How Vick became an Eagle

Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts coach, keeps an eye on Michael Vick (left) during the new conference. Dungy has been mentoring Vick.
Tony Dungy, the former Indianapolis Colts coach, keeps an eye on Michael Vick (left) during the new conference. Dungy has been mentoring Vick.
Posted: August 16, 2009

The Eagles' controversial signing of Michael Vick, a move that has triggered debate locally and around the country, started with a meeting 10 days ago.

Coach Andy Reid, sitting in a room with general manager Tom Heckert and vice president of player personnel Howie Roseman, first suggested what seemed to be an unthinkable idea for an organization that prides itself on character and integrity.

Imagine Michael Vick in a No. 7 jersey with that fierce image of an Eagle on either side of his shoulder pads.

Reid had been thinking about Vick for a while.

"I had just kind of followed his progress to see what would transpire," Reid said. "I wanted to see how he handled things and I had talked to some people about him. I'm not going to say who, but I talked to some people."

Convinced that Vick was sincere in his desire to right the wrongs that led him into a federal prison and cut two years off his football career, Reid had visions of the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback in an Eagles uniform.

Imagine Michael Vick lining up in the backfield for direct snaps from center, then taking off up field on one of those trademark runs that made him the most feared running quarterback in NFL history.

When the meeting ended, Roseman called Joe Banner.

"We just had a meeting and Vick's name came up," Roseman told the Eagles' president. "Andy is going to give you a call about it."

Donovan McNabb. Brian Westbrook. DeSean Jackson. Michael Vick. Think of what the offense can do with so many superb athletes at the disposal of Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

Reid, as Roseman promised, called Banner.

"What do you think?" the coach asked the team president.

"We have to think about it," Banner told Reid.

Michael Vick can be a quarterback, a running back or a wide receiver. He can be a secret weapon. He can help the Eagles win that elusive Super Bowl.

"We went through the pluses from a football perspective," Banner said. "I said, 'Good, because if it wasn't for that, we'd have nothing to talk about.' "

Given the sales pitch Reid had offered Banner about Michael Vick the player, there was now plenty to talk about and a lot of legwork to be done. Banner had questions for Reid: "What research have you done? Who have you talked to? What made this come up? I asked all the questions anyone would have asked if they were in my job."

Banner liked Reid's answers enough that the debate continued through the weekend, with the coach having long conversations with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who emerged as Vick's mentor after the quarterback was released from federal custody last month.

"I've done a tremendous amount of homework on this," Reid said Thursday night after the Eagles announced the signing of Vick. "I've followed his progress. He has some great people in his corner that he's proven to that he's on the right track in the commissioner and Tony Dungy, who has spent a lot of time with Michael.

"Tony is a good friend of mine and I've had a chance to visit with him and talk through some things. I've also had a chance to talk to Michael a few times here just to make sure that I know exactly where he's at, and he's at a good place."

There appeared to be a dual motivation for Reid's interest in Vick's journey from being a convicted felon who financed an illegal dogfighting business to a reinstated player craving a second chance to both play in the NFL and prove his worth as a rehabilitated citizen.

"I've seen people close to me who have had second chances and taken advantage of those," Reid said. "It's very important that people give them opportunities to prove that they can change, so we're doing that with Michael. I'll be very honest with you. I've followed Michael's situation very close with the things that my boys went through. They were right around the same time."

In January 2007, Reid's two oldest sons, Britt and Garrett, were arrested on the same day in separate incidents. News that both sons had serious drug problems later surfaced.

Vick's troubles started in late April 2007 when police in Surry County, Va., discovered dogfighting items and more than 60 dogs at a home owned by the then-Atlanta Falcons' quarterback.

"I know the changes that can be made," Reid said.

On Reid's home front

Britt Reid completed a 15-month drug program in early June and was around the team throughout training camp this summer.

"I am proud of Britt," Andy Reid said at his son's June drug-program graduation, something he probably never could have imagined attending a few years ago. "It is a different type of graduation, as important - and even more important in some cases - as other graduations."

Garrett Reid is still working through his legal issues. In May, he was sent to the state prison at Graterford for a time after a positive drug test following a furlough from a halfway house, the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office said. Garrett Reid has been in the State Intermediate Punishment program, a relatively new and little-used state corrections program for drug treatment, after pleading guilty to smuggling drugs into the Montgomery County jail.

Andy Reid said he was convinced that Vick had changed because of his conversations with Goodell and Dungy, but others in the organization also had to be persuaded that the risk of signing Vick was outweighed by the potential reward of what the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback could do on the field.

Banner liked what he was hearing from Vick's agent, Joel Segal, about the quarterback's search for a team after the Eagles decided that they were indeed interested.

"By Monday, it had reached the point where we thought it was worth calling Joel," Banner said. "We got such an extraordinarily positive reaction from Joel about the things Michael was looking for. It wasn't just about being a starter or making the most money.

"It was a totally different list about being around players who would apply positive peer pressure, being in a situation where he could gradually get integrated, being in an organization with a strong head coach who would be a mentor or friend. Those were the kinds of things he wanted, and from my perspective that was a big positive."

Vick said the Eagles felt like a good fit.

"I have been away from the game for two years and I've got to start somewhere," he said. "I've got to crawl before I walk. I can't imagine going out after a two-year hiatus, going out and trying to be a starter for a football team. I think I could, but I wouldn't risk it. I just need time to get my feet wet and get acclimated. I thought this was the perfect situation, the perfect scenario.

"I can come in and learn from Donovan [McNabb]. Everything that he's learned and the way he's been polished just comes from Coach Reid. I want to get with those two and do as much as I can to become a complete quarterback, and I have time to do it."

McNabb gives the OK

At some point, the Eagles asked for McNabb's blessing, and they quickly received it. McNabb said he even lobbied for the team to sign Vick.

"I'm just excited that we've given another individual an opportunity to get his life back on track," McNabb said.

Perhaps the most difficult obstacle standing between Vick and an Eagles uniform was owner Jeffrey Lurie, who did not mince his words when describing how despicable he thought the actions were that led to his newest player's conviction on dogfighting charges.

But after lengthy conversations with Vick, Lurie decided that the idea that his head coach raised in a meeting 10 days ago had some merit.

"Meeting with Michael, I felt the self-hatred," Lurie said. "I felt the remorse. I felt the plans going forward could be very, very fruitful for animal rights in America."

Given those feelings, Banner got the go-ahead to negotiate a contract with Segal. The agent described the one-year deal with an option as a standard NFL contract. Vick reportedly will be paid $1.6 million this season, but Banner said none of that money is guaranteed. The option year is reportedly worth $5.6 million, and Banner said about a third of that money becomes guaranteed if the Eagles agree to pick up the option in March.

"He has to do the right things to remain on the team," Banner said.

Vick also has contractual obligations to make community appearances, but Banner said that is no different from any other player contract on the Eagles.

"That's standard in our contracts," Banner said. "There is nothing above and beyond that other than what he has committed to us and what he intends to do."

Banner said the Eagles have taken Vick at his word that he intends to be a model citizen on and off the field. The Eagles know that's a risk. They know there's no guarantee.

"All of us have put ourselves on the line and will be subject to legitimate skepticism, questions and doubt if we end up being wrong," Banner said. "That's why we researched this so thoroughly and felt like we made a very educated decision and took a risk."


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover

at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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