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|AP Photo/Matt Rourke|
|Signing Michael Vick appears to be a risky maneuver by the Eagles.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
PHILADELPHIA -- Outside the entrance to the NovaCare Complex, about 50 fans and protesters gathered to take part in what will become the biggest sideshow in the NFL this season. On the front lawn of the Eagles' practice facility, dozens of reporters paced back and forth on cell phones as they were surrounded by seven satellite trucks.
Welcome to the Michael Vick era in Philadelphia. If you thought Terrell Owens doing sit-ups in front of reporters in his driveway was surreal, just give this Vick thing a little time. Longtime Philadelphia Daily News columnist Rich Hofmann told me the Vick signing ranks ahead of T.O.'s sit-ups and Rush Limbaugh's comments about Donovan McNabb in terms of "grabbing this city by the throat."
Inside the complex's main auditorium approximately 100 reporters waited on a delegation that included Andy Reid, Vick and former Colts coach Tony Dungy. Vick and Dungy both went with conservative suits. Reid appeared to have splurged at a Tommy Bahamas sidewalk sale, wearing a black short-sleeved shirt, khaki shorts and loafers.
Unlike most news conferences welcoming a new player to town, this one took on a grim tone. You get the sense that Vick realizes he'll spend the rest of his life showing remorse -- and that's probably an appropriate thing.
But what the Eagles could never sufficiently answer Friday -- at least to my satisfaction -- is why they think having a backup quarterback is worth all the drama that comes with it. I do realize why they spent most of Friday's hourlong news conference talking about how much Vick will be able to accomplish off the field. In my mind, it's a public relations move to help offset some of the backlash the club will feel from the local community and dog lovers across the nation. As I departed the facility Friday, one woman held a small dog and a sign that read, "Hide your Beagle, Vick's an Eagle!" And that's tame compared to what the Eagles will see at NFC East road games.
Reid said he thought the "majority" of people would end up supporting Vick, but that seems a bit naive to me. I do think this country has an amazing capacity to forgive, but in some people's minds Vick's involvement in dogfighting was too heinous to look past. I ran into tight end Brent Celek and linebacker Omar Gaither outside the practice facility, and they were both genuinely excited about Vick's signing.
"I think it's a great thing for us as long as Donovan's OK with it," said Gaither. "I think things will settle down in a couple weeks and nobody will be talking about this."
Sorry, Omar. I think Friday's news conference was the first of several flashpoints involving Vick. His first preseason game will be must-see TV, and then things will really get ramped up when he's fully reinstated. Some will argue that Vick's a low risk -- and they'll be correct in terms of a financial commitment. The Eagles -- and some in the media -- will beat the drum of the Eagles being a perfect fit because of their strong head coach and locker room.
None of that matters to me. If the Eagles thought they were one player away from finally winning a Super Bowl, then fine, have at it. But they've added the most notorious player in the league to be a Wildcat quarterback. Reid didn't want to reveal his plans for using Vick, so I asked Eagles president Joe Banner whether the team had a specific plan in mind for Vick.
"I think [Reid's] probably designing plays for him as we speak," said Banner. "I think he'll have a clear vision of what Vick can do pretty soon."
But unless that clear vision included Vick touching the ball 15 to 20 times a game, I don't think it's worth the risk. By all accounts, this team has excellent chemistry in the locker room. Now the Eagles have added a player who will receive constant attention. To me, it seems like overkill, and I expressed that thought to Banner.
"I don't think of it as overkill," said Banner. "You can never have enough talent."
I think Lurie was completely sincere Friday when he expressed how "horrendous" he thought Vick's involvement in dogfighting was. In fact, Lurie showed some raw emotion in talking about his own dogs and how what Vick did was "despicable." Lurie even said he wanted to make sure Vick had "self-hatred" during an interview at the owner's home earlier this week. I don't know how you go about measuring a man's self-hatred, but it's not something I'd care to explore. Signing Vick has caused Lurie some pain, but in the end he placed his trust in Dungy, Reid and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who have all supported Vick's comeback.
What I don't understand is Lurie basically saying he doesn't care what Vick does on the field. It's as if the only way he can justify signing off on this is to try to turn Vick into a social activist. He thinks this might be an opportunity for the Eagles to take a stand against animal cruelty.
It almost sounds like the Eagles are now trying to put together a societal all-star team. Call me crazy, but I thought this organization was in the business of winning football games.
Hearing Reid talk about how the experience he has had with his troubled sons may have influenced the Vick signing makes me a little queasy. After all, Reid was the man driving the bus on the Vick signing. It's fine to have empathy for someone who has paid his debt to society, but do you have to create a roster spot for him? This has come across as a very personal decision for Reid. I just wonder if it was made with the organization's best interests in mind.
The McNabb-Vick relationship also is coming across as forced. McNabb's a sensitive quarterback who hasn't forgotten what happened in Baltimore last November. By my count, Reid and Lurie mentioned McNabb's name at least nine times Friday. They made it sound as if McNabb signed off on the move. But something tells me he didn't have much of a choice.
Is throwing one man a career life raft worth the risk of affecting an entire locker room? I guess we're about to find out.