While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to reach a conclusion on a conditional reinstatement of Michael Vick, sources maintain that Goodell is expected to suspend Vick for the start of the 2009 season.
One source has pegged the likely suspension at four games, but another source said Goodell is contemplating something "between a two-to-six-game suspension" and reaffirmed that a decision is expected no later than next week, possibly by Monday.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Thursday night: "This is a serious matter. We are engaging in a careful and thoughtful process and no decisions have been made."
During the three-hour-plus meeting that occurred Wednesday in New Jersey, Goodell told Vick one of his greatest concerns was the former Falcons quarterback's lifestyle prior to his prison confinement, including marijuana use, according to a source. Vick had a positive test for marijuana administered by federal authorities prior to his imprisonment, and one of the conditions of his NFL reinstatement will include evaluation and random urine testing for banned substances.
A conditional reinstatement would allow Vick to attend training camp if he signs with a team; thus far, sources say no team has expressed interest. A suspension would bring clarity for Vick and teams that might be privately discussing the merits of signing the quarterback.
Vick has missed two NFL seasons: He was indefinitely suspended on Aug. 24, 2007 by Goodell after the quarterback entered a guilty plea for his involvement in a criminal dogfighting enterprise.
League sources also pointed out that Vick's transgressions included lying to federal authorities, as well as to Goodell, and that gambling was an aspect of his six-year dogfighting enterprise.
Consequently, NFL security will head all monitoring of Vick's activities, as opposed to any team security department, sources said.
Furthermore, a source reasoned, Goodell's pending disciplinary action would ensure that Vick's presence as an active player is not the focal point of media coverage as the NFL opens the 2009 season.
While Vick works himself into an acceptable football level of physical fitness under performance trainer Tom Shaw, one team executive said Vick's agent, Joel Segal, has been aggressive in communicating with clubs while showing public restraint. Vick technically has been free to sign with any NFL club since the Falcons released him on June 12 and he was released from federal custody Monday. But Segal has yet to find any takers.
If Vick is not signed by an NFL team, he will have an option to sign with the upstart United Football League, set to begin play in October and finish its inaugural season on Thanksgiving weekend. Under UFL policy, he would be free to sign with the NFL once the UFL season ends.
While UFL commissioner Michael Huyghue has not cleared Vick to sign with his league, the quarterback's rights have been assigned to Orlando, coached by former Saints coach Jim Haslett.
While Huyghue is deferring to Goodell even though there is no business partnership with the NFL, sources say the UFL has discussed an offer to Vick in excess of $1 million -- possibly in the $1.5 million range -- to play a six- or seven-game season. That would make him easily the highest-paid player in the league. Vick may "slow play" his ultimate decision with the UFL to await an NFL opportunity, sources said.
One influence that could favor the UFL option is that Vick is responsible to creditors under a bankruptcy plan. One of those creditors is the Falcons, who reached a settlement between $3.75 million and $7.5 million on dispute over a default in his contract, the exact terms pending a ruling in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Under NFL precedent, it is believed that Vick's pending league suspension would be credited at the beginning of the 2009 season, regardless of whether he has signed with an NFL team.
Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.