<
>

Falcons owner Blank, former coach Reeves wonder about Vick's future

12/12/2007 - NFL Michael Vick Atlanta Falcons + more

ATLANTA -- Michael Vick knows where he'll be spending most
of the next two years, locked away in a federal prison, doing his
time for dogfighting.

Once he's a free man -- probably in the summer of 2009, assuming
he gets time off for good behavior -- what comes next?

Will NFL commissioner Roger Goodell lift Vick's indefinite
suspension? How many seasons will the quarterback miss beyond this
year and next, which are a given? Will another team be willing to
take a chance on Vick? If he does get back on the field, will he
still be the same electrifying player? Will he even be a
quarterback?

"No one knows," said Dan Reeves, who was Vick's first pro
coach with the Atlanta Falcons. "A lot depends on him and what he
does with these next two years. I don't know if anybody knows
what's going to happen. Either he comes out a better person or he
comes out a bitter person."

Reeves is right. It's impossible to predict what might happen
two years from now, after Vick has served the 23-month sentence
imposed Monday by a federal judge in Richmond, Va.

Most seem to believe Vick will at least get a second chance in
the NFL, assuming he keeps his nose clean in prison and comes out
with the proper amount of remorse for taking part in a gruesome
dogfighting ring.

But one thing seems certain: Vick won't get his second chance
with the Falcons.

The team kept him on the roster only while it pursues efforts to
recover nearly $20 million in bonus money. The Falcons already won
the first round of the legal fight, which has now gone to a federal
judge in Minnesota.

Owner Arthur Blank, who gave Vick what was then the richest
contract in NFL history near the end of the 2005 season, sounded as
though the Falcons are moving on without any plans for bringing
back No. 7.

"I would never use the work 'never,'" Blank said in an
interview broadcast over the team's Web site. "I would say there's
always a chance. But quite candidly, we as an organization, as a
football team, we have to look forward. We have to go forward
assuming Michael will not be back."

Blank predicts Vick will miss three full seasons. After all, the
quarterback still faces state charges in Virginia that could mean
more time behind bars. And Goodell has not indicated when he will
lift the suspension, which could run longer than any prison
sentences.

"If Michael makes a mistake and eats fried chicken and French
fries in prison every day and comes out at 250 pounds, he's not
going to be able to play football," Blank said. "How he's able to
keep himself in shape, stay athletically tuned and mentally tuned,
I don't know."

Blank has taken some heat for his would-be-diet remark, but the Falcons moved to downplay it Tuesday.

"Anybody who knows Arthur Blank and his impeccable reputation in the sports and business world would dismiss this quickly," said Reggie Roberts, the Falcons' vice president of football communications. "This was an innocuous comment in the context of Michael Vick's conditioning. Blank was trying to convey that Vick needed to stay in shape in order to possibly return to the NFL. He could have mentioned pasta or any other high calorie or fatty food.

"To suggest otherwise, to make more of this that it is, to make this this a racial comment is simply preposterous."

But Reeves, who coached Vick from 2001-03, sees no reason why he
can't return. Even if he misses three full years, he only would be
30 entering the 2010 season.

"I don't think he would lose his ability to throw the
football," Reeves said. "It's sort of like riding a bicycle. Once
you learn how to throw the football, you know how to throw the
football."

But Gil Brandt, who helped assemble the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty,
wonders if Vick might be better suited for another position when he
comes out of prison. Perhaps wide receiver. Or maybe a slash-type
player who lines up all over the field.

"If you're a student and you drop out of school for two or
three years, it's really hard to reacquire the study habits that
make you successful," Brandt said. "I don't think there's any
question, whether it's 2009 or 2010, that somebody will take a
chance on him. I'm not sure that somebody will take a chance on him
as a quarterback. I think it would be a lot easier for him to come
back at a different position."

Looking back to World War II, when athletes went off to fight
just like everyone else, Brandt remembers players such as 1940
Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon appearing to lose a step or two
once they resumed their football careers.

Although Brandt doesn't think a long layoff would be nearly as
devastating these days because of improved training methods, he
figures it will be impossible for Vick to maintain the same level
of conditioning in a federal prison that he did while playing
football.

"That's a huge concern," Brandt said. "While they do
everything possible to provide people with exercise facilities in
prison, when you talk about the facilities they have as opposed to
a facility a team like the Falcons has, it's no comparison."

If Vick is cleared to play again, he'll have to deal with
jeering fans and the constant burden of being the guy who fought
and killed dogs. Any team that signs him knows he'll be a huge
distraction, which might mitigate the enormous talent he brings to
the field.

Off the field, Vick's future seems more certain. He'll never
again have major companies lining up to pay him to endorse their
products. It's hard to envision any team giving Vick another
contact worth more than $100 million.

"There's no way he'll ever be a high-profile corporate
spokesperson ever again," said Steve Rosner, who runs New
Jersey-based 16W Marketing and counts former NFL players Boomer
Esiason, Phil Simms, Cris Collinsworth and Howie Long among his
clients.

Vick already has lost his endorsement deals, which some
estimates put as high as $50 million. Rosner disputed that figure,
estimating Vick made between $2 million and $5 million a year in
endorsements, a level he'll never reach again. His only hope for
boosting any future income would be as a secondary player in
memorabilia, trading cards, shoes and perhaps video games.

"There are ways to utilize somebody's name and likeness and for
him to generate revenue without being the main focus on any
marketing campaign," Rosner said. "I call them tools-of-the-trade
deals."

Vick definitely will lose the final $71 million of his Falcons
contract, he might have to repay the team nearly $20 million and
he's been ordered to put up nearly $1 million to care for the dogs
that survived his grisly dogfighting operation. He's also being
sued by three banks for allegedly defaulting on nearly $6 million
in loans.

With his financial house in shambles, Vick will definitely be
eager to resume the one job that would pay him more than anything
else he might do.

"He's young enough," Reeves said. "If he's given the
opportunity and he's able to make the most out of it, I wouldn't
bet against him."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.