The NFL team has been lambasted by animal welfare advocates for signing the quarterback who has spent the bulk of the past two years behind bars.
Eagles put their faith in controversial Vick
PHILADELPHIA // Almost four years on from Terrell Owens's brief and troubled stint in Philadelphia, the city's NFL team, the Eagles, are putting their faith in another controversial player; the convicted Michael Vick. The club has been lambasted by animal welfare advocates for signing the quarterback who has spent the bulk of the past two years behind bars for his role in a dogfighting operation. Immediately after Vick's signing, some angry Eagles fans said they would hand back their season tickets and give up their team jerseys.
The team has responded by getting involved in the cause of animal welfare. "All of us have put ourselves on the line and will be subject to legitimate questions and scepticism and doubt if we end up being wrong, which is why we researched this so thoroughly and feel like we made a very educated decision and took a risk," the team president Joe Banner told the media when he announced Vick's signing.
Vick was once one of the NFL's most popular and exciting players but he was jailed in 2007 for bankrolling a dogfighting ring after police raided his country property in Virginia. His fall from grace cost him an estimated US$100 million (Dh367.3m) in lost salary and endorsements and his old club, the Atlanta Falcons, relinquished their rights to his contract after he was released from prison in May.
The Eagles signed him last month, with coach Andy Reid saying the player deserved a second chance. Reid and the club have experience of dealing with headline-making players. The flamboyant Owens, a hugely talented wide receiver, helped the Eagles to reach the Super Bowl in 2005 but quickly wore out his welcome in Philadelphia by demanding that his contract be renegotiated one season into his seven-year, $48-million deal.
Owens feuded with the team owners and tested the patience of Reid and his teammates, repeatedly criticising quarterback Donovan McNabb. His two-year stint with the team ended in 2005 after just seven games when he was suspended and later deactivated for conduct detrimental to the team after attacks on the management and McNabb. The Eagles are facing up to controversy this time by submitting proposals to several animal rights groups on how to combat animal abuse, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper.
Vick and Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, visited a local school together on Tuesday to offer Vick's fall from grace as a cautionary tale. On the football field, it is still unclear what role the mobile quarterback will play when he is fully reinstated in week three of the league's regular season, when the Eagles host Kansas City Chiefs on September 27. Critics question whether Vick, 29, a three-time Pro Bowler, has anything left after missing the last two seasons.
In two pre-season games, Vick completed 11 of 15 passes for 45 yards, with one interception and rushed for 36 yards on eight carries with one touchdown. In a league where wildcat offensive formation is gaining popularity, ESPN analyst and former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, who has been mentoring Vick through his attempt to return to the NFL, says: "You have to substitute him in certain situations during the football game.
"When you have that many guys who can touch the football to make big plays, if you are a defensive coordinator right now getting ready to play the Philadelphia Eagles, you got a headache." While Vick awaits his full reinstatement, the spotlight will also fall on the long-time quarterback McNabb. Despite coming off a career high of 3,916 passing yards, he will feel some pressure from the high-profile presence of a former starting quarterback.
McNabb will want to squash any suggestions of Vick being an eventual replacement when he leads the Eagles on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. In a sport where injuries are ubiquitous, Vick's one-year deal at $1.6 million (with a second-year option at $5.2 million) represents a relatively cheap insurance policy in case McNabb is hurt. One of this year's most anticipated games will take place in week 13 when Vick returns to Atlanta to face the Falcons.