Let me start by saying that Michael Vick is one of my favorite players in the NFL, one of my favorite players in NFL history really.
I have a framed autographed 8x10 photo of Vick from his years at Virginia Tech, most likely an illegally obtained and subsequently resold on eBay item that could have gotten Vick in trouble during his college years, which gives it even more value to a sports fanatic like myself.
I loved him in college, when as an electrifying redshirt freshman in 1999, he carried the previously irrelevant Virginia Tech Hokies to an undefeated record and a BCS title game matchup against a heavily favored and defensively stacked Florida State team.
Vick almost single-handedly won that game and by the time he entered the NFL in 2001, he was the first quarterback of his kind with the blazing speed of a running back or receiver and the arm strength to throw seventy-yard laser beams flatfooted.
When the Atlanta Falcons traded up in the 2001 NFL draft to select him with the first pick, they thought he could be the Michael Jordan of the NFL, mystifying defenses and taking over games in a way that no football player ever had before him. I believed it was possible as well, and was hoping for it. I was devastated when my hometown San Diego Chargers traded away the first pick and opportunity to draft Vick and instead decided on a different quarterback with the first pick of the second round, some undersized unknown named Drew Brees; also using the fifth pick obtained in that trade to select some small college running back named LaDainian Tomlinson. Sometimes it's great to be wrong.
Early in his career, Vick was able to find that MJ magic in certain fleeting moments. Like when he sliced and diced through the Minnesota defense for a 46-yard rushing touchdown to beat the Vikings in overtime in his second season in 2002. Later that season, he led the Falcons to a road victory at Lambeau Field over Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers, ending a decades long playoff home winning streak for the Packers. After a preseason injury in 2003, he continued to dazzle fans and win games through the end of his fourth season in 2004. He got the Falcons to the NFC Championship following the 2004 season and earned himself a then NFL record contract of 135 million dollars over ten years, with 37 million of that guaranteed.
But it was at that point where things when things starting to spiral downward. Drafted at a time when rookies got paid outlandish contracts before proving anything in the NFL, Vick already had an absurdly high salary and was indulging in the lavish and luxurious lifestyle of an NFL superstar. So when he signed the record contract in 2005, he gained an even bigger sense of entitlement and invincibility. Any previous reliance on talent grew and he continued to shirk the responsibility that comes with being an NFL quarterback and face of a franchise. Vick's development as a passer slowed, and he was quick to take off and run instead of going through all of his progressions.
He became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards in 2006, but his team just completed its second straight 8-8 season and his effectiveness as a quarterback and team leader was in question. But his salary was not. Vick completed his sixth straight season as one of the highest paid players in the NFL, pocketing well over ten million per season not counting endorsements. He had made the Pro Bowl three times, but he also had a career 54% completion percentage and his team was no longer winning.
After spending two years in prison for a dog fighting conviction, Vick returned to the NFL in 2009, joining the Philadelphia Eagles as a backup to Donovan McNabb. He presented himself as a changed man and was sincere about his transgressions during his comeback, answering questions without preparation honestly and openly during interviews. He made a few plays that first season when they used him in unusual formations to throw off defenses, showing flashes of his old self. But he looked rusty and considerably slower on the field.
Vick returned to the Eagles in 2010, again as a backup, but eventually got his shot to start due to an injury. After a full offseason of training and preparation, he had regained the speed of his early years, and his decision making and ability to read defenses had grown exponentially under the tutelage of Andy Reid. Vick played out of his mind, putting up shockingly efficient numbers and making explosive plays seem routine. He led the Eagles to a division title in 2010 in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
Again a team was forced to make a financial commitment to Michael Vick, and this time the Eagles thought they were looking at a different player. The numbers from 2010 did not lie, his efficiency was substantially improved and he himself acknowledged that he was spending a lot more time watching film and working on his craft. So a man that was once listed among the worst contracts given out not just in NFL history, but sports history, received another contract in the triple digit million category. But this time around, Vick was eager to prove that he was putting in the work to earn his contract. He was active on social media, not just in publicizing his charitable endeavors, but in telling his Facebook and Twitter followers how much time he was spending studying film and trying to win a Super Bowl. Maybe he could bring the extra something that McNabb couldn't; Philly fans bought it, I bought it.
But the following two seasons were chalk full of high expectations and disappointments, and a handful of the many injuries that became the norm due to Vick's reckless style of play. Dream Team, dynasty? Super Bowl? How about a playoff win first? McNabb did that in his second season in Philly without all the premature talk. But Vick got paid, and despite two straight turnover and injury-filled seasons, Vick was brought back on another one year deal in 2013, for a pedestrian seven million dollars this time. Again there were a few flashes of brilliance in Chip Kelly's new high octane offense, but again he got injured and his replacement Nick Foles proved to be more effective.
Which means he will have been paid over 50 million dollars from the Eagles for one great season and a few highlights overshadowed by injuries and unrealized expectations. And while Michael Vick's influence is felt in virtually every football game that features a dual threat quarterback, which is likely the majority nowadays, Vick himself will be out of a starting job next year. But he will have the option of bringing in another few million holding a clipboard, and with the experience and wisdom he has to share, that may be the best thing for him.