Favre tells the Vikings No Thanks, but is he really retired

favre_brett

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre told the Vikings that he will not return at this time…But will he really stay retired

The never-ending saga of quarterback Brett Favre’s retirement/unretirement that has exacerbated sports headlines — and quite frankly my nerves — since mid May just “might” have taken it’s final turn on July 28th.  The 39-year old surefire Hall of Fame passer announced via Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress that his body was too broken and battered to attempt a comeback with the Vikings this season. Favre’s announcement ended the second straight summer where the NFL community had to endure his ego-driven unretirement talk while waiting “patiently” for the 18-year veteran to finally make-up his mind one way or the other. 

Favre had fueled speculation that his return to the Vikings was pretty much a done deal after having undergone surgery to repair the torn biceps tendon earlier in the summer and working out with high school kids at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on a consistent basis.  But in the end, I guess the graybeard passer came to the realization that his body and heart were not into playing a 19th NFL season this time for the Vikings.  Later Favre, himself, told ESPN’s Ed Werder, “It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made.”  Favre added, “I didn’t feel like physically I could play at the level that was acceptable. I would like to thank everyone, including the Packers, Jets and Vikings, but most importantly, the fans.  I had to be careful not to commit for the wrong reasons…They were telling me, ‘you went through all this, you had the surgery, you’ve got to finish it off.’ But I have legitimate reasons for my decision. I’m 39 — will turn 40 on Oct. 10 — with a lot of sacks to my name.”

Favre’s decision left the Vikings, who spent the last three months doing everything to “court” the former 3-time MVP to join them, to pick-up the pieces of their 2008 NFC North Championship team that was looking to make the jump into being a serious Super Bowl contender this season.  Vikings players were to report to training camp in Mankato, Minnesota on Wednesday with the long shadow of Favre definitely not too far behind.  Childress, who is on one of the hotter seats in the NFL after going 24-24, lamented about not getting Favre through a written statement.  “It was a rare and unique opportunity to consider adding not only a future Hall of Fame quarterback but one that is very familiar with our system and division.” Childress added, “That does not detract from the team that we have. As we have consistently communicated, we feel good about our team, and they have put forth a tremendous effort this offseason preparing for the season ahead. With this behind us, we look forward to getting to Mankato and getting training camp under way.”

I cannot even imagine the scene of the Vikings coming together at training camp and trying to rally behind their two “also-ran” quarterbacks – Tarvaris Jackson and Sage Rosenfels — after several players, including Pro Bowl players RB Adrian Peterson and DE Jared Allen, lobbied hard for Favre to join them.  In doing some well-deserved damage control, Peterson tried to quell the Favre talk by saying on the Vikings’ team Web site. “It doesn’t make sense to worry about things that are out of my control, I am confident in every player we have on our roster, and I believe our front office has done everything in its power to keep improving our team. Now, as players, it’s our job to go out there and defend our division championship, get back to the playoffs and make a run at the Super Bowl.”  Maybe Favre not coming will propel the Vikings and whichever quarterback that wins the starter job to new heights. 

However I don’t care how many statements have been issued through the team’s PR department or how many team-building measures are taken, the Vikings are already a distracted team, in my book, before their season has even started.  So now it will be up to players like Peterson, Allen, and DE Ray Edwards to rally their Vikings teammates so they can possibly step around the mess left by the group of Favre, Childress, and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevels.  My advice for the Vikings to move forward is as follows: Let Jackson and Rosenfels battle it out – expect Jackson to the starter in Week 1 at Cleveland; run the ball over 30 times a game with Peterson and Chester Taylor; find inventive ways to get the ball in explosive rookie Percy Harvin’s hands; and let your D-line (Allen, Edwards, and the Williams Wall) continue to harass the quarterback leading to turnovers by your DB’s.

So do we have enough closure to finally list Favre’s career NFL stats in ink.  I am not going to say this thing is totally over until I see Favre standing at the podium in Canton with his gold jacket on.  Already I have been there are reports that Favre is still throwing and he apparently confirmed this with his former position coach and confidant Steve Mariucci.  Favre even said to Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, “I really believe this is it. I truly, truly believe it’s over. But if someone calls Nov. 1, who knows?”  So the door is closed for now, but Favre maybe lurking somewhere with a crowbar in his hands to jimmy the door back open to jump back right into the NFL scene.  I really want to see what happens if  (when) there is a big quarterback injury during the league’s first six games.

If Favre’s decision is his final one, then hallelujah lets move-on to the litany of other topical stories heading into the 2009 NFL season.  I will state that have been a Favre follower since his early days with the Packers when he made it seems something out of nothing every game.  But I also have to admit his whole unretirement act has stretched my Favre bro-mance to its limits, as right now I believe he has severely tarnished his legacy.  However as Favre “walks” away, though his flip-flopping may have taken something away for many, he will forever be remember for playing the game of football with childlike joy. 

Though some will try to paint Favre as an egotistical bully after two summers worth of retirement/unretirement talk, not even his end of the career waffling will not truly dull Favre’s legacy for good.  As time passes I believe most No. 4 fans will remember him fondly as the player that dominated the ‘90s at the quarterback position.  The three-time NFL MVP endeared himself to NFL fans by giddily waltzing through the storm of eighteen NFL seasons producing win after win including an indelible victory in Super Bowl XXXII, where of course he won the MVP of the game.  Then there are the numerous records that are securely in his treasure chest including most career NFL touchdown passes (464), most career NFL passing yards (65,127), most career pass completions (5,720), most career passing attempts (9,280), most career NFL interceptions thrown (310), his “iron man” most consecutive starts quarterback streak (269 and you can make it 291 if you include the playoffs), and most career victories as a starting quarterback (169).  Favre had a quality that made everyone for him even if he was on the opposing team’s sideline. 

His passion for the game stems from a pure love of “street” football that we all remember from our youth. So close your eyes and remember the moments that Favre produced — the Super Bowl win over the Patriots where he and Reggie White brought the title back to “Title Town”, the magical December 2003 night in Oakland where playing through tears he won one for his Dad throwing four touchdowns in a 41-7 rout as every pass seemed to find a receiver, snowball fighting on the field in his 2007 playoff win over the Seahawks, leading the youthful Jets to an improbable 34-13 victory of the previously undefeated Titans at Tennessee in Week 12 of 2008 season while completing an NFL weekly high of 70.6% of his passes, taking on Warren Sapp after sacks, blocking on end-around plays downfield, and numerous other stories — because one day your grandchildren are going to ask you, “Was Brett Favre really that good?”

All I know is…Favre better not change his mind before this article is published!

Good Luck Brett riding off into the sunset on your tractor and please stick with staying on your farm.

Now I can happily direct my keyboard to a bunch of other NFL related topics that have nothing to do with an aging legend changing his mind as the wind blows. 

 

 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)

Advertisements

2009 NFL Draft Class May Have a First Rounder Holdout Problem

The other day someone asked me around the start of training, “How many first rounders have signed already?”  Immediately I thought there had to be at least half of the 32 picks, but I was totally taken aback when I realized the number was a whopping 4 players.  As of July 27th, only top quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (1st overall pick by the Lions) and Mark Sanchez (6th overall pick by the NY Jets) plus Cleveland Browns center Alex Mack (No. 21 pick) and Steelers DT Evander “Ziggy” Hood (No. 32 pick) are the only first rounders acclimating themselves to NFL training camps rather than being stuck at the negotiating table.

I don’t know if it is the threat of an uncapped year in 2010, impending CBA talks including a possible rookie wage scale, rookies and their agents showing their greedy ways, the “domino” effect where rookies are waiting for the guy in front of them to sign or first-year guys having jitter about singing their college fight song in the players cafeteria.  But for the first time since rookie holdout heydays in the early ‘90s there are more stuck on the sidelines than ever.  Of course team management and players’ agents will say the current rookie holdout trend that we are experiencing has everything to do with the current adherence to the rookie “slotting” system.  The system that is in place today causes both the teams and agents to rely heavily on the deals of the players selected the previous year in the same slot plus agents also have to wait to see the deal of the player taken before their client in the current draft class.

But something else is going on with the 2009 NFL Draft class’ first-round players and it has a lot more to do with than teams and agents getting stuck on voidable years in a contract.  The odd thing is every team is given a “rookie pool” to operate within their own salary cap, so you would think the process of signing your first rounder would not be so difficult.  Here is how the rookie salary cap works, on a league-wide basis the rookie pool — created within Article XVII of the CBA — is the total amount of money that can be spent on rookies, except for the minimum base salaries given to undrafted rookies. Each team’s rookie pool is its portion of the league-wide total and is determined by the number, round and position of the draft choices it uses.

See the league-wide allocations for the 2009 NFL Draft Class on the ESPN website. The total rookie pool league-wide for the 2009 NFL Draft class was $150.755 million, which represented an increase of about 7 percent over the 2008 rookie pool.  A record 12 teams each earned rookie pools of $5 million or more.  So as each team’s rookies sign from lower rounds, teams should know exactly how much is left for year one of the rest of the team’s drafted rookie class.  For example, the Lions signed Stafford to a six-year, $78 million contract with guarantees of $41.7 million. Stafford’s deal will count $3.1 million against the Lions rookie cap, leaving $4,974,992 million leftover for the team’s other nine draft picks.

Unfortunately the NFL’s rookie system is flawed in that the pool is restrictive often causing rookies’ agents to try inventive ways to dictate their price, terms, and incentives before even negotiating.  There have been rumors that the NFL in the next version of the CBA will adopt a strict NBA-like rookie pay scale, where given a player’s draft spot, the rookie will make a set amount for a set number of years.  The possible addition of a hard rookie cap in the next CBA would be welcome news to NFL veterans where current system allows a rookie like Matthew Stafford can make more than 3-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning before he has even stepped on the field.  Most veteran agents know that they are usually only hurting their rookie clients by allowing them to holdout.  NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt, a long-time personnel director for the Cowboys, said of rookie holdouts, “Any player who misses more than three days of camp is taking a serious risk”. 

Brandt added, “What rookies see at OTAs and minicamps doesn’t compare to what they see at training camp. Everything is accelerated 100 percent”.  Often rookie holdouts have proven Brandt’s words correct as injuries (hamstrings especially) and missed time often spell disaster to a rookie’s chances of making an impact in year one.  A rookie holdout can also sometimes derail their entire NFL career before it even begins.  This unfortunate fact was shown by the classic case of former Green Bay Packers offensive tackle Tony Mandarich, who held out for 43 days entering the 1990 NFL season and never really got the traction or learning needed to be a quality offensive lineman in the NFL. Mandarich was dominated from the start of his rookie year to the finish – only played in 9 offensive series — and was eventually released by the Packers after several disappointing seasons.

Last year Jaguars defensive end Derrick Harvey held out for the majority of training camp and when he did arrive, the Jags got a different player than they thought was select in the draft.  Harvey was out of football shape and never really caught up from missed training camp time, producing only 3.5 sacks for the season.  Of course Harvey’s holdout did not make him beloved with his teammates, who were already sweating in training camp and many of whom were going to make less than the unproven first rounder.  Former Jaguars linebacker Mike Peterson said at the time, “He’s slotted. I have a hard time understanding what is the problem…To me, basically it’s how bad a guy wants to be in camp to take the high end of the slot or the low end or meet in the middle.”

 The one rookie that I am most interest in following at the negotiations table is former Texas Tech star receiver and San Franciso 49ers draftee Michael Crabtree — quickly looking like a prima donna after missing work in OTAs and being yelled at this offseason by head coach Mike Singletary for his attitude.  The 10th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft is reportedly seeking a contract worth much more than the usual salary slot for a No. 10 pick. 

Hopefully Crabtree and the other 28 remaining unsigned 2009 first rounders will come to terms soon.  It would be a shame if players miss too much time and basically throwaway their first seasons – See the aforementioned case of Tony Mandarich in 1990, former Bengals quarterback Akilli Smith in 1999, and Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell in 2007.

Current signing status of 2009 first-round picks including their agent(s) and signing terms, if applicable

 1.  Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford — Tom Condon — signed April 25th with the terms: 6-year, $78 million contract with guarantees of $41.7 million.

2.  St. Louis Rams OT Jason Smith — Ben Dogra/Michael Lartigue — currently unsigned

 3.  Kansas City Chiefs DE Tyson Jackson — Eugene Parker — currently unsigned

 4.  Seattle Seahawks LB Aaron Curry — Andy Ross/Mike Sullivan — currently unsigned

 5.  New York Jets QB Mark Sanchez — David Dunn/Andrew Kessler — signed June 11 with the terms: 56-year, $60 million contract with guarantees of $28 million.

 6.  Cincinnati Bengals OT Andre Smith — Alvin Keels — currently unsigned

 7.  Oakland Raiders WR Darrius Heyward-Bey — Tom Condon/Ben Dogra — currently unsigned

 8.  Jacksonville Jaguars OT Eugene Monroe — Sanat Shah – currently unsigned

 9.  Green Bay Packers DL B.J. Raji — David Dunn — currently unsigned

 10.  San Francisco 49ers WR Michael Crabtree — Eugene Parker — currently unsigned

 11.  Buffalo Bills DE Aaron Maybin — Joel Segal/Chafie Fields — currently unsigned

 12.  Denver Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno — Tom Condon/Ben Dogra — currently unsigned

 13.  Washington Redskins LB Brian Orakpo — Ben Dogra/Michael Lartigue — currently unsigned

 14.  New Orleans Saints CB Malcolm Jenkins — Ben Dogra/Tom Condon — currently unsigned

 15.  Houston Texans LB Brian Cushing — Tom Condon/Ben Dogra — currently unsigned

 16.  San Diego Chargers LB/DE Larry English — Todd France — currently unsigned

 17.  Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  QB Josh Freeman — Ken Kremer/Ron Freeman — currently unsigned

 18.  Denver Broncos DE Robert Ayers –Tony Agnone/Edward Johnson/Richard Rosa/Noel LaMontagne — currently unsigned

 19.  Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin — Jim Steiner — currently unsigned.

20.  Detroit Lions TE Brandon Pettigrew — Sean Howard, currently unsigned.

21.  Cleveland Browns C Alex Mack — Tim Younger/Marvin Demoff — signed July 25 with terms not disclosed other than the contract was a five-year deal with an over 10% jump from 2008’s No. 21 pick (Atlanta offensive lineman Sam Baker).

22.  Minnesota Vikings WR Percy Harvin — Joel Segal –currently unsigned

23.  Baltimore Ravens OT Michael Oher — Jimmy Sexton, currently unsigned.

24.  Atlanta Falcons DT Peria Jerry — Bus Cook  — currently unsigned

25.  Miami Dolphins CB Vontae Davis — Todd France — currently unsigned

26.  Green Bay Packers LB Clay Matthews — David Dunn/Mark Humenik/Joby Branion/Justin Schulman — currently unsigned.

27.  Indianapolis Colts RB Donald Brown — David Dunn/Mark Humenik/Joby Branion/Justin Schulman — currently unsigned

28.  Buffalo Bills C Eric Wood — David Dunn/Mark Humenik/Joby Branion/Justin Schulman — currently unsigned

29.  New York Giants WR Hakeem Nicks — Peter Schaffer — currently unsigned

30.  Tennessee Titans WR Kenny Britt — Todd France — currently unsigned

31.  Arizona Cardinals — RB Chris Wells — Adam Heller/Brian Kopp — currently unsigned

32.  Pittsburgh Steelers DL Evander “Ziggy” Hood — Andy Ross/Mike Sullivan — signed July 25 with terms: five years with $6.1 million guarantee and a base salary of 8.7 million dollars, which could raise to 11.3 million dollars based on incentives, according to sources 

 

 

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)

Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson Passes Away

The date of July 28, 2009 will now hold significance around the NFL.  Though the four-letter network will continue to push never-ending stories about Brett Favre’s unretirement/retirement and the reinstatement of Michael Vick.  The “real” story of the day was the untimely passing of defensive icon Jim Johnson at the age of 68.  The Eagles veteran defensive coordinator, who will forever be lovingly known as the “Mad Scientist” of the blitz, unfortunately lost his battle with melanoma cancer after stoically fighting the disease for some time.

 Johnson, who was a well respected veteran defensive stalwart coach, had over 42 years in the business of football including 22 in the NFL.  A true defensive genius, Johnson carried his defensive scheme across the football landscape with career stops at Missouri Southern (head coach in 1967),  Drake University (1969-1972), Indiana University (1973-1976), Notre Dame (1978-1983), Oklahoma Outlaws – USFL, Jacksonville Bulls – USFL, St. Louis Cardinals – NFL (1986-1993), Indianapolis Colts (1994-1995), Seattle Seahawks (1998 – linebackers coach), and Philadelphia Eagles. Recently when announced as the Eagles new defensive coordinator, Johnson’s pupil, Sean McDermott probably summed up his mentor’s approach to life and football best by saying, “Blitz…and then blitz some more”.   Over ten years with the Eagles organization, mostly filled with more ups than downs, Johnson built a defense that was the cornerstone of the Andy Reid era.  Like a grizzly-tough battle tested staff sergeant, Johnson under Reid’s guidance was the glue that held Eagles teams together on and off the field of battle.  JJ never was the type to be a figurehead coach that just sat high above the action on the field , he would much rather roll his sleeves up and fight right along side of his players. 

Known for putting pressure on quarterbacks, Johnson always consistently held himself to a higher standard and you could tell that there were many “working” nights for him.  The steady coach was a man that embraced the challenge, camaraderie, and preparation for the game of football that was unmatched by many in NFL coaching circles.  Johnson after coming over from the Seattle Seahawks in 1999, helped to restore the roar of an Eagles defense that was coming off a 3-13 season in 1998 with an NFL defensive ranking of 19th in points allowed – an average of over 21 per game.  Johnson’s last Eagles defensive unit in 2008 ranked #1 in the NFC allowing a stingy 274.3 yards per game and led the Eagles back to the NFC Championship Game.  From his arrival in 1999 to the 2008 season, Johnson’s units were ranked in the NFL’s Top 10 defensively seven times.  At practices and on game day, Johnson’s gravely voice could easily be heard as a focal point as he not only taught defense, but also life lessons to a generation of Eagles players, coaches and anyone affiliated with the organization.  Despite sometimes being caught cerebrally thinking of the intricacies of stopping the Birds’ next opponent, Jim always had a smile and kind words for anyone who was part of the Eagles family. 

Everyone will of course point to the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2004 led by Johnson’s NFL 2nd ranked defense – allowed only 16.2 points per game – with Pro Bowl players like safety Brian Dawkins and middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter as one of his career highlights.  But to me his most masterful performance may have been in the Eagles’ 2006 season. The 2006 season had it’s adversities for the Eagles including injuries to players like cornerback Lito Sheppard and of course season-ending surgery for quarterback Donovan McNabb. 

However Johnson willed his defense to an NFL 15th ranking sometimes filling-in the gaps with players like defensive tackle Sam Rayburn. The Birds down the stretch shutdown the Panthers, Redskins, Giants, Cowboys, and Falcons in successive weeks — allowing an average of only 15.8 points per game — to make the playoffs.  None of the teams had a losing record at the time the teams played and there were three consecutive road wins in the set.  Then in the wildcard round of the playoffs, the Eagles held the Giants’ quarterback Eli Manning to only 161 yards passing and forced an interception in a 23-20 thrilling win at Lincoln Financial Field.

McDermott also said in his press conference, less than a week ago, regarding the lessons that Johnson taught him, “What haven’t I learned from Jim?”   McDermott added, “He’s been a significant influence in my life, both on and off the field. He’s been a mentor to me on the field, of course. But I don’t think it would be fair to Jim to limit to one statement, one press conference, the effect he has had on my life.” 

The venerable defensive coach helped produce 26 Pro Bowl players in Philly including DE Hugh Douglas, MLB Trotter, FS Dawkins, LB Ike Reese, CB Sheppard, CB Troy Vincent and many others.  He also leaves behind defensive disciples to continue his teachings in Steve Spagnuolo (head coach of the St. Louis Rams), John Harbaugh (head coach of the Baltimore Ravens), Ron Rivera (defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers), Leslie Frazier (defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings) and McDermott.

The venerable coach is survived by his wife, Vicky, two children, Scott and Michelle, and four grandchildren, Katie, Justin, Brandon, and Jax. 

I am sure the Eagles will be adding some kind of tribute to their fallen coach on their uniforms this season.  For those wanting to see the Eagles tribute to their beloved coach, click this link

Rest In Peace Jim. 

  

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)

Training Camp Questions – NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

Can the Cardinals avoid the Super Bowl loser hangover that has happened consistently this decade? (7 of 8 teams that lost the Super Bowl missed the playoffs the year, except the 2006 Seahawks)

Now that Edgerrin James has left town, will rookie Beanie Wells or 2nd-year player Tim Hightower be the Cardinals featured running back and how many carries a game will they get?

How will new coordinators Russ Grim and Bill Davis do at leading their respective units after both former coordinators left town for Kansas City Chiefs after the Super Bowl?

Will Bill Davis’ defensive unit, particularly his secondary, improve on the 426 points that they allowed in 2008?

After receiving his 2-year, $24 Million contract, does quarterback Kurt Warner have another big season in him at almost age 40?

San Francisco 49ers

Who will the Niners starting quarterback be (Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, or Damon Huard) and are any of them capable of leading the team to the playoffs?

Was last year’s season-ending 5-2 push led by new head coach Mike Singletary proof that the Niners have turned the corner back to respectability?

Given the tough demeanor of head coach Mike Singletary, do you think that his message will sink-in with young players like tight end Vernon Davis, WR Michael Crabtree, and others?

When will WR Michael Crabtree sign with the Niners and will the heralded rookie from Texas Tech have a Marques Colston type rookie year (led team in receptions and had over 1,000 yards receiving)?

Will the addition of players like veteran DB Dre Bly and three new defensive rookies from the draft help defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s unit improve upon their sack (30 in ’08) and points allowed (381) numbers?

Seattle Seahawks

How healthy is quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (back) and will he be able to return to his 2005 Super Bowl form?

What will be the overall impact of new head coach Jim Mora Jr and his staff taking over from Mike Holmgren?

Are the Seahawks really going to spread carries between TJ Duckett, Julius Jones, and Justin Forsett or will one of the backs emerge as the featured ball carrier?

How healthy is DE Patrick Kerney and can the Mora and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley breathe new life into the Seahawks defense?

What will the addition of former Bengals receiver TJ Houshmanzadeh mean to the Seahawks receiving core and are holdovers Nate Burrelson and Deion Branch healthy?

St. Louis Rams

How will the hiring of former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo change the culture of a Rams team that has not had a winning season since 2003?

After not playing to expectations from a huge contract, does quarterback Marc Bulger still have enough to be a quality starting quarterback in the NFL?

After barely gaining 1,000 yards in 2008 is running back Steven Jackson ready for a comeback season?

With receiver Torry Holt moving on to the Jaguars which receiver out of veteran Ronald Curry and youngsters Donald Avery and Laurent will become the Rams featured receiver?

What is going on with the Rams ownership group and is it possible that current owner Chip Rosenbloom will sell and/or relocate the team?

 

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)

Vick is reinstated with stipulations on the latest stop of redemption road

After enough speculation to fill the Atlantic Ocean, we finally learned that indeed suspended free agent quarterback Michael Vick was reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday July 27th.

Goodell notified Vick via an extensive letter that he has been reinstated to the NFL on a conditional basis and will be considered for full reinstatement by Week 6 (October 18-19) of the NFL’s regular season based on following an NFL mandated transition plan. 

As everyone knows unless you have been under a rock for a couple of years, Vick had been suspended indefinitely since August of 2007.  Goodell handed the very stern penalty at the time due to the heinous acts documented in Vick’s guilty plea to federal criminal charges relating to his involvement in an interstate dogfighting enterprise. The 29-year old quarterback was recently released from federal but is still serving three years of probation.

In reviewing the matter, Commissioner Goodell seemed to consult everyone from Vick himself to his representatives and family to former players and league representatives.  As reported earlier the two had a positive meeting on July 22, where they discussed the disgraced quarterback’s possible reinstatement and allowed Vick to apologize and plead his case. 

The conditions of the reinstatement/transition plan are as follows: 

  • Vick, if he is able to find a team to sign him, may participate without delay in preseason practices, workouts, meetings, and he may play in his club’s final two preseason games.
  • Once the NFL regular season begins, Vick may participate in all team activities other than games, subject to specific guidelines developed by the NFL Player Personnel Department.
  •  Former Super Bowl-winning head coach Tony Dungy has agreed to continue his work with Michael as an advisor and mentor.
  • Commissioner Goodell will periodically evaluate Michael’s progress with Dungy, Vick’s advisors, and probation officer under this transitional step approach and consider full reinstatement for play in regular-season games by Week 6. 
  • Goodell specifically wrote: “My decision (by Week 6) will be based on reports from outside professionals, your probation officer, and others charged with supervising your activities, the quality of your work outside football, the absence of any further adverse involvement in law enforcement, and other concrete actions that you take that are consistent with your representations to me.”

Commissioner Goodell wrote: “This step-by-step approach is not meant to be a further punishment and should not be viewed as such. Instead, it is intended to maximize the prospect that you can successfully resume your career and your life. I believe that a transitional approach with a strong network of support will give you the best opportunity to manage effectively the various issues and pressures that you will inevitably face in the coming weeks and months and earn your full reinstatement.”

You have to tip your cap to Goodell for heeding the words of respected people like NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith, Tony Dungy, and others to give Vick another chance.  Dungy is a man of character, who is respected by everyone associated with the league, so hopefully he will continue to help get Vick back on the right track.  The approach Goodell outlined seems similar to the one the league used during Pacman Jones’ efforts in trying to regain entry into the NFL after missing the entire 2007 season due to suspension.

I like that Goodell stressed more about “opportunity” and the fact that planning the NFL is a privilege than purely focusing on punishment in reinstating Vick.  Goodell wrote in the letter, “In deciding whether to reinstate a player, I have stressed my belief that playing in the NFL is a privilege. It is not an entitlement. Everyone fortunate enough to be part of the league is held to a standard of conduct higher than that generally expected in society and is correspondingly accountable when that standard of conduct is not met. I have also endorsed an approach under which players who have been suspended for a significant amount of time, as you have been, may through a series of steps demonstrate that they have addressed their prior problems, that they can make good decisions, and that they conduct themselves in a way that is lawful, responsible, and consistent with NFL values.”

Goodell concluded the letter by writing, “Needless to say, your margin for error is extremely limited. I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career.  If you do this, the NFL will support you.”

After the Commissioner’s announcement, Vick seemed appreciative and understanding of the conditions of his second opportunity to play in the NFL.  Vick released a statement via agent Joel Segal:

“I would like to express my sincere gratitude and appreciation to Commissioner Roger Goodell for allowing me to be readmitted to the National Football League. I fully understand that playing football in the NFL is a privilege, not a right, and I am fully thankful for that opportunity I have been given. As you can imagine, the last two years have given me the time to reevaluate my life, mature as an individual, and fully understand the terrible mistakes I made in the past and what type of life I must lead moving forward. Again, I would like to thank Commissioner Goodell for the chance to return to the game I love and the opportunity to become an example of positive change. Finally, I want to sincerely thank Coach Dungy for being in my corner, and I look forward to him being a mentor for me.”

As someone, who has been writing about this over two-year ordeal since we first learned about it back before 2007 NFL Draft, I think both sides came to an amicable decision.  Everyone knew that Goodell could not let Vick just walk back in the NFL, but in doing his due diligence the Commissioner setup a thorough step-by-step approach for the former three-time Pro Bowl quarterback to get back his career.  But while I respect and understand the Commissioner’s decision, which clearly seems like the NFL covering their backside, Vick probably has endured more than any disciplined NFL player in the past.  Sure his acts were heinous and reprehensible, but he did serve 23 months in federal custody and was suspended the entire time.  Too often there have been other NFL player jurisprudence cases that have left everyone including some victims wondering how a particular punishment didn’t fit the crime while the player was right back on the field before we knew it – See Rams DE Leonard Little’s 1998 case drunk driving manslaughter case that left a Missouri woman dead.

Whether you agree with Goodell’s decision or not, when it comes to persecuting Michael Vick, “Enough is Enough”.  Goodell got outside input and presided over a 4½ hour hearing last week plus had two one-on-one sessions with Vick.  Any questions around the former Falcons quarterback’s sincerity were answered with Goodell saying, “I believe he is sincere in his remorse”.  The Commissioner has spoken and now Vick’s life can move on with an eye towards resuming his career. We finally have some light at the end of the tunnel of one of American sports history’s greatest falls from grace.

Now it is time to turn the page to the next chapter of the “Michael Vick Experience” and just maybe the still young quarterback will surprise us once again.  Vick will now have until mid October to complete his growing To-Do list of finding a team that is willing to sign him, continuing to meet with Dungy and his probation officer, getting in shape while working with former high school coach Tommie Reamon and Tim Shaw, and most of all staying out of trouble.

In terms of a team signing Vick, that may take a little while too.  Let’s face it – even though there will always be a head coach that wants to win bad enough that bringing in Michael Vick could help – in the NFL wins trump all.  But the people over head coaches namely a team’s owner and front-office types will have the final “say” on whether to bring Vick into the fold.  Any team bringing in the deposed passer will have to go out into their community to gauge the level of tolerance for Vick.  Trust me the PETA people will be out in droves and you have to wonder if any team endorsers will jump ship, which could be huge in this topsy-turvy economy.  In the end, I still see a team taking a chance on Vick and allowing his play on the field to determine how far he falls in the hearts of fans.

The USA Today Huddle blog put out a great piece going through the potential landing spots within the league’s 32 franchises for the free agent quarterback.  My list has on it the 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); SF 49ers (Head Coach Mike Singletary and Offensive Coordinator Jimmy Raye believe in second chances plus starter Shaun Hill’s name is not written in stone), Patriots (If Kraft will let him, Belichick will do anything to “win”)  and Jaguars (need a better backup to inconsistent starter David Garrard than Todd Bouman).  Vick’s final fail-safe could be United Football League (UFL) as the league’s Orlando franchise owns his UFL rights and the new league will run from September to late November.

 

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)

Training Camp Questions – NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

What affect will the removal of distractions/players Terrell Owens, Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson, SS Roy Williams, defensive coordinator Brian Stewart, and former Romo girlfriend Jessica Simpson have on the team?

Will QB Tony Romo, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett and head coach Wade Phillips survive of being on owner Jerry Jones’ Hot Seat?

Will the 2009 NFL Season produce the Cowboys’ first playoff victory since 1996?

Will Tony Romo continue the trend of producing early (21-8 from September through November over the last two years) and then faltering in December?

Will WR Roy Williams be ready to takeover from T.O as the team’s featured receiver and will he live-up to the high expectations set for him from his 2008 NFL trade deadline deal?

 New York Giants

Will it be Domenick Hixon, Steve Smith, Sinorice Moss, Mario Manningham, David Tyree, Hakeem Nicks Ramses Barden, or no one that replaces receiver Plaxico Burress’ production in the Giants offense?

Can Ahmad Bradshaw, Danny Ware, and/or Andre Brown replace departed running back Derrick Ward as Brandon Jacobs’ running mate?

Is quarterback Eli Manning ready to be the main leader on the Giants team and is he worth the expected huge contract coming his way?

How will new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan fare at replacing Steve Spagnuolo (Rams head coach)?

Will DE Osi Umenyiora (knee) and LB Michael Boley (hip) return to full strength by the beginning of the season to help a defense that produced 42 sacks in 2008?

Philadelphia Eagles

How is the health of running back Brian Westbrook (ankle) and should the Eagles bring-in a veteran just in case he is not ready?

Will there be any drop-off in the Eagles defense with Sean McDermott replacing Jim Johnson as defensive coordinator?

With the additions of Jason Peters and the Andrews brothers returning from injury, will the Eagles offensive line be healthy and cohesive for the start of the regular season?

Who is going to replace the lockerroom presence of Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, and Brian Dawkins?

Will quarterback Donovan McNabb be more consistent in 2009 after a 2008 season where he was too up and down including being benched? 

Washington Redskins

Did Redskins owner Daniel Snyder overpay for free agents DT Albert Haynesworth, OL Derrick Dockery and DB DeAngelo Hall?

How will head coach Jim Zorn get along with RB Clinton Portis and will Zorn survive if the Redskins don’t produce in 2009 (i.e. Win a playoff game)?

Can quarterback Jason Campbell rebound from an offseason where the Redskins tried to unsuccessfully obtain Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez?

How much will the addition of Haynesworth and first-round draft pick Brian Orakpo help improve a defense that usually ranks pretty low in sacks?

Can rookie LB Brian Orakpo make the switch from college defensive end to professional strongside linebacker?

  

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)

Training Camp Questions – NFC North

Chicago Bears

How is new quarterback Jay Cutler going to fit-in with his new “run first” team after coming over in the NFL’s biggest offseason trade?

Does head coach Lovie Smith need to make the playoffs after missing them the last two seasons after making the Super Bowl?

Will Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, Earl Bennett, rookie Juaquin Iglesias or anyone else step up to be Cutler’s go-to receiver?

Can new offensive lineman Orlando Pace, Frank Omiyale, and Kevin Shaffer help solidify a Bears’ offensive line the had some problems in 2008?

How much will the addition of new defensive line coach Rod Marinelli have on a defensive unit that allowed 350 points in 2008?

Detroit Lions

Have the Lions turned the page on a 0-16 season and is new head coach Jim Schwartz ready to lead them?

Was picking quarterback Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick the right way to go and is the former Georgia star ready to start in Week 1 of the 2009 NFL season?

How will the addition of so many new front office members, coaches, and players (over 25 new faces) affect team chemistry?

Can new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham and veteran LB Julian Petersen breathe new life into a defense that allowed 517 points?

Can receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Kevin Smith perform at a Pro Bowl level to propel a Lions offense that struggled in 2008?

Green Bay Packers

Should GM Ted Thompson, head coach Mike McCarthy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers be feeling any pressure coming off a 6-10 season and the possible return of Brett Favre in the NFC North?

Is running back Ryan Grant ready for a bounce back year after a season battling a hamstring injury?

How will the Packers handle, particularly new outside linebacker Aaron Kampman, the move to new defensive coordinator Dom Campers’ 3-4 defensive scheme?

Can the veteran cornerback tandem of Al Harris and Charles Woodson perform at a high level for another season?

Will the addition of big first round pick DT B.J Raji help to solidify a defense that allowed 380 points in 2008?

Minnesota Vikings

Is quarterback Brett Favre coming to play in Minnesota or not and if he does come how will his arrive affect team chemistry?  (There I asked it… now let’s move-on)

After compiling a 24-24 record over 3 years is Vikings head coach Brad Childress on the hot seat and if the Vikings don’t live-up to expectations (i.e. Win in the playoffs) will he be gone?

Can running back Adrian Peterson become the NFL’s sixth rusher to achieve 2,000 rushing yards in a season?

What receiver (Bernard Berrian, Sidney Rice, rookie Percy Harvin or someone else) step-up to be the Vikings quarterback’s main target and should the Vikes take a flyer on a free agent like Marvin Harrison?

Will the Vikings defense continue to play at a dominant level (1st in the NFL against the run) despite the possible 4-game suspension loss of the Williams Wall (DT’s Kevin and Pat)?

  

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)