Sitting in a hotel ballroom in midtown Manhattan the day before the 2001 draft, Michael Vick was asked if the San Diego Chargers would be...
NEW YORK — Sitting in a hotel ballroom in midtown Manhattan the day before the 2001 draft, Michael Vick was asked if the San Diego Chargers would be making a mistake if they traded away the chance to take him with the No. 1 pick.
“Who knows?” Vick said then. “I may be one of the greats. I may be an average quarterback. I can’t really say until my career is over.”
His career may not be over after just six seasons — the Chargers traded the pick to the Atlanta Falcons — but it’s in serious jeopardy. His anticipated plea agreement in the dogfighting scandal could send him to jail for 12 to 18 months. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell could then tack on a one-year suspension, or more, even a lifetime ban, depending on any illegal-gambling revelations that may emerge in the case. The Falcons are running away from Vick faster than he escapes the pocket; the odds of him playing for Atlanta again ranks only slightly higher than the ASPCA naming him doglover of the year.
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It’s conceivable Vick may not be back on the field until 2010 — if he makes it back at all. He’s fighting to save his career.
The question, of course, is this: When he is out of jail and his suspension has been served, will any team have the courage to sign him? His alleged affinity for the underground and his role in the despicable world of dogfighting makes him a public-relations liability/disaster for any team that signs him.
It will take an owner secure of his standing in the community to sign Vick if he pleads guilty, as expected, or he goes to trial and is convicted. Still, several team officials contacted last week all anticipated that Vick will get a chance to resume his career once his legal problems are over.
“If he gets out in eight months and the league suspends him for one year, why wouldn’t he be able to come back into the league?” one general manager says. “If it’s two years that he hasn’t played football, why wouldn’t he play? He served his time. In America, if someone serves his time, are they allowed to come back with the freedom to work? Why is it different for a football player?”
What about his ability to lead a team as a quarterback? Would he have enough respect in the locker room?
“Have you been around these football players lately?” the GM says. “You think that is going to hurt him from being a leader? I don’t see why players would have an issue with it.”
It would be surprising if Vick is back playing before the 2009 season. The alleged illegal gambling could lead to Goodell suspending the quarterback for life. There is little that petrifies the NFL more than gambling. Vick has made this easy for Goodell. It’s just a matter of how long he suspends him, not if he suspends him.
If Vick’s 2007 season is wiped out by a jail sentence, Goodell should wait until he is out before issuing his suspension. That could take care of the 2008 season. It wouldn’t set much of a standard for discipline if the NFL suspension runs concurrently with jail time. And if Vick is sentenced to 18 months, that wipes out the ’07 and ’08 seasons and Goodell could then suspend him for ’09.
“I think if he serves his time and then comes back with the appropriate humility and expresses appropriate apologies and really convinces people that he is going to change his life, somebody will definitely give him a shot,” one owner says. “This country has proven time and time again that no matter how bad the scandal is, if you come back with the appropriate mea culpa, at a certain point in time people forgive, but maybe not forget.”
If Vick does get a new team, you can probably count on protests outside that team’s offices. “It has to be an owner who has some courage,” the owner says. “This is not going to be an easy thing to deal with.”
Here’s how one GM predicts a conversation would go with his coach if Vick was a free agent after getting out of jail:
GM: “Michael Vick is available for the veteran minimum.”
Coach: “Let’s bring him in.”
Another GM says he thinks only two or three teams would pursue Vick.
“What this guy did was heinous,” he says. “He doesn’t have anybody in his corner. How can a guy do this? It’s not only illegal, but demented. What’s going on in his head? How stupid is he? He’s a little sadistic. He needs time away and to pay some kind of price.”