Mike Vick Will Head This Year's Cruel Season as the NFL Disembowels Star Players

Mike FreemanNFL National Lead WriterMarch 7, 2014

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This is how bad it's become for one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the history of the NFL: He's likely being replaced by Matt Barkley. 

Matt. Barkley.

Just a matter of years ago, Barkley beating out Mike Vick would have been unthinkable. But here we are. It's all but certain that Vick will be out of Philadelphia and replaced by Barkley.

Thus the NFL remains as unforgiving as ever, ranking somewhere behind the coal-mining industries. Vick's body is breaking down cartilage by cartilage, so he gets dumped for a quarterback who will likely be playing in Saskatchewan in a few years.

Before Vick became infamous for running a business that attached electrodes to the private parts of pooches, he was rock 'n' roll. In many ways, Vick was part of a group of running throwers who continued to evolve the position as the decades passed.

From a Bobby Douglass and Fran Tarkenton and Roger Staubach, to Steve Young and Randall Cunningham, to a Donovan McNabb and then a Vick, who was almost a bridge to players such as Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick.

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He was that good and, yes, deserves to be mentioned with all of those names despite his prison stint and brittle frame. But here we are.

This is the cruel season. This time of year is why so many NFL players rent instead of buy. It can be one of the most shocking parts of the year. As teams squirm to get under the salary cap, the yearly disemboweling of veterans has begun. Some of this no longer stuns. Hell, the 49ers cut ties with Jerry Rice. 

Yet this offseason we've seen something almost unprecedented in terms of the star power that will be released.

The Broncos released Champ Bailey, who one day will stroll into the Hall of Fame. The Chicago Bears released Devin Hester, quite possibly the best return man the game has ever seen (I'd still take Deion Sanders). And it seems Vick may be gone. If he's not, he'll be a backup with the Eagles again.

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Between Bailey (12 Pro Bowls), Vick (four) and Hester (three), there are 19 Pro Bowls. Bailey is first in Broncos history in interceptions. Hester holds the league record for most all-time return touchdowns. Vick was a transformational player at his position.

All on the street or soon will be.

Certainly, age is part of this. Players age in dog years, yet the suddenness with which they are dumped is still gut-wrenching. You leave your company, you get a watch and a pat on the back. These guys make millions of dollars, to be sure, but they are discarded with almost pathological ease.

I'm not saying you should feel sorry for them. I'm saying this is why players fight for every dollar, why the union fights the NFL for every inch of collective bargaining turf like it's Hamburger Hill. I know football isn't war, but the way players are disposed of is often stunning to watch.

Vick is emblematic of this. 

The player who became the only quarterback ever to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season is now looking for scraps. He's looking to just hold on.

A number of team officials say the interest the Jets have in Vick is palpable and real. Geno Smith has shown promise, but he has also shown the tendency to deliver the football to the wrong team.

The Vikings also have strong interest in Vick—don't believe otherwise. The team is going to end the Christian Ponder experiment and will again look to the draft for a thrower. Since Ponder is terrible, and rookie quarterbacks are, well, rookie quarterbacks, Vick would have a chance at starting in Minnesota.

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One other team to consider for Vick: the Buffalo Bills.

I'm told the organization wants a veteran player to push EJ Manuel. That would be pretty dumb, but these are the Bills—the Cleveland Browns of the North.

You don't push young quarterbacks with legendary ones. You let a guy like Manuel grow, or try to, free of threats and backstabbing. Bringing in someone like Vick would only damage the confidence of a young thrower like Manuel.

This is all odd to watch. Vick was great, then he made the biggest mistake of his life, then he had one of the better comebacks in league history, and now he seems lost. He's being considered by the dregs of the NFL, which says almost as much as his current status as theirs.

Vick was once a bridge between generations, and now he's a stopgap between the Ponders and Manuels and a backup plan for the Genos.

The cruel season is here. Vick is in it, a different kind of star.

He's not alone.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.