The NFL has quite possibly lost one of its all-time greatest athletes today after Atlanta Falcons QB Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison today for crimes involving dog fighting. I am a die hard fan of the Atlanta Falcons, always have been, so this situation has been pretty difficult to deal with. I remember, watching Deion Sanders dominate football when I was growing up, which is what led to me liking the Falcons. Ironically, Vick is the greatest athlete that the NFL and the Atlanta Falcons have seen since Prime Time, but this jail sentence will most likely end his NFL playing career. After sitting out the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Vick is likely to face a 1 year suspension from the NFL for his actions and probably won't be able to suit up again until the 2010 season. There is a chance that teams like the Raiders and Broncos will give him a look (just ask Mike Williams or Maurice Clarett), but at age 30 and being 3 years removed from playing QB, the odds appear to be slim to none.
Vick has taken a mighty fall after being selected #1 overall in the 2001 NFL Draft. At the time, the Atlanta Falcons organization (and myself) believed that they had found their franchise QB. After 4 seasons in Atlanta, it appeared as though Vick would indeed become the team's savior. He guided the Falcons to the playoffs in his 1st year (2002) as a starter, only his 2nd year in the league, and instantly became a star. He helped Atlanta become the 1st team in NFL history to win a playoff game in Lambeau Field when they defeated the Packers 27-7 in the Wild Card Round. Unfortunately, they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Divisional Round the following week, but he energized the fans and resurrected a franchise that had been struggling since making the Super Bowl during the '98-'99 season. In 2003, Vick broke his leg and missed most of the season, and could only watch as the Falcons finished 3-13 and the man that drafted him, head coach Dan Reeves, was fired. In 2004, Atlanta hired Jim Mora, Jr. as head coach and Vick returned with a vengeance to lead the Falcons to the NFC Championship game. Again, they lost to the Eagles, but Vick was only one game away from the Super Bowl, and for his efforts, he was rewarded with a $130 million contract that offseason. At the time, he was one of the league's most marketable players and had the richest contract ever.
Times were great right? He was at the peak of his career at age 24, but it did not last very long. Jim Mora's coaching staff did not seem to fully develop his talents, and the Falcons sputtered into mediocrity the next 2 season with records of (8-8) and (7-9), respectively. Dan Reeves was well on his way to grooming Vick into one of the greatest QB's of all-time, but his untimely injury in 2003 caused Reeves his job. This proved to be the turning point in Michael Vick's career. Mora brought in Greg Knapp as his offensive coordinator, and together, they tried to mold Vick into a West Coast Offense QB. The playcalling was questionable and often times conservative. Vick just needed to unleashed, but instead he became frustrated and received constant criticism from the media about his abilities as a passer. The 2006 season and this past offseason were filled with numerous off the field incidents, culminating with this dog fighting fiasco, and now he's left to ponder what to do with the rest of his life.
It is a truly sad story, such a waste of talent. One can only imagine, what if...what if he hadn't broken his leg in that meaningless preseason game in 2003? It's unfortunate what happened to those dogs, but I'm still 100 % behind you Mike. He never accepted credit during those very successful playoff runs, and never threw a teammate under the bus after a loss. He was a great teammate and did a lot for the City of Atlanta. Here's to you Mike, I wish you the best.