So Michael Vick will be spending twenty-three months in jail for promoting and funding a dogfighting ring. Let’s get right to it: will he ever play the game of professional football again?
While he played, Vick had profound athletic talent, making him one of the most agile and aggressive quarterbacks in recent years (if not the most accurate). He could have easily made his bones as a running back or a tight end. If he keeps up his conditioning while, erm, in prison, there’s no reason he couldn’t start again.
But two years out of the game is a long time. It’s one of the longest sentences handed out to a football player anyone’s cared about in recent history. Will the NFL forgive, or has the door slammed on Vick’s career?
Let’s take a look at some other convicts whom the NFL has embraced again:
Tank Johnson: Suspended eight games for misdemeanor firearms possession, Tank has since found a new home with the Dallas Cowboys. He put up three solo tackles and one sack against the Giants and has failed to make headlines since.
Chris Henry: The Bengals didn’t share the Bears’ issues with keeping their prodigal son in the fold – Henry suited up the first game he was free and caught for 99 yards against the Ravens. Not bad for providing minors with alcohol, eh?
Pacman Jones: Pacman’s been out this season on an NFL suspension. A Vegas judge sentenced him to one year of probation last week after he pleaded nolo contendere. Provided Pacman doesn’t get arrested again – which he’s done five other times – he could easily start in 2008.
Ray Lewis: After a knife fight gone bad at the 2000 Super Bowl, Ray Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and was sentenced to one year of probation. He went on to become the greatest linebacker of the modern era of football.
Koren Robinson: Finally, an actual prison sentence! Robinson got 90 days for drunk driving in Washington State in October 2006. But the Green Bay Packers aren’t too good for a convict. After sitting the first seven games of this season, he was activated from the exemption list (following DeShawn Wynn’s injury) and has played adequately since.
Ricky Williams: Oliver Stone couldn’t have made this one up. The Saints traded more than a year’s worth of draft picks to get Ricky Williams. After signing a contract drafted by , Ricky spent three years suffering with New Orleans and giving press conferences in a tinted helmet before having some real success with the Dolphins. A year later, he retired suddenly and refunded most of his signing bonus. He joined the CFL, who let him go after one year and wrote a rule to prevent his return. Roger Goodell overturned Williams’ suspension on November 14. Williams played exactly one (1) game, whereupon he suffered a season-ending injury and contributed to the lowest-scoring Monday Night Football game in history (Steelers 3, Dolphins 0).
The Moral of the Story: The NFL will forgive just about anything, up to and including covering up a murder, and welcome you back with open arms. So Vick should have no trouble signing with a team once he’s served his sentence.
My prediction: Vick will sign as a third-string quarterback for whichever team’s at the bottom of the NFC in 2010. A series of catastrophic and unlikely injuries will force him into the starting role. He’ll win three games, churning up weeks of pundit blather (“REDEMPTION AT FEDEX FIELD” will be the headline). He’ll then lose the next eight. Easterbrook, Buck, Kornheiser, Stephen Smith and the like will shake their heads and lament that the time in prison really cost Vick his game, all forgetting that he was never a good quarterback in the first place.
Who is your favorite NFL jailbird?