Falcons distancing themselves from Vick

Even though Michael Vick is innocent until proven guilty, he's clearly fallen out of favor with the Falcons' front office, writes John Clayton.

Updated: July 24, 2007, 7:07 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Falcons owner Arthur Blank and general manager Rich McKay spoke extensively Tuesday about quarterback Michael Vick, and the tone of the news conference was in past tense.

Though innocent until proven guilty, Vick, the face of the Falcons' franchise, is on the outside looking in. His days as a Falcon appear to be numbered. Blank, McKay and the Falcons are ready to move on while Vick fights his dogfighting case in a federal courtroom in Richmond, Va. Blank drafted the language of a four-game suspension but didn't serve it because commissioner Roger Goodell stepped in and put Vick's status on hold.

For years, Blank and entire Falcons organization stood behind Vick with zeal. Vick was exciting. He filled the Georgia Dome with fans. Blank rewarded him with a $130 million contract extension with a belief that Vick's magic legs and powerful arm could carry the organization to the Super Bowl.

That Blank was willing to suspend him for four games even before Vick registers a plea to his federal indictment was telling. The one-time leader of the Falcons' offense is no longer in a position to lead. He was the toast of Atlanta. Now, he's toast. To regain his standing with the organization, he'll have to fight and defeat these charges and then try to fight his way back on the roster.

Imagine the anger of the owner, flying back from an African vacation, when he learned the details of Vick's indictment. The crime of dogfighting is so disgusting and embarrassing that the front office spent days studying ways to separate itself from Vick instead of embracing him. Blank and McKay studied the concepts of just releasing him. They settled on suspending him.

Blank didn't want to give Vick a paid leave of absence. To potentially pay Vick $6 million and then learn he is guilty didn't work for an owner who has pride in the businesses he owns. If anything, the Falcons might look to reclaim some of the money he's been paid.

Understand that the decision by Goodell to order Vick out of camp was a compromise mutually worked out between the NFLPA, the league and the Falcons. The Falcons decided to keep him off the field as long as they could. Rules mandate team suspensions can't be longer than four games. Blank wanted the max.

The three parties worked all day Monday to come up with what everyone thought could be an acceptable solution. Credit Goodell with a save in some regards, but what he can't patch is the icy relationship Vick now has with the Falcons. It is likely Goodell will let a good portion of the training camp pass before he lets Vick return.

Anyone thinking Vick will be part of the Falcons this year is living in a fantasy world. It's possible, but odds are building against it. First, he has to clear his name from the dogfighting rap. It's Joey Harrington's team temporarily. Vick remains part of the team, but he's on his own for the time being. John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer