One of the truest things about Roger Goodell the commissioner -- something Terrell Owens and Deion Sanders and, as it turns out this afternoon, Tennessee running back Chris Johnson don't understand -- is that even though he can be a tough enforcer if the situation warrants, Goodell always leaves a cooperating player who's gone astray a path back into the NFL. That's exactly what he's done in his decision to conditionally reinstate Michael Vick.
He could have said: Michael, you can't play until at least Week 6. What he said was: If you do everything right, I could reinstate you fully before Week 6.
He could have said: I'm suspending you so you can't play in any games in the preseason, and you can't be around the team until I reinstate you. What he said was: You can play in the final two preseason games if someone signs you, and if you do everything right, you can practice with your team with no restrictions until you're reinstated. That's unlike a normal suspension, when players can't practice with their teams in the regular season.
It's about as fair a decision as Vick could have hoped for.
The five other things I think I think about Goodell's mid-afternoon ruling:
1. I think the most logical scenario in a perfect world for Vick is missing four games. Let's say Vick signs somewhere by the middle of next week, which I think is realistic. This would give him two full months -- from Aug. 5 to Oct. 5 -- to show he's a changed man, and to show his new mentor-in-residence, Tony Dungy, that he's gotten rid of the hangers-on that helped make his life a ruinous mess.
2. I think there couldn't be a more perfect mentor than Dungy, for this reason: He's not going to let Vick snow him. Dungy cannot lie. So if he speaks with Goodell weekly, which is probably about the frequency of the phone talks they'll have, Dungy will lay it on the line when the commish asks how Vick is doing.
3. I think Goodell sounds like he buys what Vick is selling. "I believe he is sincere in his remorse,'' Goodell said in a conference call with reporters just after 4 p.m. Monday. "He wants an opportunity to prove that [man who committed heinous dog-fighting offenses] is not Michael Vick.''
4. I think Vick earned points with his earnestness to Goodell when they met -- they've had three meetings in recent weeks -- by telling the commissioner, before the question was even asked, how sorry he was about his lies involving dog-fighting when Goodell grilled him about it in 2007. I wasn't there, obviously, so I don't know whether to think Vick is only apologizing because he got caught in a lie. But I know it impressed Goodell.
5. I think it's silly to think Vick should serve no penalty. Johnson joined Owens and Sanders -- who previously said two years in jail was enough of a punishment for Vick -- by saying on Twitter that he was angry Vick was getting more forced time off. The damage he did to the image of the game, and the gambling, and his serial lying to the commissioner and his owner and his GM ... That all can't be swept under the rug. Vick has to pay for it. And now he will. All in all, I think it's a fairly lenient price for Vick to pay.