Birds might have been better off keeping Vick

Posted: March 24, 2014

Michael Vick moved north to the New York Jets Friday night after an improbable five-year journey in Philadelphia. It started with a cold reception from Jeffrey Lurie and ended with the owner making a glowing statement about the quarterback whose signing created a nationwide controversy.

So now that it's over, what should we make of it all?

"Much ado about mediocrity" would probably be the most fitting headline.

Vick was here for 80 regular-season games. He started half of them and won half of the 40 he started. Thanks mostly to the tutelage of former coach Andy Reid and former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who is now with the Jets, Vick was a better quarterback when he left than when he arrived, but that's also an indictment of how poor his passing skills were with the Atlanta Falcons.

Vick was infamous for killing dogs, but the Eagles wanted him to be the face of Reid's version of the Wildcat offense and didn't know what to expect beyond that. Neither the dog thing nor the Cat thing worked out well for Vick, but he survived them both.

Thanks entirely to the second chance he received from Reid, Vick left the Eagles a better man, mature enough to be a leader even when things didn't go his way, and able to overcome the stigma of his felony dogfighting conviction that Lurie depicted as "horrific behavior" upon the quarterback's arrival.

There were highlights, to be sure. Vick was at his absolute best on that Monday night in 2010 against Donovan McNabb and the Washington Redskins, and the comeback he orchestrated against the New York Giants a month later in the Meadowlands will not soon be forgotten.

But his record as a starter after that Giants game was 12-19, including a home playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers following the 2010 regular season. He was hurt too much and ineffective too often to be considered an elite franchise quarterback.

As for the human side, which was a huge part of the reason he landed with the Eagles, Vick is a success story, although it would be disingenuous to say he was perfect during his tenure here. His 30th birthday party in Virginia Beach ended shortly before Quanis Phillips - one of Vick's former dogfighting codefendants - was shot outside the nightclub where the affair was held.

Vick was absolved of any wrongdoing, but he later admitted in a Sports Illustrated story that it was that night that made him really take stock of how much he had to lose if he didn't change his life. The entire story of what happened was never told, and no one was ever arrested for Phillips' shooting.

We do know this: Vick became a spokesman against dogfighting and was embraced by the Humane Society for his work. He did his time, and even more, after his crime. He had his ups and downs on the field after the Virginia Beach nightclub incident, but he only created minor ripples of controversy by expressing his desire to be the Eagles' starter on a number of occasions.

You can't blame a man for wanting to play, which is why he is now with the Jets. Vick, who will be 34 when he goes to training camp this summer, believed he had a better chance of beating out Geno Smith for a starting job than he did of unseating Nick Foles with the Eagles.

He's right about that, but the strange thing is that both Vick and the Eagles would have been better off extending their marriage a little longer.

Vick became a much better man and a better quarterback during his five years in Philadelphia and he was a leader in a locker room ripe for destruction last August when the Riley Cooper racial slur surfaced. But even with his improvement at the position, he appears at this point in his career to be best suited as a backup for a good team.

Coach Chip Kelly often boasted last season about how he had two capable NFL starters in Vick and Foles. Now, it appears as if the Eagles are going to go into the 2014 season with only one capable starter, and Foles, despite an outstanding 2013, still has much to prove.

Unless the Eagles move up significantly in the draft and take a quarterback or sign a veteran free agent, they are going to head into training camp with last year's fourth-round pick, Matt Barkley, as Foles' backup. Maybe Kelly and his staff see something in Barkley that could not be seen during his brief time on the field in the preseason and regular season last year.

Regardless, the Eagles would have been a better team in the locker room and on the field with Vick in the backup role. It might have taken some convincing and perhaps a little more money than the $5 million the Jets paid him, but the importance of a second-string quarterback in the NFL should never be underestimated. That was a lesson learned the hard way by Reid when McNabb suffered a sports hernia in 2005 and the Eagles were stuck with Mike McMahon.

Vick, of course, came here as a humbled third-string quarterback fresh out of prison. He lasted five years, made around $45 million, and restored his good name. That's quite a list of accomplishments for a man who had fallen so far.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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