Michael Vick doesn’t have to be handcuffs.
His contract doesn’t have to be shackles.
Most Philly fans figure Vick a boatload of sunk costs they can’t get away from. Vick—due only the full worth of his curious contract's Year Two, $12.5 million next year and $3 million in injury insurance for 2013—doesn't have to saddle the Eagles plans.
As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk put it in August: “After year two, when all of the fully guaranteed money has been paid, it will be easy for the Eagles to walk away.”
But they don't have to wait. The team could—it could—cut him tomorrow, suffering a salary cap hit in 2012 that wouldn’t even be the worst in football. If you remember, the Cowboys, dissatisfied with the sour attitudes and sorry production of some of its priciest buys, gladly took on $20 million in 2012 hits from the guaranteed monies due Roy Williams, Marion Barber, Leonard Davis and others cut before the start of the season.
If anyone could make chicken salad outta that, it’s Howie Roseman, who swung the cheapest $250 million in acquisitions and re-signings this past offseason. All that wheeling and dealing—a strategy you shouldn’t expect again, given how it turned out last time—yet somehow, Roseman made the numbers work.
With an EaglesCap.com-listed $14.7 million in 2012 cap room already, before any potential roster moves are made to free up more, moving on from Vick is financially feasible.
Should Michael Vick start for the Eagles on Opening Day 2012?
It’s not an ideal situation. Then again, is life with Vick?
It sounds rash. Then again, wouldn’t it be justified?
Just 18 touchdowns to 14 interceptions? A sub-60 percent completion rate? One rushing touchdown?
Worse, while fistfuls of other NFL passers sprinkled fourth-quarter pixie dust on this crazy, comeback-conducive league year—Eli Manning (six fourth-quarter comebacks in 2011), Tim Tebow, Tony Romo (four apiece), Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford (three each), Tom Brady (two), Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers (one apiece); even John Skelton, Mark Sanchez (four each), Rex Grossman and Ryan Fitzpatrick (two apiece) brought their teams from behind—Vick’s bag was empty.
Instead, he quarterbacked the only team to unforgivably blow five fourth-quarter leads.
That’s all? For a $100 million man twice over?
As if you haven’t thought it all season long: What happened to the guy who had everyone buying in? What happened to the guy who seemed changed, renewed, on the better side of a breakthrough as a player?
The question now? Another year older (now 31) and weaker (he missed three games in 2011, making his three-year total 11), what’s there to make us think Starship Seven is fixable?
Even in the team’s saving grace stretch to close out the year, Vick didn’t earn untouchable status. A completion rate still under 60, at just 58.3 percent. Only 54 rushing yards, but all his trademark recklessness. Rekindled chemistry with DeSean Jackson, a guy who won’t be suiting up in Eagle green again.
You’d stake Super Bowl hopes on that?
So why wait? Why sit in anguish, stubbornly riding out a bad investment on principle? Be it for $100 million or $80 million, Vick’s mega contract wasn’t savvy spending. We don’t know why it happened: maybe complacency, laziness, arrogance, fragility or the near-impossibility in repeating the production of his contract year—maybe a combination thereof.
But ultimately, the Vick the Eagles paid for isn’t the Vick they got.
That’s grounds to move on.
Do you believe that Michael Vick can win Philadelphia its first Super Bowl since 1960?
Always is in this NFL, where teams really don’t need the NBA amnesty clause. Teams don’t, but you can walk away. Between the rookie wage scale and pass-friendly rule changes, first-year quarterbacks have never been cheaper and better sooner. With early hits like Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco (2008), Stafford, Sanchez and Josh Freeman (2009), Sam Bradford (2010) and Cam Newton and Andy Dalton (2011), the leash has never been shorter on veterans.
Why they used to get so long? Back in the day, the replacement costs of a first-round whiff were a decade of financial and football misery. JaMarcus Russell, Joey Harrington, Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf—they buried their franchises in football blunder.
Now? Teams are looking at only the all-too-affordable ballpark of $22 million over four years, what 2011 No. 1 overall pick Newton pulled in his rookie deal.
That, and the picks the Eagles needed to move up in the draft to go get Vick’s replacement. (You wouldn’t really turn to free agency, would you?) The price? Likely a first and second or two firsts, given the precedent set by the Jets and Browns in 2009, when New York flew up the board to No. 6 overall to get their guy.
What would that buy? The right to pick No. 3 overall, where Minnesota is currently slotted to.
That, and Robert Griffin III: the target, the promise, the motive.
He’s Mel Kiper’s sixth-best player available, but given the way team president Mike Holmgren has pulled the carpet from Colt McCoy (who missed the last three games of the season with a concussion, mind you) climbing one pick ahead of the Browns seems the safest bet.
Is RG3? We don’t know. Never do.
What we do? This kid can ball. He won the 2011 Heisman. He completed more than 70 percent of his passes.
Hell, through Week 3 this season—Week Three!—he threw more touchdowns (13) than incompletions (12). Not interceptions; for record, he had only six of those on the year.
Knowingly imprisoning yourself in a moment like the immediate Alamo Bowl aftermath might not be the best team-building strategy. But Griffin’s heroics in that come-from-behind instant classic against a well-coached Washington team make it tempting.
Come draft day, maybe the Eagles should indulge.
Matt Hammond is a producer for 97.3 ESPN South Jersey, and writes for 973ESPN.com. You can follow Matt on Twitter at @MattHammond973.