Amid all the speculation regarding who might be interested in signing the newly released Michael Vick, and when he might be re-instated to the league -- conditionally or otherwise -- it strikes me as necessary to point out the seemingly forgotten fact that he wasn't exactly setting the NFL world on fire as a quarterback when we last saw him play in December 2006.
You can look it up. I did, and here are just a few of the statistical realities that jumped out at me regarding Vick's most recent NFL work:
• Vick lost seven of his last nine starts in 2006, as the Falcons wasted a 5-2 start and missed the playoffs at 7-9 -- a tailspin that contributed to head coach Jim Mora losing his job after three seasons in Atlanta. Over his final two seasons, his fifth and sixth in the NFL, Vick's starting record was a mediocre 15-16. These days, that's roughly Matt Schaub territory, who, ironically, was Vick's onetime backup in Atlanta.
• In those last nine starts of 2006, Vick threw for at least 200 yards in a game just once, in a Week 15 home loss to Dallas. Vick passed for 127 yards or fewer in five of his last seven starts, and had efforts of 109 yards and 81 yards in his final two games as a Falcon that season. For the year, he completed just 52.6 percent, and averaged only 154.6 yards passing per game, the 28th highest total among the NFL's 32 starters. Yawn.
• You might recall that Vick broke single-season rushing records for a quarterback with 1,039 yards and an average carry of 8.4 in 2006. That helped Atlanta lead the league in rushing for a third straight year, and the Falcons established a single-season franchise rushing record with 2,939 yards. But Vick was also sacked a whopping 45 times that year, losing 303 yards, and fumbled nine times. In his last three seasons in Atlanta, Vick coughed up the ball an alarming 36 times, often in the process of running, and absorbed a whopping 124 sacks (41.3 per year). Elusive? Maybe not.
• Vick's passer rating was a pedestrian 75.7 in 2006 (20th in the league), a slight improvement over 2005 (73.1). He threw for 20 touchdowns and a career-high-tying 13 interceptions that final season, but his two-year totals for 2005-06 were a modest 35 touchdowns with 26 picks. Include 2004 and Vick threw 49 touchdowns and 38 interceptions over the course of his final three seasons, with passer ratings that never climbed higher than '04's 78.1.
In other words, what's all the fuss? This is a guy who, at least from a statistical standpoint, was in the same neighborhood as Alex Smith, Matt Leinart, Rex Grossman and Charlie Frye when he last performed as a starting quarterback. And we know things haven't gone so swimmingly for that particular foursome since 2006 either.
I'll grant you that Vick today, even after two years away from the game, is very likely better than some of the 32 starters who are slated to open the NFL's 2009 season. But I don't think his most recent numbers make the slam-dunk case he's in the top 20 among the league's QBs. Then again, in Vick's career, it has always been a case of style trumping substance to some degree. The hype has forever been a good bit ahead of his game.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to call and seek my counsel on this matter, but the course of Vick's comeback that makes the most sense to me, for all parties concerned, is to let him put in a stint this fall in the new UFL, allowing that publicity-hungry start-up to absorb the inevitable protest that will accompany his return to the playing field, while giving NFL personnel men a risk-free, live-game assessment of where Vick's skills stand.
At this late date, the chances of Vick significantly contributing to an NFL team in 2009 are probably a long shot at best due to the length of his hiatus from the game, and in the UFL he would be free to continue rehabilitating both his off-field reputation and a quarterbacking career that had started to seriously take on water in 2006. That he could do both beyond the glare of the NFL's white-hot spotlight, but not in total oblivion when it comes to the media's radar screen, seems like an obvious win-win to me.
Vick has something to prove to us, both on and off the field. Why not let his actions speak louder than his words in terms of both football and his promised advocacy for all things relating to the elimination of dog fighting? The NFL should, in effect, put him on its own version of probation, buying itself some time to more accurately assess whether Vick has changed as a player, or a man. Let the UFL serve as his conditional springboard back to football relevancy, even if it does buy the fledgling league a modicum of publicity. That's a small but necessary price to pay for a league that Goodell fiercely protects from an image standpoint.
If Vick succeeds in the UFL, the NFL will know far better than it does today exactly what it's getting when it welcomes Michael Vick back into its membership. For both Vick and anyone interested in his future in the NFL, that's probably the best possible ending to this long and often sad tale.