For the third time in his career, Michael Vick is a free agent. The 33 year old quarterback has spent the last five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, though he appeared in only 17 of the team’s 32 games over the past two years.
Missing games is nothing new for Vick, who has been injury prone throughout his NFL career. In fact, in his eleven years in the league, only once (2006) has Vick made it through an entire season without missing a game. But when it comes to Vick, injuries are only part of the story.
After an electrifying college career at Virginia Tech, including an appearance in the BCS Championship game following the 1999 season, Vick was chosen by the Atlanta Falcons with the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL draft. The Falcons bet the future of the franchise on Vick, trading two first round picks, a third round pick, and wide receiver Tim Dwight to San Diego for the right to draft him.
Things began well for Vick in Atlanta. After serving as the back up to veteran Chris Chandler in 2001, Vick became the team’s starter in 2002 and promptly led the Falcons to the playoffs. Entering the postseason as a wild card, the Falcons proceeded to hand Green Bay the first home playoff loss in franchise history. The Falcons beat the Packers 27-7 before losing to Philadelphia the next week in the divisional playoffs.
2003 was a lost season for Vick. A preseason injury kept him out of the lineup for 12 games as the Falcons stumbled to a 5-11 finish. Vick came back strong in 2004, passing for 2313 yards and rushing for 902, as the Falcons rolled to an 11-5 record and won the NFC South. Atlanta routed the St. Louis Rams 47-17 in the second round of the playoffs before losing to the Eagles again, this time in the NFC Championship game.
That playoff appearance was Vick’s last with the Falcons. Despite putting up strong numbers, including the first ever 1000 yard rushing season by a quarterback in 2006, Atlanta went a combined 15-17 over the next two years. But it was the off season between 2006 and 2007 that ended Vick’s time with the Falcons and very nearly his NFL career.
In July of 2007, Vick was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to a dog fighting ring based on a property Vick owned in Virginia. In December, Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison after being convicted of bankrolling the operation. In addition to the sentence, he was suspended from the NFL without pay by commissioner Roger Goodell. The case prompted a public backlash against Vick, who had been one of the NFL’s most popular players, and made him a prominent target for animal-rights groups, who used the case to call attention to dog fighting.
In May of 2009, Vick was released from federal prison. At the time, it was uncertain if an NFL team would take a chance on the controversial quarterback. He hadn’t played in over two years, and the media circus which would accompany his presence was seen as a reason to avoid him by many teams.
In August of 2009, the Philadelphia Eagles signed Vick to a one-year contract for $1.6 million, with an option for a second year. It was a far cry from the 10 year, $130 million contract Vick had once signed with Atlanta, but it got him back into the league. Still, it remained to be seen if he would actually make it onto the field and, if so, it would be as a quarterback.
Vick spent 2009 as the backup to veteran Donovan McNabb, appearing in 12 games, but attempting only 13 passes and carrying the ball just 24 times. He appeared to have lost some of the electricity that made him one of the league’s most exciting players, and there was speculation that his career might have come to an end.
But the Eagles, perhaps sensing the end was near for McNabb, who was traded prior to the season, picked up Vick’s option. After entering 2010 as the backup to Kevin Kolb, Vick took over as starter after Kolb was injured and put up career-best numbers, including a spectacular performance against Washington, and former teammate McNabb. In that game, Vick accounted for six touchdowns, four passing and two on the ground, in leading Philadelphia to a 59-28 victory.
Vick led the Eagles to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth in 2010, though the Eagles lost to Green Bay in the first round. In 2011, Vick had another good year, passing for a career best 3,303 yards even though he missed three games with an injury. Despite Vick’s performance, the Eagles finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. They missed the postseason again in 2012, ending the year a dismal 4-12 and costing long-time head coach Andy Reid his job.
In 2013, under new coach Chip Kelly, an injury-plagued Vick lost his starting spot to Nick Foles, who led the Eagles to a 10-6 record and a return to the playoffs. After the season, Vick became an unrestricted free agent.
Which brings us to the present. Vick is perhaps the most interesting member of this year’s free agent class. Can he still help a team win? Feelings on the subject are varied, with one NFL personnel executive ranking Vick as a mid-tier starting quarterback. “There are too many teams in need of an upgrade for him not to be looked at as a starter,” the executive said.
Others question whether, at 33 years old, Vick can be the answer for a team. Especially considering the media coverage signing Vick would bring. For all the positives his comeback has produced, Vick is still the man who almost single-handedly brought an NFL franchise to its knees.
To be fair though, Vick has been a model citizen during his second go around as an NFL player. He has worked with the Humane Society in its campaign to end dog fighting, as well as establishing the Team Vick Foundation, whose motto, “Digging deep to help those in need…of a second chance” could have come from Vick’s own experiences.There is also the professional manner in which Vick handled losing his starting spot with Philadelphia. Could it be that Vick has matured?
It seems likely that a team will take a chance on Vick. So many teams have questions at quarterback, and Vick has shown that he can still be an electrifying player at times. The Jets and Buccaneers have been mentioned as possible suitors, while Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson recently tweeted that Vick would make the Vikings a playoff team. Whether or not he becomes a starter again remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet against him.
No matter what happens, few players have created more excitement on or off the field than Vick. Now he has a chance to bring a little excitement to free agency as well.