The NFL is full of stories that constantly fuel water cooler talks and just won’t seem to go away (Brett Favre’s Return, Michael Vick’s release from prison, Plaxico Burress’ shooting case, etc). The possible summer return of formerly imprisoned quarterback Michael Vick to the NFL took another turn on June 12th as his former team, the Atlanta Falcons, finally pulled the plug on the Vick Era in the Atlanta, Georgia. The former face of the Falcons franchise, who once received a 10-year, $130 million contract extension with $37 million in guaranteed bonuses in December of 2004, was quickly put on the market via a less than 100-word prepared team statement from Falcons GM Tom Dimitroff.
Even though the release of Vick was no surprise, after the Falcons vainly tried to trade him during the 2009 NFL Draft without any willing takers, Dimitroff was not critical of the deposed passer in his statement. Even though the team didn’t badmouth Vick out the door, you couldn’t have blamed them if they did as their former star put a huge black-eye on the organization from his dogfighting case and lying about his actions including to team officials. But the young GM said of Vick, who has missed the last two seasons while serving a prison sentence, that their brief conversation “was upbeat” and that both sides were looking forward to moving on. Dimitroff added, “Respect him as an individual and as an athlete in this profession. It was the right thing to do and I’m happy that we had a conversation today…it was about being positive. It was about moving forward “.
Releasing their former superstar allows the Falcons, Vick, and the Atlanta region, which still has many ardent Vick supporters “to have a clean slate going into the summer”. Vick is now free to immediately sign with any NFL team even though NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has not reinstated him. But unfortunately for the Falcons, they now have $7 million in dead money on their salary cap for the 2009 NFL Season. In a side note, the parting of the former 3-time Pro Bowl quarterback from the Falcons will net the team $6.5-$7.5 million from a deal struck related to former guaranteed money and Vick’s suspension violating his contract with the team.
Now that Vick — career passing numbers of 930-1730, 11505 yards, 71 TDs, 52 INTs, and a 75.7 rating in six years w/ the Falcons — is free to talk to any of the NFL’s remaining 31 teams. And with his expected July 20th release from house arrest quickly approaching, the subject of his reinstatement is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Sure Commissioner Goodell has vehemently said he will not talk about Vick’s situation until his impending release, however you know a face-to-face meeting at the league’s offices in New York City is soon to come. Goodell has always said the right things regarding Vick’s case including recently saying, “Does he regret what happened?, Does he feel he’s going to be a positive influence going forward?…those are the questions I would like to (ask) when I sit with him.” Goodell has always been a stickler when it comes to player conduct, but he seems to also have a “second chance” mentality too as shown in his treatment of problem players like Adam “Pacman” Jones, Matt Jones, Tank Johnson, Chris Henry and others.
I had one of my loyal emailers, Greg from PA, ask me if the Vick case will be viewed any differently in light of the recent events surrounding Cleveland Browns receiver Donte Stallworth’s situation. In case you have been on a deserted island, Stallworth recently copped a plea in Florida where he will be required to serve 30 days in jail for fatally striking Mario Reyes, 59, with his vehicle in a drunk-driving accident. Even though Stallworth will have to pay the family in a settlement, he was suspended indefinitely by Goodell. So you have to think the court of public opinion will definitely be weighing-in on Vick’s case versus the Stallworth case. I know a large portion of the American populace are dog lovers, but I cannot fathom “how” many can vilify Michael Vick — received nearly two yeas in jail and an indefinite suspension from the NFL for his dogfighting acts — yet not be as passionate regarding the cases/punishments given Stallworth and Rams DE Leonard Little (90 days in jail for killing a St. Louis woman in 1998 while drunk driving). No matter how heinous Vick’s acts were against his fighting dogs, and let’s not fool ourselves they were despicable, there were no dead human beings left in his wake. I know Stallworth and Little do not stand alone as NFLers who have crossed the judicial line, but the Commissioner and the court of public opinion need to give Vick another chance.
Already former Super Bowl winning head coach Tony Dungy and others in NFL circles have echoed sentiments that Vick deserves his chance at redemption after serving his debt to society. I say let the NFL teams and their owners decide on their own if the former first overall selection from the 2001 NFL Draft is worth the headache that he brings. It won’t take long to figure out who is looking at Vick to play as the Jets, Browns, Saints, Colts, Seahawks, and Niners having already said they will not bring him in which is their prerogative. Browns head coach Eric Mangini said of any interest in Vick, “I wish him well, but really I’m focusing on the guys we have here.”
But there still is interest in Vick as shown by comments by Dimitroff upon the release of the NFL single season leading rushing quarterback, “As we all know, Mike is an exceptional athlete and he has the ability to play in this league again and I’m sure he probably will”. I truly believe if his anticipated meeting with Goodell goes well, that an NFL team will give Vick another shot, picketers or not. Of course Vick will have to take any opportunity he gets to return to the NFL which could include duties as a Wildcat QB, slot receiver, returner, and back-up quarterback.
Look for the following teams to be to be in the mix to sign Vick: St. Louis Rams (GM Bill Devaney has former ties to Vick from their Falcons days and current starting quarterback Marc Bulger has not been playing at a Pro Bowl level lately); Oakland Raiders (Owner Al Davis, a maverick himself, believes in 2nd chances); Dallas Cowboys (Owner Jerry Jones seems to be running the NFL’s version of a reform school lately and the charismatic leader of the Cowboys also needs better “Romo Insurance” than current back-up Jon Kitna) and Jaguars (need a better backup than Todd Bouman).
Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)