Michael Vick knows where he'll be spending most of the next two years, locked away in a federal prison, doing his time for dogfighting.
Once he's a free man &
probably in the summer of 2009, assuming he gets time off for good behavior &
what comes next?
Will NFL commissioner Roger Goodell lift Vick's indefinite suspension? How many seasons will the quarterback miss beyond this year and next, which are a given? Will another team be willing to take a chance on Vick? If he does get back on the field, will he still be the same electrifying player? Will he even be a quarterback?
"No one knows," said Dan Reeves, who was Vick's first pro coach with the Atlanta Falcons. "A lot depends on him and what he does with these next two years. I don't know if anybody knows what's going to happen. Either he comes out a better person or he comes out a bitter person."
Reeves is right. It's impossible to predict what might happen two years from now, after Vick has served the 23-month sentence imposed Monday by a federal judge in Richmond, Va.
Most seem to believe Vick will at least get a second chance in the NFL, assuming he keeps his nose clean in prison and comes out with the proper amount of remorse for taking part in a gruesome dogfighting ring.
But one thing seems certain: Vick won't get his second chance with the Falcons.
The team kept him on the roster only while it pursues efforts to recover nearly $20 million in bonus money. The Falcons already won the first round of the legal fight, which has now gone to a federal judge in Minnesota.
Owner Arthur Blank, who gave Vick what was then the richest contract in NFL history near the end of the 2005 season, sounded as though the Falcons are moving on without any plans for bringing back No. 7.
"I would never use the word 'never,'" Blank said in an interview broadcast over the team's Web site. "I would say there's always a chance. But quite candidly, we as an organization, as a football team, we have to look forward. We have to go forward assuming Michael will not be back."
Blank predicts Vick will miss three full seasons. After all, the quarterback still faces state charges in Virginia that could mean more time behind bars. And Goodell has not indicated when he will lift the suspension, which could run longer than any prison sentences.
"If Michael makes a mistake and eats fried chicken and French fries in prison every day and comes out at 250 pounds, he's not going to be able to play football," Blank said. "How he's able to keep himself in shape, stay athletically tuned and mentally tuned, I don't know."
But Reeves, who coached Vick from 2001-03, sees no reason why he can't return. Even if he misses three full years, he only would be 30 entering the 2010 season.
"I don't think he would lose his ability to throw the football," Reeves said. "It's sort of like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how to throw the football, you know how to throw the football."
But Gil Brandt, who helped assemble the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty, wonders if Vick might be better suited for another position when he comes out of prison. Perhaps wide receiver. Or maybe a slash-type player who lines up all over the field.
"If you're a student and you drop out of school for two or three years, it's really hard to reacquire the study habits that make you successful," Brandt said. "I don't think there's any question, whether it's 2009 or 2010, that somebody will take a chance on him. I'm not sure that somebody will take a chance on him as a quarterback. I think it would be a lot easier for him to come back at a different position."
Looking back to World War II, when athletes went off to fight just like everyone else, Brandt remembers players such as 1940 Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon appearing to lose a step or two once they resumed their football careers.
Although Brandt doesn't think a long layoff would be nearly as devastating these days because of improved training methods, he figures it will be impossible for Vick to maintain the same level of conditioning in a federal prison that he did while playing football.
"That's a huge concern," Brandt said. "While they do everything possible to provide people with exercise facilities in prison, when you talk about the facilities they have as opposed to a facility a team like the Falcons has, it's no comparison."
If Vick is cleared to play again, he'll have to deal with jeering fans and the constant burden of being the guy who fought and killed dogs. Any team that signs him knows he'll be a huge distraction, which might mitigate the enormous talent he brings to the field.
Off the field, Vick's future seems more certain. He'll never again have major companies lining up to pay him to endorse their products. It's hard to envision any team giving Vick another contact worth more than $100 million.
"There's no way he'll ever be a high-profile corporate spokesperson ever again," said Steve Rosner, who runs New Jersey-based 16W Marketing and counts former NFL players Boomer Esiason, Phil Simms, Cris Collinsworth and Howie Long among his clients.
Vick already has lost his endorsement deals, which some estimates put as high as $50 million. Rosner disputed that figure, estimating Vick made between $2 million and $5 million a year in endorsements, a level he'll never reach again. His only hope for boosting any future income would be as a secondary player in memorabilia, trading cards, shoes and perhaps video games.
"There are ways to utilize somebody's name and likeness and for him to generate revenue without being the main focus on any marketing campaign," Rosner said. "I call them tools-of-the-trade deals."
Vick definitely will lose the final $71 million of his Falcons contract, he might have to repay the team nearly $20 million and he's been ordered to put up nearly $1 million to care for the dogs that survived his grisly dogfighting operation. He's also being sued by three banks for allegedly defaulting on nearly $6 million in loans.
With his financial house in shambles, Vick will definitely be eager to resume the one job that would pay him more than anything else he might do.
"He's young enough," Reeves said. "If he's given the opportunity and he's able to make the most out of it, I wouldn't bet against him."
What's next for Vick?