The Eagles took one leap of faith when they signed Michael Vick in 2009. They took another one Monday when they signed him to the largest contract in franchise history -- six years and 100 million.
It seems so long ago now: the shock of his signing, the firestorm of criticism that came with it, the animal rights protestors outside the Nova Care Complex, the skepticism of those who felt he could never recapture his football skills. (I confess, I was among the skeptics).
Vick has left all that behind along with the Wildcat experiment, which never made much sense, and the perception he would never fit into the Eagles offense. I was one of those who said that, too. His career completion percentage was barely over 50 percent, hardly the stuff of the West Coast offense.
But Vick has shed all that. He has resurrected his career in a way that would have been unimaginable one year ago. This time last year he was Kevin Kolbs backup. Then along came Clay Matthews and, suddenly, everything changed. Vick got his chance to play and the Eagles world spun wildly in a new direction.
Now Kevin Kolb is in Arizona and Michael Vick is, well, everywhere. On the cover of ESPN the Magazine. In the pages of GQ. On Capitol Hill addressing Congress. On book shelves with his autobiography. He is the Eagles quarterback and at 31, he is bigger than he has ever been.
With his new contract, Vick is the third highest paid quarterback in the NFL -- but he is the highest paid quarterback without a Super Bowl ring. That is the great unanswered question: Can Vick do what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the top dollar players at his position, have done? Can he lead a team to the championship?
Well find out because Vick is now under contract with the Eagles through 2016. That means if he is going to win a Super Bowl, he will win it here. One hundred million will buy you a lot of things, but it cant buy a Super Bowl ring. That you have to earn on the field.
It was a foregone conclusion the Eagles would sign Vick. They wanted to remove the franchise tag and work out something long term which would allow them to spread the money over more years and free up cap space to sign DeSean Jackson. We knew it was coming but when it was announced it still was a stunner. Even in a week of earthquakes and hurricanes, this contract made us say, Whoa.
The Eagles are taking a double risk. They are betting Vick can stay healthy and play at the same MVP level he played for most of last season. Thats hardly a sure thing. He has only played a full 16-game schedule once in his career. The team is also betting he wont self-destruct off the field the way he did after signing his last 100 million contract with the Atlanta Falcons.
Vick is older now and you would hope he learned enough during his 18-month prison stretch that he will make better decisions. With the exception of the birthday-party-gone-wrong last summer, Vick has stayed out of trouble since coming to Philadelphia. But now that he is back on top and the money is pouring in again, you wonder if he will change back into the same reckless diva that crashed and burned in Atlanta.
Of the two risks, the second is easier to control. It is simply a matter of choices. If Vick screws up and gets in trouble again, it is his own fault. The Eagles dont believe he will and if you are a fan, you hope they are right. But, really, its up to Vick himself.
The first part is the tricky one. Can Vick, at his age and with his style of play, avoid injury? And can he put his game back on the fast track it was on last season and keep it there? That is harder to predict because other teams have a lot to say about it and they arent in the business of insuring happy endings for Vick or anyone else.
They want to hit him, frustrate him and force him into mistakes. They want to turn him into the guy who fell short in Atlanta. They started to do that late last season with new defensive schemes and blitzes that Vick was slow to recognize. It caused him to throw seven interceptions in his last six starts after throwing none in the first seven games.
That is where the Eagles wanted to pick up with Vick this off-season. He made great strides working under Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg, but defenses had a book on Vick by the end of the season. He needed to spend this off-season with the coaches on solving that book, but he couldnt do it because of the lockout. That was a real setback.
So far Vicks preseason has been erratic. He looked sharp at training camp and in a cameo appearance against Baltimore, but he was awful in Pittsburgh and hit-and-miss against Cleveland. Still, he says he is confident and 100 million says the Eagles share that confidence. Theyd better be right.
The Eagles figure they won one huge bet on Vick already, now they are upping the ante. But they cant stop there. The next order of business should be plugging the leaks in the offensive line and making DeSean Jackson happy. That will make Vicks life easier and safer.
E-mail Ray Didinger at email@example.com