Monday, July 23, 2007
Updated: July 24, 4:03 PM ET
NFL commish puts bandage on Vick situation
By Len Pasquarelli
The NFL and the Atlanta Falcons, already lacerated by the indictment of one of the game's most high-profile players and likely to suffer even more severe hemorrhaging by the end of the week, got a Band-Aid on Monday night when commissioner Roger Goodell ordered quarterback Michael Vick not to report to training camp.
The league and the Falcons probably required something more like a tourniquet to stanch the mounting public relations ramifications of Vick's indictment last week on his alleged involvement in a dogfighting ring.
But since Vick might well have reported to training camp on Friday -- the day after he is scheduled to appear in a Richmond, Va., federal courtroom for a bond hearing and his initial arraignment on the charges -- the temporary fix applied by Goodell was much needed.
The Falcons' brass, headed by owner Arthur Blank, will address Vick's status at a Tuesday afternoon news conference. At that time, first-year coach Bobby Petrino is expected to say that the Falcons will proceed as though Vick will not be available for the 2007 season, and that Joey Harrington, signed as a free agent this spring after his release from the Miami Dolphins, will be their starter.
In essence, the intervention of the commissioner, who originally felt that action by the club would have been more appropriate, bought all parties some time and reduced the chances that the Falcons' training camp in Flowery Branch, Ga., would have degenerated into a circus atmosphere. Already, on Monday, protestors from PETA picketed the team's headquarters. They may continue to do so, even into the end of the week when camp starts, but the mere fact that the subject of their disdain won't be present on the practice fields or in the locker room figures to mitigate the passion of a highly charged situation.
Goodell's decision came after a long day of deliberation; it wasn't rendered until about 8 p.m. and was delivered to the club first and then to Vick. The decision came with considerable input from the NFL Players Association, which had tried for several days to broker a deal in which Vick accepted a paid leave of absence.
In the end, Goodell's action, as is characteristically the case with any compromise, certainly was not a cure-all. But short of Vick's being convicted and sent to prison, or being acquitted, or the commissioner's discovering indisputable evidence that the quarterback is in violation of the league's personal conduct policy and suspending the Falcons' star, there is no panacea.
So, short of a cure, Goodell opted for a bandage.
His ruling addresses the most immediate needs of Blank, in that it keeps Vick out of camp and buffers the Falcons organization, at least to some degree, from criticism. It also precludes the Falcons from finding Vick in default of his contract, and, for now, prohibits the franchise from attempting to recover any of the $37 million in bonuses that he has earned under the contract extension he signed in December 2004.
No one, though, is naive enough to believe that the decision does anything more than slam the brakes briefly on a runaway public relations fiasco that could still ultimately continue its downhill momentum.
Vick will be expected to cooperate fully as the NFL's review of his alleged activities moves forward. And while the NFL -- and Goodell -- might not have the investigatory gravitas of the federal government, its resources run deep and its pride runs even deeper. And right now, the pride of the league and its first-year commissioner are dented more than a little.
Goodell does not take lightly the allegations brought against one of the most conspicuous players in the NFL, even if Monday's move will probably be viewed as lacking weight.
Make no mistake, this continues to be a situation in flux and under the microscope, as has been manifested by the events of the past week. Only a week or so ago, it seemed that the NFL and the Falcons were prepared to allow due process in Vick's case before determining what, if any, measures to take in terms of sanctions. But events continued to spiral beyond the control of the primary entities, and when the carousel threatened to spin totally out of control, something had to be done.
It appeared, for a brief time, that the solution would be a leave of absence that would permit Vick to focus his energies on extricating himself from his legal entanglements. And even on Monday evening, in hindsight, that still appeared the most palatable remedy.
But two things occurred that served to scuttle the potential for such a deal: Blank decided that, having paid Vick more than $40 million already on his landmark contract, he could not reconcile a deal in which he guaranteed his $6 million base salary in 2007-08 if the quarterback might not play a single down. Second, the competitiveness, or perhaps hubris, of Vick made him disinclined to accept such a leave, even if paid.
There was a time, over the weekend, as Blank considered his options while at his Montana sanctuary, that the Atlanta owner seriously considered cutting ties to Vick altogether. Cooler heads within the organization -- who cautioned Blank that Vick might still be acquitted and who fretted about the message it might send to teammates if their best player were jettisoned on an indictment alone -- finally prevailed, according to people with knowledge of Blank's decision-making process.
Blank might have suspended Vick for a maximum four games for the catchall infraction "conduct detrimental to the team," but the NFLPA would have sought an expedited hearing and could have had the suspension overturned. Even if that didn't occur, a suspension would not have banished Vick from training camp. The only other option -- to allow Vick to come to camp and play through his problems -- was untenable and unacceptable.
As for the football component involved here, well, the Falcons will certainly suffer from Vick's absence. But people within the Atlanta organization insist that Petrino would prefer to begin training camp with the quarterback who is most likely to be his opening-day starter, now Harrington, than to have to keep switching based on the unfolding events of Vick's legal woes.
Which isn't to say that Vick, who on Monday retained the services of high-powered trial attorney Billy Martin, has abandoned all hope of playing in 2007.
Said a Vick associate on Monday night, after Goodell's announcement: "[Vick] is a football player. He wants to play. He'd prefer to be with his team instead of taking care of all this other stuff. He wants to be in camp."
But now, until -- or perhaps more accurately, if -- Goodell decides Vick can report, he won't be anywhere around Flowery Branch.
For all parties, that's probably not such a bad thing.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer with ESPN.com.