Bob Ford: Biggest question about Eagles' Vick is on the field

Posted: July 23, 2010

There isn't anyone outside of Michael Vick himself who really knows if Vick is a changed man. You can look him in the eyes, as Andy Reid and Jeffrey Lurie did last summer, or study his actions, which has been a media parlor game since he signed with the Eagles, but the truth is that a person's thoughts are his or hers alone.

Vick was smart enough to know that, whether factual or fanciful, his "change" had better look genuine. He had a whole lot of old white men sitting in judgment on his future, and that isn't an equation that always went well previously.

Broke and out of work, Vick needed a job and he played the interview game well enough to get one. Whether he played the actual game well enough to keep that job is another matter, and that's the one the Eagles should really have looked more squarely in the eyes. Admitting mistakes is not a pastime the Eagles hurry into, however, and they've got one more season before that will be unavoidable.

As for Citizen Vick, that was a close call down in Virginia Beach. If a dog had been shot in the parking lot of the Guadalajara restaurant on June 25, Vick would be out of work again. Instead, it was just a man, so everything's going to blow over eventually.

It's easy to say Vick showed bad judgment in taking part in a "birthday party" organized by his brother Marcus in which he was the lure that would bring paying guests to the place while he stayed in the roped-off VIP section. It's easy to say because it's pretty obvious that is the case, but Vick has to walk a very conflicted ledge these days.

As much as he is advised to cut all ties with his past, with where he grew up, with how he grew up, that's rough medicine for a man who has prided himself on loyalty to family and friends. I'll leave it to someone else to condemn him for trying to move forward while still reaching back. I know that a middle-aged white guy sitting in the Philadelphia suburbs typing on a laptop has no idea what it must be like.

Still, a dude got shot, just minutes after Vick was, according to some reports, held back from confronting him in the parking lot, and just minutes after Vick's car left the premises. The man shot in the leg was Quanis "Q" Phillips, one of the four codefendants in the Bad Newz Kennels case. He used to be in the inner circle, feeding at the trough, living the life, and maybe he showed up at the party trying to rekindle that.

Versions are a bit muddled on what happened. There weren't a lot of "credible witnesses," as they like to say in court. Everyone agrees that Marcus Vick told Phillips to leave. For one thing, it's a violation of parole for Michael Vick to have any association with former felons. For another, Phillips and the other two codefendants, Purnell Peace and Tony Taylor, flipped on Vick, agreeing to testify against him in order to receive a plea bargain. The four had all pleaded not guilty, but, one by one, Vick was abandoned by them and he finally had to change his plea as well.

Phillips didn't want to leave the party and, before exiting, he shoved the hand of a woman holding some birthday cake. Some reports say it was Vick's fiancée, some say it was another woman. Maybe Quanis was being playful, maybe not. The cake either hit Vick or came close to hitting him and, well, Phillips did leave then. A few minutes later, after Vick drove off, Phillips was shot in the leg. Maybe there were a lot of poor decisions made regarding the party by many people, but Q led the league in bad judgment that night.

Everyone in the parking lot, including Phillips, knows who did the shooting, but no one would cooperate with the police, so no charges have been filed. As for Vick, he will have to jump through a few hoops for the parole guys, and maybe the NFL commissioner will harrumph at him a few times, but this incident looks like a sudden sandstorm that has about blown itself out.

That means it all gets back to the football now, and the question of whether the Eagles are stone crazy to pay Vick at least $5.25 million to clap hands for Kevin Kolb and run an occasional option into the line for a 1-yard gain. Vick didn't do much more as he stood behind Donovan McNabb last season. He looked slow, tentative, and, as a passer, no more accurate than ever.

Still, the Eagles have stuck with him, if only to justify their great social experiment. The organization might win the Nobel Prize before it wins the Lombardi Trophy. They better also hope that Kolb plays well and remains healthy. If not, they might all end up with cake on their faces.

The standard philosophy for an NFL team that will be starting an untried young quarterback is to have a solid veteran backing him up. Before picking up Vick's $1 million option in March - which guaranteed $1.5 million of his $3.75 million base salary - there was a long list of potential free agents available. None of the names will knock you over. Chad Pennington, Kellen Clemens, Kyle Orton, John Kitna, Joey Harrington, Charlie Batch, Daunte Culpepper, David Carr, and a few others. You get the idea. There's a reason guys are available.

But would one of them really not have been a better disaster backup than Vick? The Eagles said they didn't think so, and you hope that decision wasn't made to keep from looking foolish for signing him in the first place.

The team remains very concerned about whether Michael Vick is the same man he was before his legal troubles. What they should be concerned about is whether he is the same quarterback who couldn't do very much last season.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.

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