I’m watching the Patriots first pre-season game, cheering on the return of Tom Brady, when a text message comes through my phone saying ESPN is reporting that the Eagles have signed Michael Vick. After cleaning up the drink I spit out, I couldn’t help but start wondering what this means for Philadelphia, and the NFL in general.
First things first, in my opinion what Michael Vick did was deplorable, disgusting, inhumane, and inexcusable. But according to the laws of our society, he has served the required 18 of 23 months in Levenworth, paid his fines, and is performing his heavily supervised community service to fulfill everything the court has demanded from him. He is bankrupt as well. Something I found humorous was that he owes the Royal Bank of Canada 2.5 million dollars. I seriously wonder if anyone in THIS country owes them that much. Commissioner Roger Goodell has placed a great deal of faith in Vick not to screw up again. He has had his league tarnished by Vick, and the character he was, and portrayed on and off the field. But he is giving him another chance. I am in agreement with him. Michael Vick deserves another chance to play in the NFL.
Many would argue that what he did should preclude him from going back to a profession that pays millions of dollars. But his profession is not his fault. It is what he does. If a lawyer, accountant, or custodian is found guilty of running a dog-fighting operation, goes to jail, pays the fine, and performs the community service, do they not deserve the opportunity to go back to the profession that they know? If the Bible has taught us anything…and it hasn’t…it would be fairness and forgiveness.
So, Vick signed a one year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. He will earn $1.6 million. The contract also contains a team option for the 2010 season worth $5 million. Vick will be able to participate in all team practices and meetings, as well as the Eagles’ last two preseason games. He will then be eligible for reinstatement in week six at the latest. The press conference held by the Eagles was the most somber signing announcement I’ve ever watched. Coach Andy Reid, Former Coach Tony Dungy, and Michael Vick all headed up to the podium together. But something was different. I’m not sure if anyone else caught it, but no longer was he referred to as “Michael”, he was addressed by Reid and Dungy only as “Mike”. As well, “Mike” had on a snazzy gold three-piece suit, and was well-groomed, instead of the Gangsta gear and cornrows we saw him in before. Ladies and Gentlemen, let the re-branding begin.
The NFL is a league of almost zero tolerance for ‘bad’ behavior. Goodell has done an excellent job of doling out fines to problem players, and suspending players when necessary. The year long unpaid suspension of Dante Stallworth for killing a man while drunk driving, is a huge step forward in making players accountable for their on and off field behavior. Albert Haynesworth may be on some kind of probationary term with the head office for paralyzing someone in a car crash while speeding, but Mike is the new canary in the coal mine for a player’s ‘renewal’. He may have seen the light while in jail, but he will now be watched closer than the Brazilian women’s beach volleyball team. Even the implication of an indiscretion will be blown way out of proportion.
Further to the team dynamic though. How do his teammates react? Obviously they have to put on a happy face for the camera and toe the team line. But inside, how do they really feel about having this possible public relations nightmare on your team? It can be argued that he’s a time bomb. The dogfights were not his first run in with the Commish. Flipping the middle finger to fans, implications of drug use, possession of stolen goods, and that famous water bottle incident have all been signs pointing to a troubled young man. Hopefully his new mentor, Tony Dungy, can show him the way out of that lifestyle.
I’ve looked at Vick’s career numbers. Without question, he is one of the greatest running QB’s in history. He can run a college based Wildcat offense with the best of them. But Andy Reid is not a running coach. His offense lives and dies by his quarterback’s arm and accuracy. That may bode badly for Vick. Keeping in mind he is a two time Pro-Bowl selection. But he has a career 53.8 completion percentage, and a 71:52 TD to interception ratio. These are not the stellar numbers expected for a passing offense.
Position-wise, where does this guy fit in? They have a starting Pro-Bowl quarterback in Donovan McNabb, second year player Kevin Kolb as McNabb’s heir-apparent and backup, and A.J. Feeley as the third-stringer. While Kolb is hurt, the QB position does not appear to be an issue for this team. Does Vick want to be a backup? His agent, Joel Segal, says that Mike is not ready to start yet. He knows this. But also knows his client will want a starting job again. When asked if it would be with the Eagles, Segal simply replied, “One day at a time”. Vick ‘looks up’ to McNabb, and considers him a ‘hero’. But this kind of reminds me of the Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney dispute about the Beatle’s copyrights. MJ asked Paul if he wanted to “make some hits together”. The former Mop-Top agreed. Eventually, their discussion turned to business and copyrights, and MJ outright told Paul, that someday, he would own the Beatles. And one day, Mike just stepped in and took it.
Which again brings me to the question that has been bothering me since I received that text message: Why? What could possibly be the motivation for bringing the most polarizing figure in the NFL to your team, for a position that is already filled? Why would a team want the massive gong show that WILL occur during every game from demonstrators against animal violence, and the bad publicity it will cause, when it just doesn’t seem necessary?
Public opinion is basically split 50/50 in Philadelphia, once again pointing out the “Love Him or Hate Him” mentality people have towards this guy. If they can’t get more than 70/30 in the town they play in, there is a problem. Andy Reid feels this need to help with people’s rehabilitation after the legal issues his own sons went through. While that is a wonderful sentiment, football isn’t about sentiment, it is about winning. It is about business. And it is about creating a proper culture where young players can be nurtured into great players someday. It is not about distraction, poor public image, and controversy.
Something just doesn’t seem right about this signing. McNabb has enough trust issues with Coach Reid after being benched last year. He had problems in a game against the Baltimore Ravens, going 8 for18 for 54 yards, with 2 interceptions, a fumble and was sacked twice. In the second half, Coach Reid decided to go with Kevin Kolb, still a rookie at that point. McNabb felt betrayed and was outspoken about it. Now the Eagles sneak Mike in under the cover of darkness, and announce his signing. Anybody who thinks that Mike will be playing wide receiver or returning punts for the Eagles is fooling themselves.
Goodell conditionally reinstated Vick, and will consider him for full reinstatement by Week 6 of the season at the latest, and possibly as soon as Week 1. I doubt Goodell will re-instate Mike earlier than week 6 just from public pressure alone. So I think, if I’m Donovan McNabb, I’m playing as hard as possible during the pre-season, and through weeks 1 to 5, auditioning for the chance to start with another team…somewhere around week 7.