Falcons had planned to suspend Vick before NFL told them to hold off
ATLANTA -- Horrified by the dogfighting allegations against their star player, the Atlanta Falcons planned to suspend quarterback Michael Vick for four games until the NFL asked them to hold off while the league conducts its own investigation.
What remains unclear: Has Vick played his final game for Atlanta?
"This sort of behavior is really horrific," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Tuesday, the team's first public comment since Vick was indicted last week. "This is certainly not the player or the person that I knew the last six years."
The Falcons said they have discussed cutting Vick and seemed to signal he will miss at least a fourth of the season even if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doesn't impose his own punishment against the quarterback, indicted on federal charges of sponsoring a dogfighting operation.
Most tellingly, Blank said he would encourage Vick to give up any thoughts of playing while the case is pending -- even if it means sitting out the entire season. He is scheduled to be arraigned in Richmond, Va., on Thursday, the same day the Falcons open training camp.
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"This is not about playing football in 2007," said Blank, who was joined at a news conference by general manager Rich McKay and new coach Bobby Petrino. "This is a very difficult process he'll be going through over the next couple of months. It's very difficult to do that and focus on football at the same time."
Goodell weighed in on Vick's case during a news conference with NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw in Washington, where the two discussed an alliance to help former players.
"Let me make it very clear that the National Football League is very disappointed that Michael put himself in this position," Goodell said. "In no way do we think that dogfighting or anything related to dogfighting is acceptable. We think it's despicable, frankly."
As for why he blocked an immediate suspension against Vick, Goodell said the league needed more time to study an indictment that is just a week old.
"We're looking at this from the long term," he said. "We understand how our fans are reacting to this. It is very emotional for all of us. But we have to remember that we are still at a state where these are charges. These are allegations."
Under the league's collective bargaining agreement, a team can impose a four-game suspension for detrimental conduct. The league's new conduct policy allows Goodell to hand down a stiffer penalty.
"Prior to this, we were pursuing the maximum discipline, which is a four-game suspension," Blank said. "We had gone so far as to draft the letter. But the commissioner asked us not to take action until they completed their review."
Clearly, the Falcons did not want to begin training camp with a quarterback who was under federal indictment, even though he led them to the NFC Championship Game during the 2004 season and last year became the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards.
"There is certainly a reasonable potential that he's going to miss part -- a significant part -- of the regular season," Blank said.
In April, investigators raiding a home owned by Vick in rural Virginia allegedly found evidence of dogfighting, include dozens of pit bulls, bloodstained carpeting, treadmills rigged up for training, veterinary supplies and "breaking sticks" used to pry a dog's jaw apart.
At first, Vick denied any connection to the house, saying he never lived there and rarely visited. He blamed friends and family members for taking advantage of his generosity, an explanation that he apparently gave Goodell when the two held an impromptu meeting in New York during the draft.
Since then, Vick has denied any comment on the case.
Blank said he is deeply disturbed by the allegations, making a point to say that he counted Vick's name more than 50 times in the 18-page indictment. Vick and three associates are accused of killing dogs if they weren't strong enough to fight, with gruesome methods that included hanging, drowning, shooting and electrocution.
"There was no indication, no signs, no whispers that Michael could be involved in any of this kind of behavior," McKay said.
In 2004, the Falcons signed Vick to the richest contract in NFL history at the time, a 10-year extension worth approximately $130 million. At the time, Blank said the deal would allow Vick to play his entire career in Atlanta.
Now, there's a distinct possibility that Vick's career with the Falcons is over, even though the team would take a debilitating salary cap hit over the next two years if he's released.
Vick's salary this season is $6 million.
PETA -- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- kept up its pressure on the Falcons, sending three people to protest outside the headquarters of Blank's foundation, where the news conference was held. One of them carried a sign, "Sack Vick."
PETA, which had planned to stage a protest outside Falcons camp on Thursday, said Tuesday it was satisfied with the Falcons' stance and it was suspending its protest plans.
"Because of the Falcons' willingness to suspend Vick, PETA is canceling plans to protest outside the Falcons' training camp on Thursday," PETA said in a statement. PETA said it will instead protest outside a NikeTown store in Atlanta on Thursday and other Nike stores around the country to protest the shoe company's corporate partnership with Vick.
Joey Harrington goes into camp as Atlanta's starting quarterback. His career record as a starter (23-43) hardly makes him a promising alternative, especially for a team that hired Petrino specifically because it felt he could bring out Vick's full potential.
"This is a big obstacle, there's no question about that," Petrino said.
Since the end of last season, Goodell has used the new conduct policy to suspend Adam "Pacman" Jones of the Tennessee Titans for the entire 2007 season. Chris Henry of Cincinnati and former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson were given eight-game suspensions for various run-ins with the law.
The commissioner isn't ready to impose sanctions on Vick.
Not yet anyway.
"I would like to, before any decisions are made about the futures of any player, understand the facts as best as possible," Goodell said. "I thought it was in our best interest to make sure we did do that."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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VICK SENTENCED TO 23 MONTHS
Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and three years' probation for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy. The suspended Falcons quarterback is looking at a scheduled release of July 2009. Story
Update• GM: Falcons will attempt to trade Vick
• Lawyer: Vick might move to halfway house
• Former Vick estate fails to sell again
• Vick house fails to sell at auction
• Vick files for bankruptcy protection
• Prosecutor: Vick's Virginia trial can wait
• Vick ordered to repay Canadian bank $2.4 million
• Judge denies NFL motion to reverse Vick ruling
• Report: Vick not playing organized football in jail
• Report: Vick passes time with prison-yard football
• Vick's state dogfighting trial to begin June 27
• Munson: Vick yet to enter drug treatment
The sentence• Vick sent to Kansas to serve rest of sentence
• Vick asked judge for leniency before sentencing
• Vick sentenced to 23 months | Document (pdf)
• Poll: What do you think? | What they're saying
• Clayton: Sentence puts career in jeopardy
• Munson: Tough sentence by displeased judge
• Teammates show support at Falcons game
• Can Vick return to playing in NFL?
• Pasquarelli: No longer top of mind in Atlanta
• Last Vick co-defendant sentenced
• Podcasts : Cossack | Schlereth | Munson/Naqi | Pasquarelli
• Chat wrap: David Cornwell
Post Plea• NFL wants court to reverse Vick bonus ruling
• Victory for Vick: QB can keep $20 million bonus
• Fifth defendant in Vick case receives probation
• Vick's house for sale for $1.1M
• Some Falcons to visit Vick in prison
• PETA unveils new e-card
• Former Virginia estate fails to sell at auction
• Out of Falcons' sight, almost out of mind
• Judge's casework offers look at possible sentence
• Remaining dogs placed with rescue groups
• Source: Feds may push judge to up sentence
• NFLPA argues Vick should not lose roster bonus
• Vick co-defendants get 18, 21 months in prison
• Vick agrees to put up almost $1M for dogs' care
• Vick given April trial date on state charges
• Vick surrenders to begin serving sentence early
• Home at center of Vick dogfighting scandal sold
• Vick fires one of his lawyers in dogfighting case
• Man who sold Vick pit bull pleads guilty
• Man connected to Vick dogfight ring pleads guilty
• Third bank sues Vick, claims he defaulted on loan
• Arbiter: Falcons have right to reclaim bonuses
• PETA: Vick had class on animal cruelty
• Evaluations show 48 of Vick's dogs placeable
• Vick tests positive for marijuana
• Vick supporters turn out for town meeting
• Vick's apology notes fetch $10.2K at auction
Vick's Plea/NFL Suspension• Vick pleads guilty to federal dogfighting charge
• The plea (PDF) | Statement of facts (PDF)
• Vick's statement: Watch it | Read it
• Roger Cossack explains plea deal
• Poll: Vick should be banned
• Va. Tech, Beamer continue to support Vick
• Vick supporters drown out protesters
• NFL suspends Vick indefinitely | Goodell (PDF)
• Chris Mortensen on Vick's suspension
• Vick files plea agreement admitting to dogfighting
Indictment• Marbury's about-face: Vick 'is 100 percent wrong'
• National NAACP: Vick 'not a victim' | Audio
• Atlanta NAACP: Vick should be allowed to return
• Falcons come to terms with 'ex-teammate'
• Vick timeline | What they're saying
• Helyar: Even Atlanta turns against Vick
• Goodell: Vick not overshadowing season
• Vick co-defendant pleads guilty to charges
• Tony Taylor: Summary of Facts | Plea agreement
• Hometown residents stand by Vick
• Falcons had planned to suspend Vick
• Commish tells Vick to avoid camp
• Vick indicted | The indictment (pdf) | Civil arrest warrant (pdf)
Town Hall meeting• Town Hall chat wrap: Chadiha
Previous columns/analysis• Munson: Q&A on Vick reporting to prison early
• Munson: Looking at Judge Hudson
• Vick's high school learning lessons
• Bryant: Confounded by race issue
• Munson: Q&A about local indictment
• Munson: Next focus for Vick is length of sentence
• Schlabach: Vick an afterthought on VT campus
• Chadiha: Vick not running from truth
• Hill: Coverage means bigger issues ignored
• Wojciechowski: Pay attention to the fallen star
• Bryant: Vick's plea deal comes with baggage
• Bryant: In failing Vick, NFLPA fails itself
• Munson: Vick plea means surrender
• Forde: Vick's epic fall
• Pasquarelli: Major blow for Falcons
• Chadiha: Lots of lessons to be learned
• Wojciechowski: Punishment with teeth
• Easterbrook: Little sympathy?
• Clayton: Vick's NFL future might be bleak
• E-Ticket: A history of mistrust
• Chadiha: Vick's bad choices
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