His first NFL coach laments unrealized potential. His current ones question his drive. On his last football legs at 34, Michael Vick appears content watching from the Jets’ sideline and taking what he calls ‘a step back away from the game’

By
Jenny Vrentas
· More from Jenny·
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports
On his last legs, the 34-year-old Michael Vick has embraced the no-pressure role of backup QB with the Jets. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

Jets coach Rex Ryan has a favorite Michael Vick story, though telling it makes him cringe. His 2006 Baltimore Ravens defense was perhaps his best ever, but the coordinator barely slept during the week leading up to a November game against the Falcons. Vick was 26 and in the midst of becoming the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He was in the sweet spot of his prime, still a year away from having his career interrupted by felony charges for his connection to the Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting ring.

Searching for a solution late one night, Ryan designed a blitz to beat Atlanta’s pass protection, but the execution hinged on one defender being wide enough to turn Vick back inside if he took off running. Ryan harped on the player all week: Not wide enough! Run to the numbers! That’s the only way to be sure! Get wider! The Ravens actually did a good job of containing Vick, except for when that specific blitz was called. The crucial defender didn’t run to the numbers—didn’t think he needed to—and Vick blew past him and around the corner for 17 yards, all the way to Baltimore’s 5-yard line.

“Man,” the defender told Ryan on the sideline, “that dude is way faster than I thought.”

“Really,” Ryan replied in his habitual deadpan. “Imagine that.”

I had some great years and played in some great games and went through a lot,” says Vick, the Jets’ backup QB. “Now it’s an opportunity for me to refresh myself and take a step back away from the game.

When Vick signed with the Jets this March, adding another chapter to his comeback story following a 23-month prison sentence and five seasons in Philadelphia, Ryan made sure to relay that story. It was the coach’s way of expressing to his new quarterback why he wanted him on his team. When asked about it recently, Vick flashed a knowing grin and said, “I think that guy ended up getting cut, too.”

But Vick is no longer the transcendent athlete who once drove a generation of defensive coaches to insomnia, nor is he simply a humbled ex-con who sought reclamation in the City of Brotherly Love. With the Jets, he is in his third and perhaps final act, a 34-year-old injury-prone quarterback backing up a 23-year-old who threw nearly twice as many interceptions (21) as touchdowns (12) last season. And even though the 12-year veteran says, “I would be sick if I had to retire tomorrow,” he seems resigned to the fate of no longer being a franchise quarterback.

JETS PREVIEW: It’s Geno Smith’s job to lose

“The last five years I spent in Philly, I had some great years and played in some great games and went through a lot,” Vick says. “Now it’s an opportunity for me to refresh myself and take a step back away from the game.”

He pauses, letting those words sink in.

“I don’t want that. It’s just—I’m kind of relishing the moment that I’m in right now,” he says. “I am not required to have to do a lot. Preserving my body right now is very important to me, and making sure I can make a strong push late in my career in case I am needed.”

No one, of course, really expects that he is the Jets’ quarterback of the long-term future. But if he can’t beat out Geno Smith for a starting job, then what has become of Michael Vick?

* * *

From top to bottom, people within the Jets organization use the same word to describe Vick: quiet. That can be a good trait for a backup quarterback, a role Vick knew he was inheriting when he made the trip north on the Jersey Turnpike to join his new team. Smith, the Jets’ second-round pick in 2013 and their answer to Mark Sanchez, is the starter in every way except for an official announcement having been made by Ryan.

Vick has seemed simultaneously amused and annoyed by all the quarterback competition rhetoric since he arrived at team headquarters in Florham Park, N.J. The worst-kept secret in the NFL has been driven by general manager John Idzik’s beliefs that competition is good and transparency is bad. But the depth chart was plain to see during a July practice in which Vick got zero 11-on-11 reps with the first team. Afterward, a beat reporter asked Vick if a decision had been made already. “Decision about what?” Vick said, chuckling and patting the reporter on the backside as he left the interview tent.

Some Jets coaches have privately expressed disappointment that Vick didn’t show up more hell-bent on winning the starting job.

He might be an injury or an early losing record away from seeing the field, but Vick’s primary 2014 mission is clear. “He’s here to push Geno, to compete with Geno, to make Geno the best quarterback he can be,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has said.

Entering free agency, Vick thought he would be a Week 1 starter this season, somewhere. But he ultimately accepted the Jets’ one-year, $4 million offer that came with non-financial terms, too. Reps with the first-team offense during most training camp practices were divided about 4:1 between Smith and Vick, and sometimes none at all for Vick. He’s almost like a one-on-one teacher’s aide for Smith, who is still learning the offense that Mornhinweg ran in Philadelphia for four seasons with Vick. The Jets also want Smith to use his legs more, and Vick has always been the maestro of that skill.

MORE JETS: Rex Ryan’s last stand

No one is intimating that Vick is washed up, which is why some Jets coaches have privately expressed disappointment that Vick didn’t show up more hell-bent on winning the starting job, or at least a little more vested in making Ryan lose sleep again as he agonized over a difficult decision. His physical gifts—firing a mid-range out-route with the mere flick of his left wrist, and bursting with what he claims is still 4.4 speed in the 40—have always looked so effortless that onlookers have trouble discerning any sense of urgency in Vick’s play. Nor does there seem to be any in what Ryan has called Vick’s “cool customer” persona, either.

“I’m at a very good place,” Vick says. “Very relaxed. Things are more laid back right now as far as football, and off the field. No stress, no pressure. Even though, when you play football, there is always some sort of pressure. But at this stage of my career, I’m just trying to refresh and regroup and see where it takes me.”

vick-800-series-four-shots

* * *

Dan Reeves, the Falcons’ head coach when Vick was drafted No. 1 overall in 2001, understands the career arcs of mobile quarterbacks perhaps better than most. He played with Don Meredith, played with and then coached Roger Staubach, and later coached John Elway. None had Vick’s speed, but they all learned how to run and pass smarter over time.

It’s an education Vick never received.

“He has been in so many different systems now,” says Reeves, who had hoped to make changes to Vick’s game but was fired during the quarterback’s third pro season. By the time Vick was suspended in ’07, he had already been playing for his fourth head coach in Atlanta. “He’s still relying a great deal more on his legs than he needs to,” Reeves says. “He should be at that stage where he feels comfortable and knows when to get rid of the football and not take some of the hits he has to take.”

The sad thing to me is I don’t think he’s ever been able to reach his potential,” Reeves says of Vick. “I think he had that ability, to be one of the best who ever played the position.

That’s always been the knock on Vick, who has played all 16 games in a season only once, in 2006, and who has had only one season in which he completed more than 60% of his passes, in 2010, under Mornhinweg.

“When I look at Mike’s career, the sad thing to me is I don’t think he’s ever been able to reach his potential,” Reeves says. “Whether it was me, or just one coach and one system, he would have had a heck of a career. He’s had a good career, but I think it could have been one of the best. I think he had that ability, to be one of the best who ever played the position.”

It makes you wonder about the up-and-coming generation of franchise quarterbacks, many of them mobile. If they don’t develop true pocket-passing skills, are they destined to become big-name, overpaid backups? Vick missed two seasons during his 548-day imprisonment at a federal penitentiary in Kansas, and he never mastered “old player skills”—the idea, for example, that a young baseball player can break into the majors hitting solely for power but won’t stick around as long as his peers who also learn to hit for average.

geno-vick-360
Vick has now taken a back seat to Geno Smith, the Jets’ second-round pick in ’13. (AP)

No doubt about it, Vick was still an electric player when he returned to the NFL for the second act of his career. In 2010, his second year back, he battled Tom Brady for player of the year, throwing a career-high 21 touchdowns (in just 12 games) and earning his fourth and final Pro Bowl nod. Vick by nature is a people-pleaser, a guy who can get easily distracted by friends, hangers-on and the demands of stardom. He was at his best, one Eagles source says, early in his comeback when all of that had been stripped away, when all Vick had was a tenuous second chance and few people penetrating his inner circle.

“He proved that year,” then-Eagles coach Andy Reid now says, “that this game is such a microcosm of life.”

When the Eagles took a chance on Vick, team owner Jeffrey Lurie tried to set a new standard by which his quarterback would be measured. “Frankly, the legend of Michael Vick will be determined as we go forward,” Lurie said at press conference announcing the signing in August 2009. “It won’t be determined on the field of football.”

Vick began speaking to thousands of at-risk kids on behalf of the Humane Society, sharing his cautionary tale, and he appeared on Capitol Hill in 2010 to support legislation creating tougher penalties for those who brought children to watch dogfighting. Last summer he helped establish Team Vick Field in the North Philadelphia neighborhood of Hunting Park, his $200,000 donation going a long way toward providing a youth football team its first home field in nearly two decades. “He’s done some things that no quarterback really ever did,” says Lurie, whom the Jets spoke with before signing Vick, “and turned out to be a quality person after having gone through everything that he went through. That’s a good combination.”

The quarterback’s foundation, Team Vick, vows to give “second chances” to those who need it most. Strictly in a football sense, Vick is now on his third.

* * *

Before the Eagles’ playoff loss to the Saints in January, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson were among the players who lingered near Vick’s locker during what turned out to be his last week of practice in Philadelphia. Vick is now a veteran cornerstone in the Jets’ locker room, and he commands respect despite not being in a position to directly help the team win.

Jets rookie Tajh Boyd, a quarterback taken in the sixth round this year, attended Vick’s football camp as a kid growing up in coastal Virginia, where Vick is from, and he sought out Vick’s advice when deciding whether to return for his senior year at Clemson or to declare for the draft. Young players go out of their way to tell Vick that they were always him when they played Madden growing up, and wore his Nike cleats before the shoe line was dropped. The Jets QBs voted Vick as their representative on the team’s 14-man veterans steering committee, which Ryan uses as a sounding board (one decision the committee made was not having joint practices with the Bengals before last week’s preseason game).

Young players go out of their way to tell Vick that they were always him when they played Madden growing up, and wore his Nike cleats before the shoe line was dropped.

Despite his gift of speed, however, Vick still hasn’t been able to fully outrun his past. This spring, a change.org petition collected thousands of signatures in the hopes of barring Vick from SUNY-Cortland, the college campus in central New York where the Jets hold training camp, because of his past connection to dogfighting. But you wouldn’t have known it by watching him interact with fans. “We want Vick!” chanted a small crowd after one practice. He signed autographs for at least 20 minutes, lingering until there were no more to sign.

It’s been five years since he left prison, and Vick wouldn’t be human if he didn’t occasionally consider, Is it over? Will the scrutiny disappear? Will people always be skeptical about the authenticity of my efforts to make amends? Not long ago these questions defined his life.

But now there is just one: Can Michael Vick still play quarterback in the NFL?

It’s a strange sight, watching Geno Smith lead the Jets’ offense in jersey No. 7, the number Vick wore in both Atlanta and Philadelphia. Stranger still, Vick seems genuinely happy to be backing up an unpolished, unproven quarterback whom ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski ranked No. 30 in the league.

“It’s kind of hard sitting on the sideline and watching your team play,” Vick says. “But at the same time, when I look around—I look at the stadium, I look at the crowd, I look at myself and see where I’m at—everything becomes irrelevant. I just appreciate the position that I am in.”

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409 comments
KStoneMarti
KStoneMarti

These PETA folks are a bit strange.  I posed a question.  You see a child drowning or a dog who do you save?

After a major pause she finally said the child.  I am no Vick fan here he did his time.  At this stage of the game Geno Smith is the better choice.

KStoneMarti
KStoneMarti

As we can se another media type who is a Geno Smith Hater.  He's not a RG 3 or Johnny Manziel.  He just wants to stay out the limelight and play football.  Because of that the media hates him.

CharlesJohnson2
CharlesJohnson2

Vick knew the deck was stacked so why invest? Just be a good teammate and collect those checks.

yummypeaches
yummypeaches

The Jets were disappointed that Michael Vick didn't try harder to win a starting job ? It would seem Michael Vick was under the impression that the job was Geno Smiths to lose.....as did the entire planet ! It would seem really strange and actually rather disruptive if Michael VIck did try to create a quarterback competition when the coaching staff wants Geno Smith to start . 

PaulBishop
PaulBishop

The vitriol against Vick has always astounded me. People don't like to talk about race but it sits right there in the corner the room. The vast majority of those who put dogs on the same level as people are white. Yet, those same folks have no problem with how blacks are treated in this country. Vick was always a polarizing figure in Atlanta even before the dog fighting. A lot of white people just have a problem with black men. They also have a problem with black men being in charge. While certainly Vick should have been punished, people have done less time for killing people than Vick did for killing dogs. Those who hate Vick know it isn't about the dogs, it is the fact that you don't think that black guy should have the chance to make all of the money while you go to work every day at the job you hate for the little money you make. Pitiful.

ElenaLewis
ElenaLewis

How many dogs looked into his eyes as he squeezed the last dying breaths outta them. Sick F**k!! Shame on any organization that profits from his success. I personally will NEVER forget. 

je41567
je41567

NO TALKING ABOUT HIS DOG JUST PLAY NOW COME ON JETS ALL THE WAY.PLAYOFF THIS YEAR

Petester63
Petester63

The Press can't seem to let a QB Controversy die. The title of this article is so provocative, and this whole situation blown out of proportion by the press. The way Geno played the last 4 games of last season and the way he has played in pre season has won him the job. He is young talent hopefully ready for the next step. Michael Vick is an often injured Turnover prone QB that never lived up to his billing. I thought Michael Vick was a great off season pick up, as they had to release Sanchez. They got a prototypical QB that fit Geno's mode to back him up and teach him to use his mobility better, not be an MV clone.  I never saw a controversy but everyone in the NY Media wanted one, and they are very disappointed not to get one. So , the attacks on both men continue, because that's what sells.

jlo8135@aol.com
jlo8135@aol.com

Vic has been and will till the time he decides to hang of his cleats, the ultimate QB, has the most ammo plus the nukes in speed. Has made the change from boy to Man in the NFL. 4 mill is not bad for a back up, just don't see him being happy for long in that role. I might be wrong 4 mill goes a long way.

catchall322
catchall322

For someone who imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and executed dogs for fun; I would not expect that person to be very motivated in their job. 

Ciscos
Ciscos

Vick is playing the odds. Nothing is expected of him, only to be ready to go. He will because Geno Smith will struggle eventually.

AliciaSolis
AliciaSolis

That Vick story of not competing for the starting QB position is b/s...

DarrinMiller
DarrinMiller

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JimNoonan
JimNoonan

Michael Vick is on his "last legs"? Oh, no! Does he have cancer or something? Or did you mean to say his *career* was on it's last legs. You understand what the expression means, right? 

bork
bork

Vick is a disgusting, repugnant, 2bit punk thug.  He should be in jail working on a chain gang not bench warming and making a lot of money for doing nothing.  He doesn't want to play but is content to just be on the team getting paid and not playing.  Jarvis you are in the same boat are you his boyfried or what.  Both of you -- go to hell.

JarvisSmith
JarvisSmith

Some people are so pathetic to still hold grudges against Michael Vick. It's foolish. You call the man out of his name, yet you don't personally know him. You are all tough, a bunch of cyber thugs. Half of the stuff you call him, you would not say it to him personally. But being behind a keyboard spouting off such atrocities is just shameful. It is a true depiction of how far we as Americans have come. Do I agree with Michael Vicks actions in HIS PAST... I do not? Do I forgive him, of course I do. We value dogs lives more than human lives. For example, we can look at what we see in the news in Ferguson (north St. Louis) and will not shed one tear for the young man gunned down. We will shut our eyes to it. Or we will look at the news and it if makes us the tad bit uncomfy. PETA has done far more harm to animals, but I don't see one dog lover going after them. We pick and choose our battles. What is the point  of all this, I am saying this quite simply? Donte Stallworth drunk drives and kills someone. Where was the outrage? He took a human life, that could speak. Could change the world. Where was your anger and outcry for that family. I forgive both of these young men. Why because they both need it as do you and I. I am so disappointed at these comments that I am reading. What I really see behind the comments is something far bigger, its hatred. But be careful about spitting in the wind, it usually hits you back in the face. Michael play football.

Bill T1
Bill T1

Translated--I fooled all you dumb f@#$%^s--Got paid and paid off my debts by pretending to be humble and now I DON'T HAVE TO DO SH@#$t and you idiots gotta pay me--Welcome to the michael vick we all said you would get

RoyCrim
RoyCrim

@PaulBishop the tired old race card excuse... Michael Vick's Federal indictment included charges of Bookmaking. That alone -not even mentioning the inhumane behavior-- the gang associations --all the trappings of his maturity curve--says to sensible people Michael should have lost his opportunity to be a professional player in the NFL - They made Joe Namath sell a Nightclub because Gamblers frequented the place... it's disgusting the double standard in play with Mike -IMHO so Nike could recoup what he wasted and owed them-not because he is a good QB

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

@PaulBishop "Yet, those same folks have no problem with how blacks are treated in this country."  Really?  How the hell do you know?  Sounds mighty prejudiced to me.  If a black man doesn't like Vick is it because he doesn't think a black man should make money?  


You're ignorance is stunning.  

TheFree_Lance
TheFree_Lance

@PaulBishop That is dangerously uninformed stuff. First, Vick owned ATL right through 2004, when he signed a 10-year, $130m. deal coming off a 11-5 year and a deep playoff run. Things did go sideways when he helmed the Birds to back-to-back 8-8, 7-9 seasons the next two years, however. Standard starting QB treatment in the NFL -- fans wanted more after what looked like a breakout year. Second, 21 months in prison for multiple, premeditated felonies involving both gambling and cruelty to animals is a very reasonable sentence, even considering America's crazy criminal justice system. Plus, in addition to the federal charges, Vick could've gotten hit with additional jail time for pleas to state charges, another 2-3 yrs easily, instead of time served on the federal charges and probation. In sum, Vick could've done much, much worse in the courtroom.


You don't have to hate -- or love -- the guy to see that he has made a string of very poor decisions during his life and that maybe that has changed now that his career is nearing its end.

JeromeAyalon
JeromeAyalon

@je41567 I am confused. you say first "NO TALKING ABOUT  DOGS" and then "COME ON JETS".

h8theloonyleft
h8theloonyleft

How do you imprison a dog? And I dont think he executed them for fun.

GlacierDon
GlacierDon

Absolute BS. Vick knew the fight was fixed..... smh

JeromeAyalon
JeromeAyalon

@JimNoonan we do, and your post wins the "most redundant and self-important post of the day" award.


BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

@bork You know most first time offender dog fighters don't get jail time at all right? Let only have the prosecution cut deals with previously convicted felons in exchange for their testimony against a person without a criminal record. And now that he has served his time he deserves to work for whoever will hire him. Are you some kind of socialist or something?

JarvisSmith
JarvisSmith

@bork I love you brother. But why don't you call him the N Word. Because that is what you are really trying to say. You say thug. Yet this guy did not have a police record or was ever in trouble prior to the dog fighting incident. Don't hide behind your keyboard. So let me get this straight. I say I forgive a person because it is our Christian duty to forgive. Then you damn us both to hell. Seriously, brother you need to understand something. It is not that serious what you say to me. I forgive you. Remember, you allow Michael Vick to offend you and live in your little world rent free. Where as I choose to forgive a person for their mistakes. I'm sure you have made mistakes, but it is easier for you throw stones and say obscene things. All in the name of making yourself look good as you thumb your nose down at others. I don't know what is more repugnant your unforgiveness or sense of elitism.

h8theloonyleft
h8theloonyleft

I think that some of the comments against Vick are due to jealousy that he is very rich and they are not.

Marty2
Marty2

@JarvisSmith It is not really about all that other stuff.  Vick is simply done.  MOST QB's when they get to that age are done.  I never understood why teams even sign them.  They should have drafted another QB in case they decide Geno was a mistake.  I wish my Lion's would've done the same thing because Lions fans know this is the make or break year for Stafford. The Lions paid an incredible amount of money to resign an unproven QB; this is what bad teams do, and yes, the Jets are a baaaad team too!

h8theloonyleft
h8theloonyleft

I thought 21 months was an extremely harsh sentence for those crimes

AndyKenyon
AndyKenyon

@JarvisSmith @bork It's not just about dog  fighting , (which is bad enough). But Vick tortured and executed under performing dogs by electrocution and beating them to death with a bat. This was malicious and sadistic.


Vick ,at the very least should have been expelled from the NFL . As a human being , this walking POS should have been forced to therapy sessions for years before release.


How on Earth can you call Vick's actions a "mistake" ? Whereupon I admittedly am not as forgiving as you are, would you also say O.J.Simpson also just made a "mistake" ? I'll add that I was both fans of Vick and O.J until their unforgivible behaviors. 


Lastly, I'm certain that if it were your children or dogs brutally murdered , you'ld be far less compassionate. Please leave race out of it . It's too easy for you to evade reality by (again ... ), playing the race card.Peace.

harobedd3
harobedd3

@JarvisSmith @bork 


My BIBLE tells me "He without sin cast the FIRST stone, It also says ALL have sinned (done wrong) and came short of the glory of GOD. NONE are prefect NO not ONE.


SO, WHO AND WHERE IS HIS ACCUSERS!!!!!!!!! 

BarbaraRussell
BarbaraRussell

@JarvisSmith @bork Mr. Smith why did you have to bring RACE into Bork's comment?  He said  "thug" are all "thugs" black"  You're wrong about that I know some "thugs" and they happen to be white, hispanic and asian!

JarvisSmith
JarvisSmith

@Marty2 @JarvisSmith I would not say that Vick is done. I honestly think he has a few more years in him. I will say that he could teach Geno a lot. He could be a mentor to him. I think he could start for many teams. I think part of the problem is with the coaching staff of the Jets. I will say it over and over again. Rex Ryan should have been fired last year. I was also responding to all the hateful comments that I saw below. It was sad. I think the Lions should draft a back up quarterback, but Matthew Stafford is definitely a good quarterback. I like him. I would take him over Matt Ryan any day.

JarvisSmith
JarvisSmith

@AndyKenyon @JarvisSmith @bork My question to you sir is quite simple. Who are you to say who can and who cannot be forgiven. There have been people that were in my family that were brutally slain. I had to walk in forgiveness against the murderer. So don't get on here an act like you know about me at all. I have had pets that I have lost.

Correction it is far to easy to call people out of their name. That's easy sir. Whether you forgive someone or not, that is your own personal problem. I wish you well, but when you don't forgive, just remember you don't have the right to ask for forgiveness.

Lastly, its amazing how people avoid the issue of race, but when I call people out on their behavior then it is not about race. Give me a break. Who are you lying to, me or yourself.

Marty2
Marty2

@JarvisSmith  Almost no pro really acts as a "mentor" to a competitor for the same job.   Most veterans have little or no desire to hang around and mentor younger players and, to be fair, it is not what they are paid to do.   No, it is the coaches job to coach, the players role is to play.  

BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

@Marty2 @JarvisSmith many veterans do act as mentors. Especially players in Vicks position. He is too old injury prone to be a starter. He needs to prove he can be a capable back-up. Mark Brunell comes to mind. Both were good starters for a while. Both had money troubles. Brunell played an extra 5 years as a backup


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