Only Vick can prove the Eagles right

Now the Philadelphia Eagles merely have to hope they are right about Michael Vick for a second time.

They obviously were right two years ago when they took a relatively inexpensive monetary gamble on a former all-pro quarterback trying to rebuild his life and his career. It wasn't about the dollars involved then. The biggest risk was the potential cost from a public-relations standpoint of taking in a player whose reputation as a dog killer made him unpalatable to many fans.

If Vick had not been fully changed by losing everything, including an 18-month stretch of his freedom, then the Eagles were making a huge mistake. People are made of flesh and blood, not glass, so assuming transparency is a tricky business, but Vick outwardly has been everything the Eagles could have hoped since his arrival in August 2009.

As a bonus - and the organization's most optimistic expectations didn't dare go this high - Vick won the starting job last season and played at an MVP level or very near it for much of the year. The Eagles were rewarded for their gamble, and this week Vick was rewarded for his part in the equation as he signed a six-year, $100 million contract (with $40 million guaranteed).

And now, they just have to be right about that, too.

"To be honest, I never thought this day would come," Vick said Tuesday. "I just wanted to play the game [again] to prove myself, but to this magnitude, I didn't think it would happen this way."

He wasn't alone. Coming back after missing two seasons during his trial for operating a dog-fighting ring and his subsequent incarceration in Leavenworth, Kan., Vick was even-money to never get a real chance again. His reputation as a quarterback during his career with the Atlanta Falcons was mixed. He was known as a great athlete, but not a great student of the game; one who trusted in his talent to get him out of difficult situations that a few extra hours in the film room might have prevented.

The Eagles weren't sure what they were getting when Vick was signed. It didn't have to work. It didn't have to last. But Vick dedicated himself to learning Andy Reid's offensive system, to putting in the time and the practice to win the trust of the coaching staff. He needed a full year to get back into playing shape. After that, the road to the new contract was wide open.

"At this point, we've lived with Michael for the last couple of years," team president Joe Banner said. "We know who he is. We know his work ethic. The scale of the money is very different, but this [new contract] is probably less risky than when we did the first signing."

 

Counting the risks

Not that there isn't risk. There is plenty. In no particular order, the Eagles have to hope that Vick stays healthy, that age doesn't catch him sooner rather than later, and that the puzzle he presents for opposing defenses is not readily solvable.

"Whether we got it right or wrong, time will tell," Banner said. "But I think we've made it clear that this organization is driven by the desire to win the Super Bowl and Super Bowls."

It is the season of going "all-in," as Banner said during training camp. The Eagles traded away a reliable backup quarterback to secure a solid cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and then went out and signed another star at that position in Nnamdi Asomugha. They brought in two of the most respected line coaches in the game. They bolstered the pass rush. Across the board, the Eagles have pointed themselves toward the Super Bowl, and signing Vick to the long-term deal was just the latest in that progression.

 

Avoiding injuries

To be right, however, the 31-year-old Vick has to avoid injury. He missed nearly four full games with a rib injury last year. He also has to be more like the quarterback the Eagles saw in his first six games of the regular season and not in the last six. Vick didn't throw an interception in his first 211 pass attempts in 2010, then threw six in his final 161. He posted a passer rating of 100 or better in four of his first six games, and equaled that just once in the second set of six games.

Near the end of the season, he was ordinary against the New York Giants until a remarkable late comeback, and he was disappointing again in a home loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Then, in the playoffs, Vick couldn't lift the team past the Green Bay Packers in a first-round loss that ended with an interception.

Stopping Michael Vick, or even slowing him, is a lot easier on the blackboard than the football field, but he won't be taking the league by surprise this time as he did in the first part of last season.

"I'm always going to have a bull's-eye on my back," Vick said. "Teams are always going to game-plan to . . . stop me. But it's my goal, it's my job, not to let that happen."

The Eagles are backing him again, hoping that he doesn't get injured, hoping that he doesn't wear out or get figured out. So far, they are 1 for 1 betting on him.

"You don't give out a contract of this size and have no fear," Banner said, "because the impact [if] you're wrong is so huge."

All they can do is hope they are right a second time. Being right the first time has given the Eagles courage. Being right again will require some luck to go with that.

 


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Read his blog at http://www.philly.com/

postpatterns