The case for the Eagles selling high on Michael Vick


By Justin Adkins:

With Michael Vick winning the AP Comeback Player of the Year award and fumes of the latest Partygate controversy fading away, the Eagles need to buckle down and decide once and for all the future at the quarterack position, lockout be damned.

The team is in the nearly unheard position of having two possibly championship-level starting quarterbacks in Vick and Kevin Kolb.  Kolb, the anointed chosen one, picked out of nowhere to the consternation of a caught-off-guard fanbase, a player who then morphed into a rallying point for the masses tired of the same old, same old from former starter Donovan McNabb.  Vick, the fallen star looking to redeem his past misdeeds and crawl out of the bowels of bankruptcy.  Both could potentially lead this team effectively for a good part of this new decade.

Now, faced with the uncertain future of both quarterbacks’ contract situations as well as labor unrest, the Eagles are in position to cement their commitment to the next era of Philadelphia football.

The likely choice is Vick, who rocketed back to superstar status this past season with performances that were both jaw dropping and unprecedented.  His absolute destruction of the Washington Redskins was a thing of beauty, and those last few minutes that set up DeSean Jackson laying the final smack down on a dazed New York Giants team represented one of the greatest comebacks in Eagles history.

Vick is scheduled to become a free agent at the start of the new league year this March, and assuming that the league and players are smart enough to know that a lockout will hurt all involved, a new collective bargaining agreement will be made before time is up.  As a free agent, Vick is likely to want a contract valuing north of $100 million with probably around $40 or $50 million of it guaranteed.  But before he hits the open market the Eagles will likely have use of the franchise tag, the mechanism that will allow the team to control Vick’s rights for the year while paying him the average of the top five annual quarterback salaries in the NFL.  The risk would be that another team could sign him away but would then have to give up two first-rounds picks for him (highly unlikely considering Vick’s age and injury risk…more on that shortly).  After tagging Vick, the Eagles would also be able to continue to negotiate on a long term deal while they listen to trade offers for Kolb — or they could trade Vick himself.

Despite all of his incredible talents, it’s time to take advantage of Vick’s paramount value and move him to the highest bidder, for both reasons off as well as on the field.

The number one factor against Vick right now is simply his age.  Vick will be 31 this June.  While some may argue that the years he spent in prison for his dog-fighting conviction prevented his body from taking NFL-type abuse, that won’t really matter as nature takes its course, especially when combined with Vick’s roughneck playing style. 

Vick’s phenomenal game is defined as much by his legs as by his arm.  One of the reasons no one expected Vick to succeed this past season was his lackluster performance in the previous one.  Most people recognized that Vick lacked the same burst and explosion that made him elite running the ball, figuring either that he was out of football shape or that possibly Mother Nature had started taking her toll on Vick’s 30-year old body.  The 2010 season proved it was the former, but Mother Nature will not be held at bay too much longer. 

Most quarterbacks can handle losing a step or two as they play into their 30’s, but that’s generally because they didn’t have that many steps to begin with.  A player like Vick whose speed and athleticism define his game cannot afford that same dropoff.  Put it this way — if Vick were a running back, his best hope for a contract would be something in the three year range with minimal guarantees (with bogus dummy years and non-guaranteed dollars added to the end to make it look less crappy).  Really, he’d almost be LaDainian Tomlinson, once the best of the best and now in danger of getting cut by the Jets despite being just 31 and only due about $2.5 million this coming season.  The mighty fall quickly at the NFL’s skill positions.

Even if Vick were 5 years younger, his style of play ensures that he will be getting injured regularly.  The plus side is he’s always looking to make plays and gain maximum yardage but the down side is that he constantly leaves himself open for at best debilitating, game changing collisions and at worst hits that could end his season or even career.  The cracked ribs he suffered in the first Washington game put him on the shelf for two games.  The repeated hits he took late in the season led to him playing with injuries that some claim robbed him of effectiveness. 

Vick himself admits he refuses to slide.  At face value this can be seen as a kind of tough guy badge of courage, but ultimately it’s just poor judgment, something Vick has always been known for.  A slide in the face of a crushing hit is not a sign of weakness, it’s smart football, something Vick has never been known for.

The Eagles could be better served going with a younger, if less dynamic, option overall in Kevin Kolb.  In limited starts, Kolb has flashed signs of brilliance, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300+ yards in his first two starts and overall demonstrating the ability that Reid recognized back in the 2007 draft when Kolb was selected as McNabb’s heir apparent.  Yes, the Eagles would be giving up the added dimension of incredible scrambling ability (not to mention the cannon arm) by going with Kolb over Vick, but the tradeoff to youth and durability (fluke concussion aside) is worth it — Kolb is no clipboard holding jobber with no talent, skills, or future.  And while Kolb may never outrun a secondary or overthrow DeSean, he’s quick and agile enough and has plenty of arm strength.  His best years are right now, and his playing style will likely keep him on the field more consistently than the reckless Vick.

Vick’s looming mortality, brought on by both age and the rigors of playing football, should be enough to convince most that signing him long term is a potentially back-breaking risk, but those aren’t the only factors at play here.

Let’s revisit that historic comeback at the New Meadowlands.  Until the Giants sleep-walked through those final eight minutes, Vick was mediocre at best.  If the Giants had actually played for 60 minutes, that game would have gone down as an awful loss to a division rival rather than a rally for the ages.  Vick has at times looked decisive and accurate with the ball, but at others he’s looked rushed, unsure, and been flat out ineffective.  The Giants showed that Vick had weaknesses and could be beat up.

That led in to the disastrous loss against the Minnesota Vikings, where the Eagles blew their shot at the two seed in the playoffs and the first round bye that goes with it.  Vick was harassed all night, showing an inability to react to the blitz , holding the ball too long or failing to go through his progressions and allowing the pressure to disrupt the timing of the play or to break it down entirely.  The old Vick seemed to reappear when the new Vick was questioned after the game about  whether he needs to do a better job making reads and responding to the blitz:

“I don’t have to do nothing.”

Despite the Giants and Vikings demonstrating that Vick was beatable, Vick didn’t feel like he needed to turn up his game or learn from his struggles.  And that attitude was carried into the playoff game against the Packers, a matchup that loomed large for both the Eagles as a team and Vick as a supposedly new and improved quarterback.

Against Green Bay, Vick again performed hot and cold, at times making plays while continuing to struggle with his progressions in the face of pressure.  The failed pass to the end zone that resulted in a game-ending interception was pretty much a defining moment for Vick and the Eagles.  He had a chance to spike the ball with about 40 seconds left, giving the Eagles time to make a few plays and find the end zone.  Instead, he called a play on his own, an “all go” where all receivers streak.  It was a knee-jerk, unnecessarily all-or-nothing play that failed horribly.  Even one of his most vocal supporters, wide receiver DeSean Jackson, couldn’t understand the thought process behind it.

“I just felt, the last couple of plays, we just kind of rushed it,” Jackson said. “We didn’t really have to rush it. We had 40 seconds, or whatever. We could have downed the ball and regrouped and just come back and not rushed it.” 

Vick disagreed, defiantly standing by his decision.

“I can honestly say, if I had to do it all over again, I’d probably do the same thing,” Vick said.

Vick’s defiance was clear just this past week with him being linked to more than one Super Bowl-themed party.  Yes, more than one.  First it was the ultra-high security affair promising “The Michael Vick Experience”, and then a supposedly Vegas-style soiree that pretty much all of the pandering media types have chosen to ignore.  And of course after the outcry over the stupidity of Vick’s decision to be involved with these affairs, the spin doctoring came out in force, floating the unlikely story that Vick not only wasn’t planning on going to these parties but had only limited knowledge of them even being thrown.  Anyone who believes that has their head stuck so far in the sand regarding Vick that it wouldn’t matter what the guy did.

And then there’s the off field concerns that will follow Vick for not only the rest of his career but the remainder of his life.  With his dogfighting operation, Vick engaged in actions that are so heinous and evil that they are nearly impossible to comprehend, going way beyond the simple act of making animals fight each other.  He intentionally tortured them, electrocuting, drowning, hanging, and even slamming to the ground repeatedly those who failed to fight effectively. 

Let’s be clear, he wasn’t making mistakes — the catch-all buzz word for those who get caught.  Mistakes are ‘accidentally’ omitting income from your tax return or leaving the toilet seat up.  Donte Stallworth deciding to drive drunk was a mistake, albeit a tragically immense one.  Yes, he took a man’s life and he should be punished for it, but his actions had no premeditated or malicious intent.  It was a terribly stupid mistake that he has to live the rest of his life, but the only way to compare it to what Vick was doing would be if Donte tied sharp objects to the front of the car and intentionally drove around looking for people to hit, Grand Theft Auto-style. 

Committing unncessary acts of torture over many, many years is not a mistake and no matter how many “I’m sorrys” we get, nothing can change the fact that somewhere within Vick’s mind lives a cruel, vicious monster that could emerge again at any time.  The only mistake he made was getting caught.

And Vick’s defiant nature wasn’t just limited to the football field.  This is a guy who, in the midst of capturing the imagination of the football following world and beyond, publicly whined that he couldn’t have a dog as part of his sentence.
Want to know why you can’t have a dog, Mike?
Here are some excerpts from Bill Plaschke’s November 2010 article in the LA Times:
“Mel [one of the many dogs rescued from Vick’s dogfighting operation] was waiting for his owners to take him outside, but he couldn’t alert them with a bark. He doesn’t bark. He won’t bark. The bark has been beaten out of him.”  “Every time the 4-year-old dog meets a stranger, he goes into convulsions. He staggers back into a wall for protection. He lowers his face and tries to hide. New faces are not new friends, but old terrors.”

“Many people will never get over Vick’s own admissions of unthinkable cruelty to his pit bulls — the strangling, the drowning, the electrocutions, the removal of all the teeth of female dogs who would fight back during mating.”

“Hunter and his wife quickly saw Mel’s scars. The dog wouldn’t bark, wouldn’t show affection, and would spend nearly an hour shaking with each new person who tried to touch him.”

“It turns out that Mel had been a bait dog, thrown into the ring as a sort of sparring partner for the tougher dogs, sometimes even muzzled so he wouldn’t fight back, beaten daily to sap his will. Mel was under constant attack, and couldn’t fight back, and the deep cuts were visible on more than just his fur.”

“”You could see that Michael Vick went to a lot of trouble to make Mel this way,” Hunter said. “When people pet him, I tell them, pet him from under his chin, not over his head. He lives in fear of someone putting their hand over his head.””

If you can read those clips without shuddering, you’re either of stronger constitution than most or you too could apply for a job at Bad Newz Kennels if/when it re-opens.

Here’s another excerpt, this time from an ESPN article detailing the findings of a 17-page report prepared by the USDA’s inspector general-investigations division:

“Michael Vick placed family pet dogs into a ring and his trained pit bulls “caused major injuries” to the pets at Bad Newz Kennels.

The report, dated Aug. 28, 2008, says, “Vick, Peace and Phillips thought it was funny to watch the pit bull dogs belonging to Bad Newz Kennels injure or kill the other dogs.” The report has names and phrases redacted in order to protect the anonymity of certain individuals who cooperated with investigators.

The report also states in mid-April of 2007, Vick, Peace and Phillips hung approximately three dogs who did not perform well in a “rolling session,” which indicates the readiness of a dog to fight. According to the report, the three men hung the dogs “by placing a nylon cord over a 2 X 4 that was nailed to two trees located next to the big shed. They also drowned approximately three dogs by putting the dogs’ heads in a five gallon bucket of water.”

Vick initially told authorities “while he assisted Phillips and Peace in the killing of the dogs, he did not actually kill the dogs,” but “helped Phillips toss several dogs to the side,” according to the report.

However, the report says Vick took back that statement when he failed a polygraph test. “Vick failed the examination as it related to the killing of the dogs in April 2007. Ultimately, Vick recanted his previous statement wherein he said he was not actually involved in the killing of six to eight dogs. … Vick admitted taking part in the actual hanging of the dogs.”

The horror described above, the repeated, remorseless cruelty, isn’t a “mistake” — it’s the basic dictionary-definition of the behavior of a psychopath.  And that’s just a small snippet of the Hostel-esque torture operation Vick masterminded, bank-rolled, and lived almost every day for many, many years.

Of course Vick now claims he is sorry and feels terrible, but one would think that if Vick truly felt remorse the feeling would come with the understanding that he gave up the privilege of owning a dog.  To defiantly complain about this situation even before he secures that huge contract he’s hoping for should be considered yet another glaring red flag, an indication that the Michael Vick Redemption Story is less a journey for forgiveness and more the calculated actions of a man who wants only to get paid and reclaim his former rock star status. 

Another amazing aspect of Vick’s complaint is that he’s not even banned for life from owning a dog, hard as that is to believe after what he did.  The restriction lasts for the length of his probation, so why he chose mid-season to complain is baffling.  It reeks of that same destructive sense of entitlement that has defined Vick his entire athletic career.

All of this puts Eagles fans in a precarious spot.  Acknowledge what he did and find yourself unable to enjoy your football team with Vick at the helm, or cover your eyes and ears, leaving them open only just enough to see the amazing feats accomplished on the field, knowing in the back of your mind that something just doesn’t sit right.  Yes, his football exploits deserve to be cheered, but at what cost?  It’s an intimately personal decision with no easy answer.

For the Eagles, the decision on whether Vick is worth the risk of a long-term contract is one that will define the entire organization well into the decade.  Vick’s age and injury concerns as well as the numerous red flags involving his personality make for no easy solution.  

Ultimately, the labor situation may make a trade of either quarterback a non-feasible option, but if the opportunity arises Vick needs to be foisted off on the first team willing to meet the Eagles likely exorbitant asking price.  The NFL is a business not a reclamation or rehab center, and it would be smart business to move on from Vick before it’s too late.

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