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Michael Vick And The Birthday From Hell

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Whether Michael Vick was gone for 30 minutes, 10 minutes, or just three minutes when there was a shooting at the site of his 30th birthday party isn't as important as the simple fact -- there was a shooting at the site of his 30th birthday party. Trouble has been a regular sidekick for Vick for a long time. There was hope that had changed.  Since getting out of federal prison and returning to the Eagles, he seemed to walk the path of the wise man. The birthday incident forces us to once again ask some tough questions. 

Vick didn't pull the trigger, and I sure don't believe he knew what was going to happen. He's not back to his old ways in the sense that some detractors would like to believe. Everything I've heard about Vick in the last year has been positive. The players on the Eagles love him. He's considered a good teammate. The coaching staff hasn't had any issues with his work habits. There have been no personality conflicts. My big concern was how Mike would handle the departure of Donovan McNabb. Could Vick swallow his ego and come to work with a smile on his face to backup some unproven guy named Kevin Kolb? Yes. Vick and Kolb get along well. I've heard nothing of any attempt by Vick to push for the starting role. He seems to get that the Eagles are now Kolb's team and that he is just along for the ride. 

I know Vick was disappointed that he wasn't traded this offseason to a team where he could compete for a starting role. The Eagles shopped him around, but there just weren't any takers. The trade market in the NFL has been garbage this offseason. Teams are not paying much for veteran players. Players like Jammal Brown, Sheldon Brown, and Antonio Cromartie were moved at a fraction of what we would have guessed. I didn't hear stories about the Eagles doing a lot of negotiating with teams about Vick. I just don't think many teams were very interested.  Columnists, commentators, and fans all thought Vick was someone to go after, but not the people who actually run the other 31 teams. They didn't see enough in 2009 to get all that interested in him.

Vick said some overly-optimistic things in February and March as he anticipated a deal. Slowly that idea morphed into the reality that he was going to be a backup to Kolb for 2010. Vick embraced it, which was important. That indicated to me that he was starting to get "it". Vick was no longer the superstar of 2000-2006 that could do as he pleased, the rest of the NFL be damned. Maybe the light had finally come on. Maybe not.

Vick missed an appearance at a party in South Florida in late May. I remember reading about this, but for some reason didn't focus on it too much. In retrospect, it should have been something I did pay attention to. Vick was set to earn $10,000 for appearing at a party put on by a promoter. There were radio, print, and online ads for the event. Think about that for a second.

Vick is set to earn about $5.5M from the Eagles this year. What was he doing going to an party in an area he's not overly familiar with and one that was put on by a 23-year-old doing his first big time event?  Think about risk and reward, Mike. That event turned out OK, except that Vick didn't show. He blamed canceled flights, but they were actually just delayed. This party resulted in bad press, but no actual trouble. 

Still, why take the risk?  Why go to an area you don't know well?  Why deal with a young promoter with limited experience?  Why put yourself in a situation where the general public has access to you?  Going to eat at Fuddruckers and dealing with fans is one thing. That's delicious, not dangerous. No one knows that you're scheduled to attend. Going to an event where you are the main draw, and it has been advertised?  That is highly questionable. 

Now we fast forward to Vick's 30th birthday party. Some people have made the point that it was simply a gathering of family and friends at a local restaurant. No, that's only part of the story. Once again, the party was advertised. Anyone could attend as long as they had the money to get in. Vick was familiar with the setting this time around. I'm not as troubled by this as the Florida event, but it still was a dumb move on Vick's part. Risk vs. reward. 

I don't think Mike did anything with malicious intent. My guess is that he wanted to make some money with these appearances. After all, he's paying off creditors from his past problems. Going to a party is an easy way to make some cash. Show up, shake hands, take pictures, and be "the man". Vick still can be a charming guy with a big smile. He's got more than his share of admirers, no matter what is in his past. 

While there is an absence of malice, there is also a huge absence of good judgment. As Vick found out the hard way, if something goes wrong, fair or not, he's going to get some part of the blame. After all, people attended the party to be around Mike Vick. Well, something did go wrong and that could cost him the high-paying job with the NFL team. Was the appearance fee worth risking the QB job? No. Hell no.

That shooting may very well have cost Vick any future shot at being a starting QB. A team will only commit to a player that they believe in. Having him on the roster is one thing, but naming him the starter is very different. Can you build around Vick, even for just a year?  Vick hasn't started a game since December 2006. He hasn't led a team to a winning season since 2004. He's now 30 years old and has declining physical skills. Can he make the conversion from athletic QB to savvy veteran? 

Set aside the on-field concerns for a minute. Now teams have to ask themselves if Vick is worth bringing into the fold. Even when he has good intentions bad things happen around him. Is this a player you can trust?  Is he worth the trouble?  Vick needed to show teams that he could not only stay out of trouble, but away from trouble. That's now out the window, at least for the near future. 

The larger question that has to be asked is how much Vick has really changed from the problem child of four years ago?  I happen to be related to a couple of people that have had their share of legal problems. One person spent more time behind bars than Vick did. These people get out of trouble and you hope for the best. You want to believe they've changed. Nope, hasn't happened for either person. They put on a good show at times, but reality takes over at some point and the truth comes out. Someone else is always to blame. The system is unfair. The cops are out to get 'em. Blah, blah, blah. 

Vick has said mostly all the right things since getting out, but we have to remember that he's not even been back in the league for a full year. Time is the ultimate test for people on the rebound. Anyone can smile, be happy, and walk the line when the cameras are rolling and everyone is watching. As time goes by, old habits can resurface. Is this what we saw happening with Vick?  Was he simply careless or was he starting to say the heck with it, I'm gonna live my way. I'm not saying that he ever would return to the old days of dogfighting. No rational person questions that he's done with those days. The question is more about letting his guard down and being Mike Vick, superstar instead of Mike Vick, reformed convict. 

We know the reformed convict will show up on time and work hard. We know he is a good teammate. As for the superstar, that's a whole other story. He had terrible work habits in Atlanta. He was last in, first out. He did what it took to get by, but lived and died on natural talent instead of hard work and preparation. That's not a player worth keeping around in his current condition. Vick no longer is the most explosive runner in the league. He now needs polished skill to help out raw talent. 

Football aside, the old Vick got into a lot of trouble because he didn't care what other people thought. He worried about himself and that's it. Vick had a problem showing up for events where the face of the organization was expected to be. If he did show, he was late. He lied to the team and the commissioner when questioned about some situations. Vick was the ultimate spoiled athlete that acted as though he was beyond the rules. I thought that person was gone after 18 months in Leavenworth prison. The events of the last six weeks have me less sure. 

The Eagles need to be logical and not emotional in reviewing this situation. Don't be flippant and just cut the guy. Don't be dismissive and keep him just because he didn't pull the trigger. You have to figure out if this is a player you can trust to stay out of and away from trouble over the next eight months. I think the guiding principle should be this...can he help win us a Super Bowl

I'm not a moralist. I'm a football fan. I want the Eagles to do what it takes to win the Super Bowl. No one cares who won the Lady Byng Trophy. Everybody knows who has the Stanley Cup. The goal is to win, not be the best behaved. There is a need for some balance. I don't want a team full of angels, but I do need players that I can cheer for. 

I honestly don't know what I'd tell Jeff Lurie or Andy Reid if they asked my opinion. I thought signing Vick last year was highly questionable, but this is the year when he could actually pay some dividends. Kolb is the starter so we need a veteran backup. Vick now knows the offense pretty well. He looked highly improved in the OTAs as compared to where he was in practices last summer. Is Vick going to be used in a creative offensive role this year or is he just here as the backup QB?  The handful of good plays he delivered in 2009 were hardly anything great. Is Vick truly a special weapon for the Eagles or just a high profile backup with a lot of baggage?  One of those descriptions is worth keeping. Not the other. 

This story has already had several twists and turns. I'm interested to see how it all plays out. Will Vick be in legal trouble?  Will the league suspend him?  I think the answer to both questions is no. That's just a guess, really. I could be way off on both counts. If I am right, though, the Eagles have a big decision to make. Vick could go from the 5-million dollar man to the outhouse in a hurry. Would other teams go after him?  Is he done?  All of this comes from a party where he was looking to make some money on his name. 

Most people have heard the Latin phrase "caveat emptor" -- let the buyer beware. In Mike's case, the seller was really the one who needed to beware. What seemed like easy money turned out to be very, very complicated and not worth the risk involved. "Michael Vick" was a tarnished name from 2007 until 2009. Then he got out and started to change that. Vick worked hard to rehab his name, so that it meant something football related and not criminal. Now, all that work may be out the window.