Michael Vick's football career is over. That seems to be something of an early consensus among the commentariat after the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback was sentenced to 23 months in prison Monday on dog-fighting charges.
I wouldn't be so quick about that.
The best-case scenario has Vick released in the summer of 2009 and coming back to play that season at the age of 29, having missed two years. But nothing particularly surprising has to happen to keep him from even trying to make an NFL team for a year or two beyond that.
He could fail to get up to 15 percent of his time off for good behavior, which would stretch his sentence well into the 2009 season, probably too far in for him to hook on with a team. This is a guy who smoked marijuana while awaiting sentencing, knowing he'd be drug-tested. He's not a great bet to stay on good behavior for the next 22 months.
State charges in Virginia could result in an additional sentence that doesn't run concurrently with his federal time, which would mean he'd be incarcerated beyond the 2009 season. And Vick remains under an indefinite suspension by the NFL that might or might not be lifted once he finishes his prison time.
My bet would be that commissioner Roger Goodell extends that suspension for eight games, half a season, beyond Vick's release from prison. It's very likely, one way or another, that Vick won't even get a crack at coming back until 2010, when he's 30 and he has missed three seasons, and possible he won't get a chance till later than that.
But he'll get that chance. Oh, yes he will. Teams are that desperate to find players who can help them. Always.
A lot of experts filled a lot of TV and radio time Monday talking about how teams wouldn't want to bother with the public relations nightmare of signing Vick, how his skills will deteriorate in prison, how he never developed into a good quarterback anyway and the NFL is becoming more and more of a passer's league, one where Vick's skills would have been valued less and less even if he weren't going to spend his prime athletic years in the hoosegow.
But let's not listen to the people filling time on TV and radio. I've filled time on TV and radio and I'm an idiot. Let's listen to a couple of guys who hire and fire players for NFL teams.
"I never like to close the book on somebody," Buffalo Bills general manager Marv Levy told USA Today. "If indeed there is a turnaround in the way he approaches things, with his attitude ... he has an uphill battle. What he did was wrong, unquestionably. The decision on him will come from the league office. I'll leave that determination to them. But I hope he gets a chance to reclaim something. He is a talent."
In the same story, Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian -- who as general manager of the Bills hired Levy as coach in 1986 -- said, "Everyone has the right to reclaim their lives after they repay their debt to society. Having said all that, it's an issue for the commissioner to decide."
Translation: If the commissioner says no, fine. Otherwise, we're going to bring the guy into camp and have a look.
It's true that Vick won't make much of a quarterback prospect when he's pushing 30 and three or more years removed from his latest game action, when he wasn't all that good. Even before he got in trouble it was starting to become clear that he was never going to develop into the kind of NFL passer that his rocket of a left arm made it look like he'd one day become.
But this is a guy who ran for 1,000 yards from the quarterback spot, one of the greatest athletes ever to play the game. He'll lose a step in his time away, but he had a step to lose. Who needs a 30-year-old former quarterback who plans to learn how to play running back or wide receiver on the job? Nobody.
But one who can throw the football 70 yards? Hey, listen. We'll leave questions of discipline up to the commissioner, and if he says it's OK, well, everybody deserves a second chance.
And listen, he will deserve a second chance. Or a third or fifth or whatever it'll be. U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson gave Vick a prison term Monday that was at the high end of federal sentencing guidelines. He'll have done his time.
Fans of the team he signs with will probably accept Vick as long as he says and does the right things -- hardly a slam-dunk, but he's got a few years to work on it -- and makes a few plays. He can start by knocking off that business of dismissing what he did as bad judgment and making mistakes.
What it really was was cruelty, evil and brutality wrapped up in a big stinking ball of stupid. But Michael Vick isn't the first NFL star to exhibit those characteristics, only the one who flamed out of the league most spectacularly.
And a few years down the road, he'll be trying to get back in. Whether he makes it will depend somewhat on how much he will have put that cruelty, evil, brutality and stupidity behind him. But it'll depend more on how much of a step he will have lost.
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