- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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So the Atlanta Falcons announced they want to trade Michael Vick. This is news why? Joaquin Phoenix has a better chance of being on "Letterman" again than Vick does being on the 2009 Atlanta roster.
Vick basically became an ex-Falcon the moment he was indicted in July 2007 on dogfighting charges. But just in case he wasn't sure where he stood with the franchise, the Falcons drafted quarterback Matt Ryan with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2008 draft. And in November, Falcons owner Arthur Blank Jr. told me Vick deserves a second chance -- just not with Atlanta.
"I would certainly encourage another owner to look at him in a very serious way," Blank said.
So all the Falcons did last week was put a notary public stamp on the Vick paperwork. It's official -- they're going to try to trade his rights (good luck with that) to another team -- but we knew that anyway. What we don't know is when Vick will rejoin the NFL and what uniform he'll be wearing after the Falcons are forced to cut him later this summer.
The "when" part is easy. At least, it should be.
It's safe to say most of America was grossed out by details of Vick's dogfighting operation. Actually, "operation" makes it sound like some sort of legitimate business. It wasn't a business; it was a dog-killing factory.
But whatever you think of Vick and his actions, he has served most of his original 23-month prison sentence and has done it without him or his lawyers saying a peep. Smart. Very smart.
Vick didn't get Club Fed. He got the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., for most of the sentence. He might be transferred to a halfway house for the final months of the sentence. He lost an estimated $100 million in salary and endorsements. Nobody can accuse Vick of receiving preferential treatment.
"My hope is that now he can help a lot of young people by telling his story," said Frank Beamer, Vick's coach at Virginia Tech. "He had it all, made a terrible mistake and lost it all. But he worked hard to get back on his feet. Think of how many young people can learn from his experience."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said he'll examine Vick's upcoming reinstatement request when all the legal issues are completed. Fair enough. But Blank is right: Vick has earned a second chance. Unless he says something ridiculously stupid during his meeting with Goodell ("No more dogfighting for me, sir. From now on, just cat-mauling."), the commish should approve his return to the league.
Once Vick is reinstated it becomes a matter of money and risk/reward.
First the money.
Blank signed Vick to a 10-year, $104 million deal that doesn't expire until 2013. Smiles in 2004. Salary cap nightmares in 2009.
Those salary cap hits -- and the instant emergence of Ryan -- are the football reasons the Falcons would happily trade Vick for conditional draft picks. Plus, they're just tired of the drama.
Vick's contract calls for him to receive a $6.43 million bonus and another $9 million in salary in 2009. That still leaves another $45.11 million on the deal. And that's exactly why it would be a stunner if another team traded for Vick and then tried to renegotiate his existing deal. Why bother when you can wait for the Falcons to cut him? Then you sign him to a modest contract (less than $1 million a year) with incentives and do so without giving up any draft choices. Simple.
Not so simple is the risk/reward equation.
No matter when and how this shakes out, someone is going to take a flier on Vick. What he did to those dogs was beyond repugnant and grotesque, but as an NFL owner you have to ask yourself four questions:
Has Vick paid his debt to society?
Personally, I would have sentenced him to some quality time at a local Humane Society, where he could have become close, personal friends with a pooper-scooper. But the answer is, yes, Vick has done his time.
How do you convince your team's fans that you're not a bargain-basement creep by signing Vick?
You can't. Because the truth is, you're getting Vick at a huge discount. And no matter how much of the decision involves actual compassion toward Vick, some people will never forgive him, or you.
Do you believe in Vick?
Blank thought he knew Vick and look what happened.
"With Michael, when Michael was in Atlanta, everything was pretty good," Blank told me. "When he disappeared, that's when trouble began."
Taking the leap of faith means Vick has to be leaping with you. But remember what he said after pleading guilty to those dogfighting charges: "I will redeem myself. I have to."
But there are no guarantees. Just ask Blank.
Can he still play?
Vick last took an NFL snap on Dec. 31, 2006, against the Philadelphia Eagles. He'll be 29 by the time he's supposed to be released from custody in July. He could miss substantial time, if not all, of training camp. He's a career 53.8 percent passer and has never done better than 56.4 percent.
But in 2006, he rushed for 1,039 yards and threw for 20 touchdowns and 2,474 yards. And who's to say you couldn't put him as a slot receiver, or have him run your version of the Wildcat offense or make him a kickoff or punt returner?
Vick isn't going to end up in his old division, the NFC South. But I'd look long and hard at Vick if I were the Seattle Seahawks (former Falcons head coach Jim Mora succeeds Mike Holmgren), the St. Louis Rams (Vick on artificial turf? And guess who was an Eagles defensive assistant in what turned out to be Vick's last game as a Falcon? New Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo.), the San Francisco 49ers (think coach Mike Singletary could provide some structure?), the Minnesota Vikings (why go with a Vick knockoff -- Tarvaris Jackson -- when you can have the real Vick?) or the Chicago Bears (the Lovie Smith smother-you-with-support factor, plus the Bears need playmakers and aren't necessarily sold on quarterback Kyle Orton).
Vick will get his second chance. Does he waste it as Adam (Pacman) Jones did? Or does he make good on his promise? After all, redemption can be a beautiful thing.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The NFL should approve Michael Vick's return to the league. Once Vick is reinstated, it's up to 31 NFL owners to consider the money, risk and reward.