On Michael Vick, Collusion, and Dominoes

Michael Vick sat down recently for an interview (deadspin link, so if you are at work, take care) with GQ magazine.  In the interview Vick talks about dogfighting, prison, and football, among other things.  Vick’s quotes on dogfighting and his remorse, or lack thereof, have generated the most buzz in the media.  Personally, I do not care if Vick shows remorse or not.  I do not care if he is a changed man or not.  He was given rules for getting back into the NFL.  He followed those rules and was reinstated accordingly.

So this post is not about Michael Vick, or dogfighting, or remorse.  It is about a neat little quote that most people seem to be picking up on, but only Doug Farrar of Yahoo! and footballoutsiders.com is taking seriously:

“I think I can say this now, because it’s not going to hurt anybody’s feelings, and it’s the truth… I didn’t want to come to Philadelphia. Being the third-team quarterback is nothing to smile about. Cincinnati and Buffalo were better options.”

Those two teams wanted him and would’ve allowed him to start, but after meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell and other reps from the NFL, Vick was convinced—and granted league approval—to sign with Philly. “And I commend and thank them, because they put me in the right situation.”

To recap: Vick wanted to sign with either the Bills or Bengals, but the NFL encouraged him – to what end we do not know – to sign with the Eagles.  Farrar does a good job of covering the story from the player and NFLPA angle.  What interests me is the team and NFL angle, and the dominoes that resulted from Vick’s decision to sign in Philadelphia.

First, let us take a look at this from the Bengals and Bills point of view.  Both are struggling teams in need of better quarterback play.  Yes, the Bengals were in the process of torturing Carson Palmer into retirement during their pursuit of Vick, but it is entirely possible that the Bengals sign Vick and trade Palmer (similar to what actually happened with Vick and the Eagles).  The Bills had no such Palmer problem, and Vick, despite not being in game shape when he originally returned to the NFL, would have been an instant upgrade over any of the quarterbacks on their roster at the time.

More importantly, the Bills and Bengals are two “small market” franchises whose long on-field struggles have started to lead to butts-in-seats troubles.  The Bills, who have not made the playoffs for over a decade, now play a portion of their games in the great state of Canada, and talk is that they could take as many as 50% of their regular-season games north of the border.  The Bengals, who have made the playoffs only twice since the introduction of free agency to the NFL in 1994, are also struggling.  Both franchises need to win to help rebuild community support and return the teams to fiscal health.  In essence, the organization that is meant to serve and protect the owners directly robbed two of those owners of an opportunity to improve their teams and, in turn, their financial situations.

While Buffalo and Cincinnati have every right to be angry and feel cheated by the NFL, it is the rest of the ‘dominoes’ that makes this story interesting on multiple levels.  By acquiring Vick, the Eagles felt they had enough talent on their roster to deal Donovan McNabb to the Redskins.  This move may have occurred even without the acquisition of Vick, as the Eagles seemed poised to turn the starting job over to Kevin Kolb, but the Vick signing certainly made their decision easier.   Through the trade of McNabb, the Eagles acquired a 2nd- and 4th-round draft pick.  While the other side of that coin, McNabb to the Redskins, never worked out, the fact that an NFL team was afforded the opportunity to acquire a starting-caliber quarterback because of the Vick signing cannot be ignored.

The next domino to fall was the trade of Kevin Kolb from Philadelphia to the Cardinals.  Again, because of the Vick signing, the Eagles were able to collect more young talent, this time in the form of another 2nd-round pick along with a young defensive player, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  Teams in the NFC East must be thrilled to know that the NFL helped orchestrate a move that allowed the Eagles to develop a ridiculous pool of good, young talent.

And as with the Redskins trade, the Cardinals were able to acquire a starting-level quarterback.  Unlike the Redskins, however, who reside in the highly-competitive NFC East, the Cardinals compete in the CFL-reject NFC West, whose 2010 playoff representative won the division with an impressive 7-9 regular season record.  The Kolb trade could tip the balance of power in the division in favor of the Cardinals, a team that has struggled to find much success in a post-Kurt Warner world.

By my count, that is four divisions the NFL affected with their ‘nudging’ of Vick towards the Eagles (The NFC East, the NFC West, the AFC North, the AFC East).  Not to mention the fact that it was Vick’s play that lead the Eagles to the playoffs in 2010, and given how close the division was at the end, one could make an argument that without Vick, the Eagles miss out on the postseason.

The dominoes are the interesting ‘what if’ game in this scenario.  The important, dead serious part is this:  the NFL apparently made a decision it felt was best for Michael Vick’s “rehabilitation,” without fulling considering or grasping all of the effects, subtle or not, that decision would have on the rest of the NFL.  Teams and players should be free to make their own choices, their own mistakes, and hit their own home runs.

Roger Goodell was likely concerned about having egg on his face should he allow Vick to return to the NFL only to see him make another “bad choice.”  That outcome would have been better than the reality that saw Goodell collude, and in the process rob the Bengals and Bills of a chance of improving their team, and afford the Eagles the ability to load up theirs.