"I think I can say this now, because it's not going to hurt anybody's feelings, and it's the truth," Vick tells me a few weeks after the commencement ceremony. "I didn't want to come to Philadelphia. Being the third-team quarterback is nothing to smile about. Cincinnati and Buffalo were better options." Those two teams wanted him and would've allowed him to start, but after meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell and other reps from the NFL, Vick was convinced -- and granted league approval -- to sign with Philly. "And I commend and thank them, because they put me in the right situation."
The immediate question is whether Goodell had any business influencing where Vick signed once he got out of prison, and some have raised the issue of whether the Bengals or Bills will or should be upset about this. I see the point but have some issues with that interpretation.
First, I don't buy that the Bengals would have started Vick ahead of Carson Palmer in 2009, fresh out of prison. I may buy that the Bills would have done it, since they were going with Trent Edwards and eventually Ryan Fitzpatrick, but to say he was a starting option even for a team as quarterback-desperate as Buffalo is revisionist history.
Vick had just gone two full seasons without playing football. No one knew what kind of shape he was in, physically or mentally. If a team -- even the Bills -- was going to sign him, it's impossible to believe they were going to anoint him their starting quarterback right out of the gate. It's easy to look back over the way Vick played last year and say sure, of course he'd have been worlds better than those other options. But in August 2009, nobody knew he'd come back and be what he's become. Not the Bengals, not the Bills, not the Eagles, not Vick and not Goodell.
Goodell's mission at that time was not to return Vick to on-field football glory but simply to return him to NFL society and allow him to resume his career in the situation that would best enable him to be a productive member of that society on and off the field. Goodell had a lot of help in this effort, from agent Joel Segal to NFLPA chief DeMaurice Smith to former Colts coach Tony Dungy, who served as a mentor to Vick during and after Vick's prison stay.
Now, to Goodell and all of those other people, the Eagles looked like the best spot for a number of reasons. They all believed coach Andy Reid, in part because of his own personal experience with his sons and their legal trouble, would be a compassionate mentor. They believed that Reid and his coaches could nurture and coach Vick while Vick served as backup to Donovan McNabb. They believed McNabb would be a good mentor for Vick.
Goodell said more than once, at that time, that he was looking for "a success story." And he didn't mean success in terms of yards or touchdown passes. And he certainly didn't mean success for any one particular NFL team. He meant success for Michael Vick -- and that meant putting Vick in the most beneficial situation for Michael Vick. The idea that the commissioner might have been playing favorites, or that other teams should be upset that he may have steered this remarkable athletic talent to a training camp other than theirs, is fueled by nothing other than hindsight. At the time, no one knew if Vick had it in him to ever complete another NFL pass. Even the Eagles didn't know. They just took a chance -- a chance for which they were ridiculed and criticized by many at the time -- and coached him into a better quarterback than he'd ever been before without ever thinking he'd start for them. Remember, a year ago, Vick was Kevin Kolb's backup.
To think that Vick would have become what he's become while riding the bench behind Palmer or even while starting games for Buffalo is to underestimate the work the Eagles did with him once they got their hands on him. If this is going to be a controversy, people had better come at it with all of the facts. Sure, it's possible Goodell wanted Vick in Philadelphia. But if he did, it had nothing to do with wanting to help the Eagles. They did that on their own.