Can Michael Vick Still Make an Impact in the NFL?

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Can Michael Vick Still Make an Impact in the NFL?
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Michael Vick admitted this past Saturday that the Wild Card Game between his Philadelphia Eagles and the New Orleans Saints might have been his last in the City of Brotherly Love. 

"I'm still a starter," Vick said, according to Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com. "I'm not a backup quarterback." 

And considering that even Vick admits that Nick Foles should be the starting quarterback in Philly moving forward, per Reuben Frank of CSN Philly, that probably means he'll be looking for a new home when the free-agent market opens up in March. 

Head coach Chip Kelly has been nothing but supportive of Vick, though, so if all else fails, he could wind up back with the Eagles in a backup capacity. 

This truly could go one of many ways. The guy will be 34 years old before he has another chance to take an NFL snap, which isn't considered to be an ideal age for a quarterback who counts mobility as a top attribute. Of course, he also comes with baggage and unwanted attention, which could scare teams away. 

So can Vick still make an impact as a starter in this league? Let's break it down. 

 

What the numbers say

On paper and at first glance, Vick is good enough to start in this league. His 86.5 passer rating in 2013 was higher than Matthew Stafford, Carson Palmer and Robert Griffin III and is less than a point back of Andrew Luck.

His interception percentage of 2.1 matched Aaron Rodgers. His completion percentage of 54.6 was far too low, especially in a quarterback-friendly offense, but that might have been a bit of an aberration as a result of a small sample size. He completed 60.2 percent of his passes between 2010 and 2012.

Vick's turnover rate in general is also too high, but that is counterbalanced a little bit by the fact he is also quite a lethal playmaker. He completed an impressive 45.5 percent of his 20-plus-yard passes in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). And when he last played something resembling a full season (13 games in 2011), PFF graded him as the fourth-best deep passer in football. 

He also averaged a ridiculous 8.5 yards per rushing attempt in seven games this season, which would have led the league by a gigantic margin had he carried the ball enough to qualify. Again, I know it's a small sample, but the guy still ran 36 times for over 300 yards. It was his most productive season in terms of yards per carry since he was a rookie in 2001. 

Yards per carry, quarterbacks, 2013 (min. 35 rushes)
Quarterback Team YPC
1. Michael Vick Eagles 8.5
2. Terrelle Pryor Raiders 6.9
3. Andrew Luck Colts 6.0
4. Ryan Tannehill Dolphins 6.0
5. Colin Kaepernick 49ers 5.7

Pro Football Reference

Again, in terms of that playmaking ability as a runner, he managed to finish tied for fourth among quarterbacks with four runs of 20 or more yards, despite the fact that he missed more than half the season. 

The one thing that will cost him: He's not reliable. Vick has a combined 52 interceptions and fumbles in 30 games since the start of 2011. 

Interceptions/fumbles per game, 2011-2013
Quarterback Team INT/FUM per game
1. Mark Sanchez Jets 2.23
2. Ryan Fitzpatrick Bills/Titans 1.74
3. Michael Vick Eagles 1.73
4. Eli Manning Giants 1.65
5. Carson Palmer Raiders/Cardinals 1.63
6. Philip Rivers Chargers 1.52
7. Joe Flacco Ravens 1.50
8. Christian Ponder Vikings 1.50
9. Jay Cutler Bears 1.47
10. Robert Griffin III Redskins 1.43

Min. 500 pass attempts (Pro Football Reference)

That lack of ball security is somewhat tolerable when you're working with a young quarterback with a lot of upside, but Vick has already peaked. 

He's also unreliable when it comes to his inability to stay on the field, which is why one stat that might hurt him is his games played total. Vick has started all 16 regular-season games just once in his career, and that was eight years and a prison sentence ago. He's not big, he runs a lot, he spends lots of time in the pocket and he takes a lot of hits. As a result, he's missed 22 starts in the last four years alone. 

 

What the tape says

Quarterbacks don't typically lose it at 34. A 38-year-old Peyton Manning was the best player in the league this year, edging out a 34-year-old Drew Brees. Tom Brady had a great season despite a lack of weapons at the age of 36. Eli Manning had some pick problems in 2013, but he's about to get a big new contract at the age of 33. Tony Romo is about to turn 34 as well, and he's still a reliable starter for the Dallas Cowboys

However, none of those quarterbacks rely on their speed like Vick does. I'm not worried about his arm, and in the right system, he should excel as a passer. But has Vick lost a step or two? I pulled up some tape from August and September, before things went downhill. 

On this preseason scramble against the Jacksonville Jaguars, I feel the old Vick would have beaten a big defensive tackle like Sen'Derrick Marks with no issues in order to cut back into the middle of the field for a big gain. 

NFL Game Pass
But Marks is able to cut Vick off, limiting him to a five-yard gain. 

NFL Game Pass
Then again, that was a preseason game and Vick might not have been trying to play the role of superhero on a 3rd-and-long. 

Hell, later in that same game, he'd turn this into a 16-yard gain:

NFL Game Pass
Week 1 against the Washington Redskins, this somehow resulted in an 11-yard first-down run:

NFL Game Pass
So he's still a great scrambler and definitely nimble enough to run the read-option in a successful manner. But I'd still say he's lost one step. I mean, I can't see Vick failing to beat the defender to the edge on this roll-out against the San Diego Chargers:

NFL Game Pass
But that's exactly what happens:

NFL Game Pass
In Vick's defense, he wasn't going full tilt at the start of that scramble because he was still looking for an open receiver. And that alone is positive, because there were signs early this season that he was coming to grips with the fact that he had to be more of a passer than a runner. 

Overall, Vick isn't in a position to do what he was able to do when he was 26, but even possessing the lion's share of that skill set is enough for him to be an effective starter somewhere in this league. The key will be staying healthy and making better decisions, which isn't easy at this point. 

Grown adult quarterbacks don't make throws like these:

NFL Game Pass
And they know not to hold on to the ball this long:

NFL Game Pass
Vick took an average of 3.38 seconds to throw the ball this season, according to PFF, which was the second-longest average in the NFL, behind only 24-year-old Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was benched during the second half of the season. In 2012, only rookie Russell Wilson and virtual rookie Colin Kaepernick held on longer. In 2011, only Tim Tebow did so. 

Can he kick that bad habit this late in his career? Good question, Brad. That might decide whether he gets another extended chance or not. 

 

What history says

Again, we've established that plenty of great pocket passers have been successful at or beyond Vick's age, but most of those guys were already playing well beforehand, and none of the examples cited above relied so heavily on the run. Vick's athleticism is key, and it's important to note that he hasn't been on top of his game since 2010, when he was the game's fourth-highest-rated passer while leading the Eagles to the playoffs.

First, a look at how some of the strongest running quarterbacks performed at or beyond the same stage of their respective careers:

Great rushing quarterbacks after turning 34
Quarterback After turning 34...
Fran Tarkenton Started 4 full seasons but ran a lot less.
John Elway 5 full seasons, 2 Super Bowls; could still scramble.
Randall Cunningham Basically stopped running; one great season passing 35.
Steve Young 4 full seasons, 3 Pro Bowls; didn't slow down as a runner.
Steve McNair Started 6 games the rest of his career.
Daunte Culpepper Was already out of the league.

Pro Football Reference

Mixed results. Culpepper and McNair were really declining. Young and Elway kept killing it, but they never ran like Vick did. Tarkenton and Cunningham are interesting. 

Tarkenton made the Pro Bowl at the age of 35 and 36, putting up huge numbers the first of those two years. But he actually became less of a runner much earlier in his career. After running for 300 yards or more in seven of his eight seasons before turning 29, he never hit the 300-yard mark again after that. And he never ran more than 27 times in a season beyond his 34th birthday. 

Cunningham was one of the best quarterbacks in football as a 35-year-old with the 1998 Minnesota Vikings, but he ran just 32 times for 132 yards that year. His sack rate began to drop and he became a different quarterback. But that was still his only good season. He was out of football in 1996, and he was on the bench before and after that '98 campaign. 

So yeah, there's a chance Vick could revive his career the way Cunningham did in 1998, but those circumstances with Randy Moss and Cris Carter were more than ideal. 

As far getting rid of the injury bug goes, the odds are stacked against Vick. I had planned on looking at what some of the game's elite quarterbacks had done after missing at least six games in back-to-back seasons beyond the age of 31, which is the exact situation Vick finds himself in. Unfortunately, among the top 150 passers in NFL history (in terms of yardage), there wasn't a single example of that happening and not leading directly to retirement. Seriously. 

Here are the closest comparisons we can make to Vick from that standpoint: 

Joe Namath: As a 33-year-old in 1976, he started only eight out of 14 games in his final season with the New York Jets. He went to the St. Louis Rams the next year, missed all but four games and retired after the season. 

Kurt Warner: This one might give Vick some hope. Warner was a backup more often than not from the ages of 31 to 35. During those five seasons, he started only 29 of a possible 80 games. He fought back and put together three great seasons between the ages of 36 and 38, but there was less wear and tear on his body and he was never a mobile quarterback. It's just not the same. 

Matt Hasselbeck: Between the ages of 31 and 33, Hasselbeck missed 13 of a possible 48 games for the Seattle Seahawks. Vick has missed 18 of his last 48 with Philly, but he was healthy for some of those in 2013. Hasselbeck did return to health for the following two seasons, but he had more interceptions than touchdowns and couldn't get his passer rating above 76. 

The chances of Vick playing close to 16 games again are extremely slim, but that doesn't mean he isn't worth the gamble if you're a quarterback-needy team. However, it might cause some teams seeking stability to look elsewhere. 

 

What my gut says

Do I believe Vick will land a starting job? Yes. 

It's simple math, really. The 2014 quarterback draft class has been watered down by those who are being cool and staying in school, and Vick is still a lot better than the best quarterback on a slew of NFL teams.

Even if Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel win three of the jobs with the Cleveland BrownsHouston Texans and Arizona Cardinals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Oakland Raiders and Minnesota Vikings (and maybe even New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams), there will still be at least three and as many as seven opportunities. 

Connections are already being drawn to the Buccaneers, where new head coach Lovie Smith could be introduced to Vick by their mutual friend, Tony Dungy. Maybe former Eagles president Joe Banner pulls him to the Browns. NJ.com's Dom Cosentino points to the Jets, where former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is running the offense. The well-connected Reuben Frank believes it'll be the Raiders.

The possibilities are endless.

But do I believe he'll be a difference-maker? No. 

The NFL is an astonishingly unpredictable league, and the sports world can be magic. Nobody knows for sure whether Vick will succeed in whatever job he lands next, but logic simply says he won't. I can't see him making a significant impact again in this league. I can't see him staying healthy enough or avoiding mistakes often enough to lead a team to the playoffs. 

Agree or disagree? Let's discuss in the comments. 

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