners, as, apparently, will be the Wilpon group of New York.
The New York team, interestingly, will play at the new Citi Field, home of the Mets. (I can't wait to hear what the Mets think about their field being chewed up by football during a pennant race next September.) Hartford. Hmmm. Not an optimum site; the team will play in East Hartford, at the UConn football stadium.
The big news, I suppose, from my talk with Huyghue was this: He said the chances of a UFL team signing Michael Vick to play the 2009 season are "98 percent.'' Strange percentage, but that's what he said.
"Michael's not going to be able to walk right back into the NFL,'' Huyghue said. "He's going to need some kind of buffer before he signs in the NFL, and we'll be able to provide that for him.''
Assuming the league gets off the ground, it makes perfect sense. Vick is due to get out of federal prison in July 2009, and in all likelihood he'll be suspended for the 2009 season by the NFL, which would also make him ineligible for the Canadian Football League. If the UFL is Triple-A football, or even Double-A, it's probably Vick's best option.
Vick would likely be able to recoup some of the money he lost while in jail. The UFL will have a per-team salary cap of $20 million, with most quarterbacks making between $1 million and $4 million a year. The coaching staffs will be capped at $3 million, with head coaches making in the range of $1.5 million. So the UFL could get some decent names. It wouldn't be folly for an NFL position coach or coordinator not immediately destined to be an NFL head coach -- Mike Tice of Jacksonville, Chris Palmer of the Giants, Mike Trgovac of Carolina, for instance -- to take one of the UFL head-coaching jobs for a payday for a year or two.
It also wouldn't be folly for players near the bottom of NFL rosters to make the jump, unless the NFL threatens to blackball them and make it hard for them to re-enter the big league. Huyghue said the league will sign players to contracts of one year plus an option, or two years. "If they sign the one-year deal,'' Huyghue said, "they'd be able to re-sign with an NFL team around Thanksgiving. So the downside wouldn't be that great -- and they'd be able to get the playing time they need to develop as players.''
Huyghue may have been welcomed here because before he took this job, he was a player agent, and he represented the Panthers' first-round pick in 2007, middle linebacker Jon Beason. But I wondered how Huyghue had been received in his trips to NFL camps. Seems to me he'd be the mortal enemy. He said no.
"Strangely enough,'' he said, "I've been very well-received in NFL camps. I think the NFL people think the league will be good for player development. The problem with NFL rosters is you can't really develop the player on the bottom of the rosters because they don't get much playing time. Plus, we're not going to be taking their prime-time guys anyway.''
That's why Huyghue was here the other day. He was checking out the Panthers' backup quarterbacks, particularly Brett Basanez, the energetic and interesting third-stringer. "If you're a third-team quarterback in the NFL like Basanez,'' he said, "how long do you wait before you take meaningful snaps in the NFL? Some of these guys have to wait three, four years before they get a chance to play in the regular season. We can give guys like him the experience they need so they'll be more valuable to NFL teams.''
After practice, I approached Basanez.
"Ever heard of the United Football League?'' I asked.
"No,'' he said.
"Well, they're here scouting you today,'' I said.
He was confused, so I explained the parameters of the new league.
"Hey, sounds great,'' Basanez said. "I'm interested.''
One more note about the UFL, which veteran player activist Muhsin Muhammad of the Panthers pointed out to me: The league could be a place of refuge for NFL players if it survives into 2011, the first year we might have no NFL games because of a possible job action.
It's all very interesting. Still, if I were an owner, I'm not sure I'd be rolling out the training-camp red carpet for Mr. Michael Huyghue.