NFL conditionally reinstates Michael Vick
Michael Vick, sidelined from pro football for two years after a dogfighting scandal, has received a conditional reinstatement from the NFL, clearing the way for him to return this season.
But a question remains: Which team is ready to step up and sign the disgraced quarterback?
That’s the next step after Monday’s news that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has lifted the indefinite suspension of Vick in hopes of granting him full reinstatement by Week 6 at the latest, and possibly earlier.
“I have thought about every alternative,” Goodell said in a conference call.
“But I think this gives him the best chance for success. We are not looking for a failure here, we are looking to see a young man succeed.”
The announcement came a week after Vick completed his federal sentence, which lasted 20 months with the first 18 in prison and the last two under home confinement in Hampton, Va.
Vick, 29, once among the richest and most recognizable players in the game, has been courted by the start-up United Football League but, at least publicly, has yet to attract interest from NFL suitors.
“There are two ways of looking at it,” said an NFL team personnel executive who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the interests of his franchise. “You’re going to get a guy for minimum [salary] who was one of the highest-paid players in the league . . . But there’s also so much to deal with during the season. To have to deal with that distraction is a nightmare.”
Exactly what that distraction would entail is unclear. Two years ago, Vick and the Atlanta Falcons were the focus of national scorn and massive protests by animal-rights activists. Although he initially denied any involvement in dogfighting, Vick eventually admitted to killing under-performing animals in various ways, including drowning, hanging, electrocution and slamming their bodies to the ground.
In recent months, Vick met in prison and in his home with Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States. Pacelle said Vick has made a commitment to participate in the group’s anti-dogfighting campaign, although the public appearances part of that commitment has been delayed because the conditions of Vick’s parole limit his ability to travel. (Those restrictions are not as rigid when they concern Vick pursuing his career.)
Asked whether he would expect protests at games if or when Vick returns, Pacelle said: “I can’t predict. I think a lot of it will be determined by how he engages with the anti-dogfighting programs with his statements and actions that he takes from this point forward.
“Very few people accept what he did. But a lot of people will be forgiving if he helps combat the problem.”
The issue of whether Vick should be allowed to return has long divided the sports world, with some people saying he should be banned for life, and others saying that his federal sentence was more than adequate punishment.
“I do recognize that some will never forgive him for what he did,” Goodell said. “I hope that the public will have a chance to understand his position, as I have.”
Under the reinstatement plan, Vick is free to sign with a team immediately and participate in preseason practices, workouts and meetings, and play in that club’s final two exhibition games. He could receive full reinstatement at any point, but Goodell said he would grant that by the weekend of Oct. 18-19 at the latest, provided Vick lives up to his end of the agreement.
In addition, retired coach Tony Dungy has agreed to continue to work with Vick as an advisor and mentor. Goodell plans to periodically evaluate Vick’s progress during the transitional period before the player is reinstated.
In a letter to Vick, Goodell wrote: “My decision at that time 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.”
The commissioner added: “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.”
In a statement released by his agent, Vick thanked Goodell for the reinstatement and said he realizes playing in the NFL is a privilege and not a right.
“As you can imagine, the last two years have given me time to re-evaluate my life, mature as an individual and fully understand the terrible mistakes I have made in the past and what type of life I must lead moving forward,” Vick said in the statement.
So where might he land? There’s speculation in league circles that interested teams could include those with powerful coaches or executives such as New England (Bill Belichick) or Miami (Bill Parcells), or teams willing to go to great lengths to put people in the stands, among them Oakland, Cincinnati and Buffalo.
The personnel executive who spoke on condition of anonymity said Vick is especially valuable in light of so many average No. 1 quarterbacks and subpar backups. He could also be extremely effective in the popular Wildcat scheme, when a quarterback slides over to receiver and a running back takes the snap from center.
“He’d be ideal in a Wildcat,” the executive said. “Most of these Wildcat guys are running backs. To have a guy that can throw adds another dimension.”
It remains to be seen, of course, how willing teams are to step forward and give him an opportunity.
As Pacelle said: “The script is still to be written on this.”
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Where Vick could end up
Times NFL writer Sam Farmer handicaps possible destinations for conditionally reinstated Michael Vick:
New England: With three Lombardi Trophies, Bill Belichick pretty much has carte blanche. Vick could be a tremendous backup to Tom Brady, allowing the Patriots to return a Wildcat whomping to Miami in a big way. The Krafts have had big success with controversial players before -- think Corey Dillon and Randy Moss.
Miami: Bill Parcells has never thought twice about ruffling feathers, so he’s not going to be scared off by any friction. But the Dolphins just drafted a run-pass threat in West Virginia quarterback Pat White.
Oakland: Football’s last-chance saloon always comes to mind when a speedy but controversial player hits the open market. The Raiders need to sell tickets, too. Every other player on their roster is a quarterback, though, and this isn’t as obvious a fit as it might appear to be.
Jacksonville: If there’s an NFL witness-protection program, it’s the Jaguars. Maybe more than anywhere, Vick could fly under the radar in Jacksonville, where ticket sales are as slow as he is fast. Also, starting quarterback David Garrard is on shaky ground after a so-so season.
Buffalo: Like the Jaguars, the Bills have had to jump through hoops to sell tickets, and the Terrell Owens signing is the latest example of that. Owens came out this week staunchly in favor of Vick, even suggesting that Roger Goodell spend some time in prison to see how it feels.
Cincinnati: Seeing as HBO’s “Hard Knocks” will be following the Bengals this summer, a Vick signing would really spice up the footage. The Bengals might be very cautious when it comes to making a move like that, and not just because they already have Carson Palmer. They were stung by the fallout in the wake of the string of arrests a few years ago.
San Francisco: Shaun Hill and Alex Smith will be battling for the starting quarterback job, but neither option is overly enticing. Mike Singletary could be a great role model and mentor for Vick, and is the type of coach who’s stern but believes in second chances.
Washington: The Redskins, who aren’t enthralled with Jason Campbell, made a big play for Jay Cutler this off-season. Owner Dan Snyder takes a fantasy-football approach to building a roster, and Vick can be an impressive playmaker.