Posted by: nhfalcon | July 26, 2007

Michael Vick

I’ve never been this embarassed to be an Atlanta Falcons fan.

That’s saying something, by the way. The Falcons are not a franchise that have exactly covered themselves in glory since their inception in 1966. They have a career won-loss-tie record of 252-366-6, which is a career winning percentage of just 40.9. In 41 years of existence they have played in just 14 playoff games (winning 6) and one Super Bowl (which they lost). They have won their division only three times. To top it all off, they are the only franchise in National Football League history to never put together back-to-back winning seasons in their history. The closest they ever came was in 2004 and 2005, going 11-5 in ’04 and 8-8 in ’05. They weren’t back to back losing seasons, but they also were not back-to-back winning seasons.

All that ignominy pales in comparison to the current situation of Michael Vick.

For those of you who are not football fans, Falcons fans, or are otherwise unfamiliar with Vick, he has been the quarterback of the Falcons since 2001. That April the Falcons traded three high draft choices (two ’01 picks, including their 1st-rounder, and a 2002 pick) and a wide receiver to the San Diego Chargers for the rights to the top overall pick of the ’01 draft in order to select Vick. He has been the face of the franchise ever since, as well as one the most recognized names in the National Football league, which is the most popular professional sport in America and perhaps the world, with the possible exception of what we Yanks call soccer. Current Falcons owner Arthur Blank signed Vick to a 10 year, $130 million (with a $37 million signing bonus) contract extension on December 23, 2004 (Merry f#*king Christmas!), making him the wealthiest player in the NFL. In addition to his NFL salary, Vick also has / had endorsement deals with Nike, EA Sports, Kraft Foods, AirTran, Hasbro, Coca-Cola, Powerade, and Rawlings.

For those of you who have been living under a rock (because I can’t imagine how else you could not have heard about this), Michael Vick was indicted on July 17th on charges of operating a dogfighting enterprise. Allow me to try to summarize not only the sequence of events, but also the magnitude of the lack of judgement (to put it kindly) of Vick in this situation.

On April 19th, 2007 law enforcement authorities raided a property on Moonlight Road in Smithfield, Virginia as part of a drug investigation on Davon Boddie, a cousin of Michael Vick. Boddie was arrested for marijuana possession. During the raid, members of the task force “heard all these dogs barking,” so they obtained a search warrant to come back to investigate further. On April 25th the authorities came back and found evidence of what at the time was referred to as “animal neglect.” As the story unfolded, this evidence was revealed to be, among other things, 66 dogs (mostly pit bulls) that appeared to be “hungry and forgotten,” “malnourished,”  with some that “had injuries and scars,” as well as cages, treadmills, scales, blood-soaked carpeting, and what is referred to as a “rape stand.” A rape stand is used to tether female dogs in such as way as to allow male dogs easy access to them for breeding purposes.

Though Boddie (among others, including Vick’s nephew) lived on the property, the 15-acre estate was owned by Vick. The main building on the grounds is 4,700 square feet. Another three buildings on the grounds are kennels and other buildings devoted to the breeding, raising, and training of dogs. The property was appraised at $747,000, though Vick would sell it on May 11th to a still-unknown buyer for just $350,000. Construction workers who built the house and other buildings on the grounds saw Vick there regularly and also saw equipment used to train fighting dogs. The businesses Vick’s K9 Kennels and Bad Newz Kennels listed the Moonlight Road address as their location. Envelopes were seized in the April 25th raid that were addressed to Vick. There is no doubt the property belonged to Vick and that he at least bred dogs there.

On April 27th Vick told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I’m never there. I’m never at the house. If I’m not there, I don’t know what’s going on.” I think everybody’s response to that would be the same: “You own the house – it’s your responsibility – your obligation  to know what’s going on!” Neighbors were quick to contradict Vick’s statement, saying he was there at least once every few months. Local businesses state that Vick often bought supplies, including syringes, for the kennels. Complaints of activities taking place at Moonlight Road involving dogs date as far back as 2003. According to Chris Landry of Fox Sports Radio, former Vick teammate Ray Buchanan claimed Vick was into dogfighting “big time” and that he actively tried to recruit his teammates to join in the “sport.” On May 16th the Virginia Animal Fighting Task Force would claim to have an informant who could place Vick at dog fights. On May 27th ESPN would claim to have an informant who could link Vick to dogfighting as far back as 2000 and would testify that Vick was one of the “heavyweights” when it came to gambling on the fights, sometimes betting as much as $30,000 or $40,000 on a single fight.

Let me put that into further context for you: in 2000 Vick was a junior at Virgina Tech University. Where was a college junior coming up with that kind of money?!

On May 11th the federal government would join in the investigation due to, among other things, dissatisfaction by many with the way Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter was handling things (there were those who felt Poindexter was going easy on Vick). On June 7th the feds would investigate the Moonlight Road property, then return on July 6th. Those two investigations would produce the carcasses of 17 dogs.

The federal complaint against Vick revealed further details: evidence procured also included performance-enhancing drugs and paperwork related to dogfighting; fights sponsored on the property had dogs from South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland, New York, and Texas, among other places; dogs were often starved before a fight so they’d be hungry for their opponent; fights took place late at night or early in the morning and would last many hours; losing dogs were often killed by drowning, strangulation, hanging, electrocution, or gunshot.

Needless to say, PETA and the Humane Society have been active and vocal in regards to this issue, pretty much from Day One. 

Vick appeared in court earlier today to answer the federal charges. He pleaded not guilty. His trial is scheduled to begin November 26th.  

Vick has been banned by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from attending Falcons training camp, which started today. Falcons owner Arthur Blank was prepared to suspend Vick for the maximum period of time allowed to him under the current collective bargaining agreement. New Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino (who was hired before this mess began) has named Joey Harrington as the Falcons starting QB. Nevertheless, there are those who are calling for more punitive measures. The fact that Vick’s trial won’t start for another four months and that he therefore has not been found guilty in a court of law is irrelevant. He has been found guilty in the court of public opinion.

I will not attempt here to delve into the legal side of this issue. I am not a lawyer, nor have I even played one on TV. 🙂 The evidence against Vick does seem overwhelming, however. Nor will I address the morality of the situation. I would think the morality (or lack thereof) is fairly obvious: if you participate in or in any way, shape, or form condone animal fighting, you are one sick sumbitch!

What I want to discuss is how this situation affects the Falcons. Not wanting to address the legal or moral issues at hand has nothing to do with a lack of compassion for these poor animals. Far from it. I just think that the legal and moral sides of the topic have already been handled in depth, and done so by individuals far more qualified than I. Living in New England, however, I have heard very little, if any, rumination about how the Falcons are to be affected by all of this (beyond the obvious).

The obvious is that life for the Falcons in 2007, whether Vick is a part of the team or not, is going to be a circus. It’s going to be very difficult for them to focus on football, as the media surrounding them is likely to do anything but. They will likely be a bad team this year on the field, especially without Vick. Scumbag though he may (or may not) be, he is one of the team’s most talented players. Should the team, the league, or the law prevent him from playing, conventional wisdom says it will be very difficult for the Falcons to be competitve this coming season.

In the long run, however, I think this may actually be a good thing for the Falcons.

Yes, I said a good thing.

Positive #1) Perhaps this will teach Arthur Blank not to put all of his eggs in one basket and enable his players by treating one like he’s better than all the others. Blank babied Vick, pure and simple. Besides the enormous contract extension in 2004, Blank showed favoritism to Vick in a myriad of other ways. In the 2003 preseason Vick broke his leg against the Baltimore Ravens and would miss the vast majority of the season. Blank would push Vick around in his wheelchair. There he was, the owner of the team, playing the role of hospital orderly!

Blank constantly defended Vick against his critics. Despite his enormous athletic ability, Vick has never developed into a true NFL quarterback. It’s more accurate to say he’s a running back with a great arm. He’s never developed accuracy, never developed touch, never learned how to read NFL defenses, and never learned how to go through his progressions. Yet Blank refused to admit this to the public.

The dogfighting is merely the latest in a string of bad judgement calls by Vick. In January of 2002 Vick almost went to jail for twice failing to show up at court to pay a parking citation. In February of 2004 two friends of Vick were busted for drug trafficking – they were caught in Vick’s truck! In October of ’04 one of his “posse” was caught on video stealing a man’s Rolex watch in the Atlanta airport. In March 2005 a woman accused him of giving her genital herpes. In November of 2006 he gave the home crown a two-handed middle finger salute for booing him. In January of 2007 he attempted to board a plane with a water bottle (a federal security violation). When security demanded he surrender the bottle, he refused and threw it in a trash can. After he boarded the plane, security found the bottle, and upon examination discovered it had a secret compartment containing a dark substance and that the bottle smelled like marijuana. Tests on both the substance and Vick came back negative for drugs. In April of ’07 Vick was supposed to make an appearance on Capitol Hill to lobby congress for funds for afterschool activities for kids. He missed his flight. The airline claims they arranged another flight that would have gotten Vick to the hearing on time, but he apparently missed that one as well, because he never appeared at the hearing.

Through it all, Blank defended Vick. Maybe now he knows better. Maybe now he’ll use the New England Patriot approach and try to build a team.

Positive #2) Should the Falcons decide to release Vick, they will, in the long run, save a lot of money against the salary cap, allowing them to be more active players in free agency. If the Falcons are the ones who do the releasing, however, they will suffer penalities against the cap for essentially breaking the terms of the contract. For example, the Falcons would save $6 million against the cap in 2007 if they released Vick now, but would be penalized $7.57 million, so the net result is that they would lose $1.57 million. Next year would be even worse, as they would save $7.5 million, but suffer a hit of $14.68 million, in effect losing $7.18 million. That’s approximately 7% of the projected ’08 cap tied up in a guy who’s no longer on the roster.

But what if it’s the league or the law who prevent Vick from playing for the team? If the league should ban him and / or the law should put him in jail, are the Falcons still on the hook for those salary cap penalties? I do not know the answer to that question. I have yet to hear that question even asked on sportstalk radio or television or read it in print or on the internet, so I have not had it answered yet. If the answer is no, the Falcons are not on the hook for those penalties should Vick be prevented from playing by the league or the law as opposed to by the Falcons, then they can really play in free agency and address issues such as the offensive line, the defensive secondary, wide receiver, and a running back who’s a better fit for the new offense.

And as luck would have it, as of right now there are a number of good players who would be available in free agency next year who play those positions (Tarik Glenn (should he decide to come out of retirement), Flozell Adams, Jordan Gross, Alan Faneca, Terrence Newman, Drayton Florence, Yeremiah Bell, and Michael Turner, to name a few).

Positive #3) This one gets a bit tricky, so follow along and try to stay with me here. The Falcons will likely be worse this year than they were last year. Last year they “earned” the 10th overall pick in the draft. If they’re worse this year, that pick will be even higher. I don’t think they’ll get the top overall pick, because I don’t think they’ll be the worst team in the league, but I think they’ll be in an excellent position to try to trade up to the top overall pick in the 2008 draft. Not only will their own first-rounder be in the top ten or even top five, but they have two second round picks, courtesy of a trade with the Houston Texans, who also will likely not be a good team. All this adds up to plenty of ammunition to move up t the top overall pick of the ’08 draft.

And why would they want to do this?

As of right now, the top player in the 2008 draft, according to may experts, is Brian Brohm, a quarterback out of Louisville University, which happens to be the place current Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino coached at before he went to the Falcons. So, the Falcons would get a quarterback to replace Vick, one who by many accounts not only deserves to be considered the top player at his position in his draft class, but deserves to be considered the top player period in his draft class. On top of all that, he is already intimately familiar with the Falcons’ offensive system and head coach, having played for Petrino and his system for two years in college.

So, in the long run, the current Vick situation could actually turn into a blessing in disguise for the Falcons.

(I would be remiss if I did not credit some excellent sources for this post. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wikipedia – yes, that one. And especially ProFootballTalk.com. Their page summarizing the chronology of events leading up to the Vick indictment was indispensable. If you are a football fan, you need to check out ProFootballTalk.com multiple times daily!) 

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Responses

  1. I am impressed and, to be honest, shocked at how well the league and the team have handled this. If you were this deep in legal trouble like Vick is and had another sort of job it’s lkely you’d be suspended but in sports and celebrity that’s often not the case. Given the high class handling up to now I’d certainly hope they’d waive the financial penalties for breaking Vick’s contract no matter what the outcome. He’s bad for football.

    Isn’t this dude who’s pushing Vick’s ass around in a wheelchair a major force for animal rights? He should be ashamed of himself, too. Though, the literalist in me says that he was caring very nicely for one particular animal – Vick.

    Not to be combative but to be interested, how can American Football be the second most popular sport in the world when it’s only played here? Baseball and hockey for instance may be less popular here but they’re played in a lot of other countries. I would think that the popularity of baseball in Japan alone would make up for the lesser popularity of baseball in comparison to American Football.

  2. Seriously, my friend, you can WRITE!

    I’ve never considered the impact on the team through all of this – I’ve been intently focused on the legal and moral aspects – and I really appreciate your taking me through this perspective. The way I see it – now that you’ve shown it to me – I can very clearly understand how this whole Vick debacle would be a good thing for the TEAM (though I still think that the only just and fitting punishment for the son of a bitch -IF he’s found guilty, of course – would be to strip the bastard naked, rub him all over with hamburger, and chain him into a rape stand).

  3. While Arthur Blank does contribute to several charities, Kizz, an animal rights group is not among them. That’s not to say that he might not like animals, just that he doesn’t publicly belong to or support any offical animal-loving organization.

    Referring once again to the notoriously unreliable (yet exceedingly convenient) Wikipedia.com, the NFL is the second most popular sport in the world in terms of average attendance per game. The average attendance at an NFL regular season game last year was over 67,000, higher than FIFA or UEFA soccer or Six Nations Championship rugby.

    The most popular sport in the world, based on this statistic? Australian cricket, with an average attendace of over 162,000 per game.

    Obviously this stat is measuring a sport’s popularity only within a particular region (the USA, Europe, Australia), as opposed to on a truly international scale. To measure a sport on a truly international scale would probably mean a measure of its total attendance and/or total television viewing and/or total revenue production worldwide.

    Don’t forget, the (now-defunct) NFL Europe was an NFL property, and that the NFL has been playing exhibition games in places like Mexico City, Tokyo, and London for quite some time. There are plans to play an NFL game in China soon. Should the NFL ever expand its number of teams again, Mexico City and Toronto are likely candidates for those teams to call home.

  4. […] has posted an excellently researched and articulated piece about the situation with Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons football team.  I’m telling you, this man can write. […]

  5. Even though I am a Saints Fan, and as such, generally have no affection for the Falcons, I am still saddened by the impact Vick is having on your team. Pro football is my favorite entertainment outlet. Things like this and other criminal incidents (Pacman Jones) are tainting the sport that I love. Perhaps another positive that can come out of this is the league finally putting their foot down on this junk. Hopefully all future contracts for any player will include the ability for the team to jettison a player convicted of these sorts of crimes.

    Michael Vick revealed who he really is when he flipped off his own team’s fans. Of course, we suffered a few years by having his cousin, Brooks. Brooks never took his role as a professional seriously, and we paid the price. It isn’t very fun to see your own quarterback laughing as his team is going down the tubes.

    Here’s wishing your team the best of luck in recovering from this. I believe in healthy competition on the field, and the Falcons may just rise up and get stronger than you can imagine.

  6. Getting Brohm would be a tremendous boost for the Falcons, Mrs. C. He’s 6′ 4″ and 225lbs (the same size as Tom Brady. Compare that to Vick’s 6′ 0″ and 215lbs), has a great arm, is accurate, and makes good decisions with the football. While he doesn’t have Vick’s mobility (then again, who does?), he’s athletic enough and has enough pocket presence to sense the rush and avoid it. He’s intelligent. Most importantly, he appears to have a good head on his shoulders. To the best of my knowledge, he has no criminal record, his teammates and coaches like him, he has no latent assholia – he’s just a good guy.

    The fact that he already knows Bobby Petrino’s offense is huge. Probably half of a college quarterback’s transition to the pros is having to learn a new, often far larger and more complex, playbook. That would not be the case if Brohm came to Atlanta. He’d already be ahead of the curve.

  7. Pat Kiwan of NFL.com offers this nugget with a little more info on Vick and his impact on the Falcons’ salary cap situation:

    http://www.nfl.com/news/story/10270070

    Unfortunately, it still doesn’t answer the question as to how the cap is affected if it’s not the Falcons who prevent Vick from playing for them.

  8. Excellent piece Eric! You should be a reporter or editor.

    If there isn’t some kind of clause in player contracts regarding off field behavior as far as the term “Roll Model” is conserned, there should be. It should be stated in such a way as to not penalize the team for releasing a player who chooses to behave like an ASS or who associates with ASSES.
    These players need to understand that being a leader is more than what happens on the field. They need to understand that they are not a private citizen and are watched by millions of kids who look up to them as heroes to emulate. Being a star athlete or contributing to charities should not give one leave to break the law or be allowed to get away with it just by missing a few games. Charity starts at home. When the NFL gives them a slap on the wrist, there is a trickle down mentality which effects the entire league as well as its’ future prospects who dream of playing in the NFL. I think Vick should be kicked out of the NFL permanently and sent to jail for the maximum sentence.

  9. Erik,

    Good piece, man. Two points to make. First, the Commissioner has directly stated on several occasions that there will be no salary cap relief provided to a team should one of it’s players be arrested, suspended or kicked out of the league. In fact, Goodell counts on this liability to convince NFL teams to stop taking chances on players with bad reputations, in effect saying “you took him, he’s your problem, not the league’s.” Of course, this applies only to guaranteed money (signing bonus) which has already been paid. Problem is, most teams pay up front and pro-rate it over the life of the contract, so if the Falcons pushed 5 million in bonus money to 2011, then that 5 million will count against your cap in that year, and so on. The team will probably recoup a good deal of that money from Vick, but that is between the team and him and has nothing to do with the league as a whole. The reason for this is simple; when he signed his huge deal, the team chose not to front-load the contract so they could afford to pay the other 52 guys. Had his bonus not been pro-rated the Falcons would have taken the field with a 30-man roster (ludicrous), so the guaranteed money was spread over time. Essentially, it’s buying on credit, but like credit, you don’t stop paying the bill because the product you purchased was lost or wore out. In this case, the league is the creditor and the rules regarding the cap must be followed, or the cap itself becomes a farce. Remember, that money was already paid, and if the league absolves the Falcons from the remaining years it’s on the cap, the team would essentially be receiving that much more money to spend on players over the remaining years of the contract, thereby raising the cap for the Falcons and no one else. Bring on Brian Brohm, and you may not have to trade up to get him.

    Second point, and please no one be offended by the truth. True, dog fighting is an abhorrent “sport,” but it is a widely practiced and accepted activity within a culture and particularly in the southern states. Who was the first NFL player to speak up in April when the scandal first broke? Of course, it was Clinton Portis, and he said “It’s only dogfighting. It’s no big deal, leave Mike Vick alone.” Why would he say such a thing (aside from the fact he has no tact and little sense)? Because in his neighborhood, where he grew up, it was a common activity that barely made people blink. A personality on a very popular radio show (whom I won’t name) shrugged when asked what he thought of the Vick scandal. “I been to ’em (dogfights). In my neighborhood, they happened all the time, in somebody’s backyard or basement. The whole neighborhood would show up, women, kids.” He, like Portis, is from Florida. Marcellus Wiley, Ivy League graduate (Columbia), long-time NFL DE and eloquent spokesman, claims to have been approached numerous times during his career with invites to dogfights. Though he never attended one, he insists there is a very active subculture within the league of players who grew up around and now participate in dog-fighting. Wiley also implied it wasn’t a few guys but rather a fairly substantial number. Dogfights are so prevalent that a number of US cities have banned all dog breeds (bull terriers and their variations) which are used in fighting.

    What does this say? I’m certainly not in support of dogfighting and do think Vick should face the maximum penalty, but people should pull their heads out of the sand and face reality: Vick is just one of many, many, many people who enjoy this gruesome spectacle. Hopefully some good will come from this by opening our nation’s eyes to something that has been going on under our noses since long before any of us were here.

  10. Great comments, Adam. Thanks for the clarification on the salary cap ramifications, in particular. Even wth those cap hits looming, I’m seriously considering releasing Vick and just moving on, especially if he’s found guilty (obviously).

    Portis and Wiley are not the only ones who have alluded to the fact that dogfighting is not an isolated incident in the NFL. There has been growing evidence since the Vick scandal broke that there is a significant subculture in the league that participates in one form or another (breeding, training, organizing, gambling, etc…) in dogfighting.

    For those of you who may have been impressed with my writing and/or football knowledge from this original post, I hope you’re noting Adam’s skills in his comment. I definitely consider him to be more knowledgeable about football than I, and at least as good a writer.

  11. I decided a while ago not to be a “fan.” I get a mild bit of pleasure when my old college wins a game or two (but I don’t get upset if they lose), but other than that, it isn’t worth my bother. Mr. Vick is charged with what, to me, appears to be a pretty much petty, although shitty, crime, but I don’t care. I wouldn’t care if he played for “my” team (if I had one). I would, in point of fact, not care if the entire world of “professional” sports went kaput.

    Actually, intercollegiate athletics could be reduced back to “club” level sports without bothering me.

    Now, the guys on TV who talk about investments always admit which stocks they own, or their mom owns, or whatnot, so here’s my disclosure: “my old college” is the University of Florida, and, lately, the school’s teams have won more than “a game or two.” I watched them win their championship games, and it was pleasant. By bedtime, I was more involved with the book I was reading, or the little Scrabble game I was playing.

    So Mr. Vick, and his ne’er-do-well brother, also Mr. Vick, can go to the devil, or visit Easter Island for all I care about them. Ditto the guy who they won’t let back with the Bungles, “Pac-Man Jones” or any of the rest of them.

  12. My comment may have appeared to make me even stupider than I actually am, if it reads as though I was equating Mr. Pac-Man with the guy (a druggie as I hear it) who they won’t let back with the Bungles. I thought the comma separated them enough, but maybe not.
    I just couldn’t remember the cretin from the Bungles.

  13. I agree that this could be the best thing that happens to the Falcons. I gave up on this team when Arthur, with all his football experience and wisdom, elevated Vick to that pedestal and forgot that it takes a team to win football games.

    I’m hoping to be a rabid fan this season and I’ll be ecstatic to don a Harrington jersey in the process.

    Great article, despite the fact that I thought I’d been following this closely, I learned a number of tidbits!

  14. […] I mentioned a while back that I was very ashamed to be a fan of the Atlanta Falcons because of the Michael […]


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