There may not be a more outspoken critic of Michael Vick the football player than myself since his arrival in Philadelphia in 2009. It’s got nothing to do with past criminal behavior – he paid his debt to society. In fact, I kind of like the reformed Mike. He strikes me as a thoughtful and dare I say genuine person. I simply don’t think highly of his resume.
People often talk about Vick as if he’s accomplished a lot in the NFL. They often wonder aloud on TV or radio if we’ll ever see “the old Vick” from his Atlanta days, as if that one-read-and-take-off style made him a good player. Sure, the Falcons got a couple trips to the playoffs out of it, and Vick frequently made highlight reels, but he never grew as a quarterback during his six seasons there. People forget he might have been on his last leg in ATL anyway before it abruptly came to an end.
Then Vick joined the Eagles and ascended to franchise quarterback in about one year’s time. He was definitely a different player, actually trying to run an offense for probably the first time in his life. They smoked a few bad teams, and Vick’s flaws went overlooked for a month or two before the most predictable thing ever happened. Right as he was winning over some of his biggest detractors, defenses started catching up with him again.
2010 was not as great as people remember. That’s not to say Vick’s Comeback Player of the Year award wasn’t warranted. There were just so many times the season could have gone wrong earlier than it did. It could have been Week 2 when Detroit was blitzing the hell out of Vick in his first start, but the defense couldn’t capitalize on his mistakes and the Birds snuck out of there with a win. It could have been the night of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, where Vick was about as bad as bad can be for 52 minutes before suddenly becoming Superman.
Eventually his luck did turn though, and glaring imperfections caught up with him much as defenses did. The Vikings embarrassed the Eagles on a Tuesday night in what was a clueless performance by Vick, and two weeks later he was heaving the decisive interception in a first-round playoff game at home. Since then, it’s been nothing but a cocktail of soul-crushing turnovers and devastating injuries.
Hey, don’t take my word for it. The numbers speak for themselves: a 56.3 completion percentage; 177 touchdowns to 121 turnovers (run/pass); a pedestrian 80.6 passer rating; an 8.6 sack percentage, which ranks 153 out of 196 all-time among qualifying players; appeared in 16 games only once; has just two playoff wins. Take those over a 10-year career, and they’re not very good. Kind of makes four trips to the Pro Bowl ring hollow, and if it was any player besides Vick, you’d be wondering how they still have a starting job in the league.
Yet here we are again. Vick will be the Eagles’ starter this season, and just like I had to come to terms with it in 2010, when I knew it ultimately wouldn’t work out, I have to come to terms with it now.
One way it’s different this time around is at least I agree he should be starting. Holding an open competition at the position was the right thing to do, and he won fair and square. It’s not like when Kevin Kolb was groomed to take over, was shuffled in and out of the lineup for two quarters until he got concussed, and then was replaced. (Why did they ever trade Donovan McNabb in the first place if they were going to do that?) Vick legit earned this.
It’s still difficult not to associate No. 7 with failure though. 30 preseason snaps no matter how awesome doesn’t change the fact that for 10 years this has been the type of quarterback who will always choose to freelance rather than play within the offense. He holds on to the ball far too long, gives it to the other team, then goes down with an injury once the season has already spiraled out of control. Why should we believe anything else will happen now?
Maybe you believe he is a fit for Chip Kelly’s offense, which promises to make the most of Vick’s athletic ability, while perhaps also simplifying the decision making. Maybe it’s because he’s in the best shape of his life, or that he was able to rekindle his passion for the game. Maybe a quarterback just can’t fail in Kelly’s system – it’s not like Nick Foles had any trouble moving the offense. Or maybe you along with many others will choose not to believe this story plays out it any manner other than the same as it always has until Vick proves unmistakably otherwise.
I can’t tell anyone how they should feel, because I’m undecided myself. I figured if accuracy and decision making and protecting the football were all virtues, Vick would lose an honest quarterback competition almost anywhere, probably would have a long time ago. But he didn’t, and I saw that with my own eyes. To top it all off, what he managed to showcase in two preseason games was nothing short of tantalizing. It was almost like a movie trailer for a comedy where I know they showed me all of the funny parts, but I kind of still want to see it anyway.
With Vick it’s never been a question of talent, he’s just never been able to play the position the way the NFL demands. Of course, Chip Kelly might be on the verge of bucking a lot of league trends this season, so maybe he can with Vick, too.
There’s no denying Vick has evolved. He’s a leader now, not just in the sense that he was in Atlanta where he was a celebrity and guys looked up to him. He’s an inspirational leader, a dedicated worker and teammate, a locker-room guy, a tone-setter – somebody who demonstrated change is possible both on and off the field. But if he’s going to find success again or ever eclipse the somewhat modest accolades compared to his star, he will have to continue evolving.
If he can do this Chip’s way, Vick has a chance to be the best he’s ever been. Yeah, for the very first time I honestly believe that. And I’ll clutch that belief firmly while I once again prepare for the worst if you don't mind.