Michael Vick was the face of the Atlanta Falcons franchise, but his NFL career could suddenly be over because of his alleged involvement in dogfighting.
Assuming the Falcons would not welcome him back as their quarterback, Vick might have a hard time getting a second chance to play in the league. The team willing to give him that chance would have to endure a major public relations backlash for his alleged involvement in a blood sport.
Here are questions to consider regarding the quarterback's future on the field if he were to plead guilty to the charges against him:
What will the Falcons do? Atlanta owner Arthur Blank likely would not let a felon convicted of dogfighting run his team. The question is how Blank would handle Vick's exodus. Cutting him would be the easy thing to do, but terminating Vick's contract could disqualify the franchise from claiming more than $22 million of signing bonus proration.
Vick has three years left on his contract, including this season. If he is unable to play in any of those seasons because of legal action, the Falcons can make a legal case that he failed to fulfill his contract, then claim the annual $7.5 million of signing bonus proration. Vick signed a 10-year, $130 million contract, and the Falcons can't go back and get money he earned by playing. But it makes good business sense to go after the money he collected in signing bonus even if it means keeping him on the roster while he serves any prison sentence and a possible NFL suspension.
What are his chances of getting back into the NFL? Not good. It would take a general manager with a lot of wins on his résumé to go to his owner to suggest picking up Vick. An owner would have to endure the backlash. First, Vick would be a public relations nightmare. PETA would stage protests. There might be a backlash from season-ticket holders who could protest having a convicted dogfighter quarterbacking their team. Suite holders might want to drop their leases. Only general managers as strong as Bill Polian of the Colts or Ozzie Newsome of the Ravens would have the clout with their owners to make such a suggestion, but it's unlikely from a football and public relations sense that either would do it.
How desperate would a team have to be to take a chance on him? Aside from the public relations problems, a team taking Vick would have to reshape its offense. Vick has evolved into a quarterback who works better in a running offense, and teams are looking for passers, not runners. In the past three seasons, Vick has been part of the league's No. 1-ranked rushing team. Coaches and general managers know a good running team can get to eight or nine wins quickly, but it's hard for a running team to get over the hump and win playoff games. Running teams usually don't score more than 20 points a game unless the defense gets points on turnovers.
The other problem is Vick is left-handed. If a team has a great left tackle, the offensive line would have to switch around to protect Vick from blind-side sacks. Vick also has trouble getting into a rhythm with his receivers because he is so fast in his retreat from center.
If Vick were to miss this season and next, what will the market for quarterbacks likely be in 2009? The market is actually pretty set, as 27 teams have starting or potential starting quarterbacks signed through 2009. The four remaining teams will resolve their quarterback issues within the next year. Dallas' Tony Romo is signed through only this season but has played well enough that Jerry Jones will lock him up to a long-term deal before the start of free agency next year. Buffalo quarterback J.P. Losman is signed through 2008 but is showing enough efficiency running Dick Jauron's offense that he probably will receive a contract extension.
The two uncertain situations are in Jacksonville and Tampa Bay. Byron Leftwich is signed through the upcoming season, so the Jaguars might be looking for a quarterback. Even if they don't stick with Leftwich, they likely will resolve their quarterback situation next year, eliminating Vick's chances of getting a job there. Plus, Jaguars ownership places a premium on character and wouldn't sanction a Vick signing. Jeff Garcia's contract with Tampa is up after the 2008 season, but Vick wouldn't be a good fit for the type of offense the Bucs like to run.
Are there long-shot chances for Vick? Possibly. What if Tarvaris Jackson doesn't work out in Minnesota? For the moment, the Vikings have cast their lot with Jackson and Brooks Bollinger, and coach Brad Childress wants a mobile quarterback. Nobody is more mobile than Vick. The problem facing Childress is that if Jackson and Bollinger fail, he might be in trouble. Childress runs the West Coast offense, and Vick hasn't shown a great ability to run that type of system.
Childress is a bright, flexible coach, but it might be hard for him to tailor his offense to Vick's skills. Plus, the team's ownership probably wouldn't endorse a Vick signing because of the likely public backlash. The Vikings are trying to secure a new stadium, and signing Vick could hurt those efforts.
Another long shot could be the Chiefs, if Brodie Croyle fails. Chiefs president Carl Peterson has the kind of clout to make a bold move, but he would have to be convinced Vick could lead the Chiefs to a Super Bowl.
Will Vick play football again? Somebody will take a chance, but it might be in the Arena Football League. The CFL might be a problem. Because CFL general managers protested about the Ricky Williams signing two years ago in Toronto, that league is reluctant to take on players who have been convicted. If convicted, it might be hard for Vick to secure a visa to play in Canada. Vick would be unstoppable in the Arena League. If he played in it for a season or two and on his best behavior, he could give fans a chance to forget even though they might not forgive.
What is Vick's best public relations strategy? Vick would need to fall on the mercy of the courts and seek forgiveness from fans. He must be apologetic and remorseful. He must do public service announcements to stop people from fighting dogs. If he embraced dogfighting in the past, he must be the leader against dogfighting in the future. Time does create opportunities for forgiveness. To set a different tone for his reputation, Vick must demonstrate that he is remorseful in interviews and commercials. Along with a good attorney, he needs a good public relations expert.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.