IF MICHAEL VICK wants a shot at playing in the National Football League again after he's finished making license plates, there's a pretty good chance that somebody will give him the opportunity.

Certainly not at the crazy-money numbers that he got from the Atlanta Falcons in 2004 when they foolishly signed the still-unfinished quarterback to a 10-year, $130 million contract extension. But hey, even a 1-year deal at the veteran minimum would help defray the cost of a few of his lawyers' billable hours.

The bigger question is whether Vick will be able to make an NFL team when he gets out of the slammer.

He received a 23-month sentence yesterday from U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson for his involvement in a Virginia dogfighting operation.

He already has spent a month in jail and could get his 23-month term reduced by a couple of months for good behavior. That means he could be released from prison as early as June or July of 2009. But there still will be the NFL to deal with after that. Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely in August after he pleaded guilty to the dogfighting chargers. He won't make a determination on whether to extend Vick's suspension beyond his prison term until after Vick is released.

So, the earliest Vick might be able to play football again is 2009. Probably a more likely timetable is 2010. That's 3 years away from the game. That's a lifetime for an athlete.

"I imagine that somebody will give him a look when he gets out," an NFC player personnel director said. "But how well will he play? How much will his skills have deteriorated? I mean, this is a guy who already was behind the curve as far as his development as a quarterback.

"He'll only be 29 or 30 when he gets out. But trying to gauge the toll being in prison for 2 years and being away from the game for 3 will have on him, that's hard to say."

An AFC GM put the chances of Vick playing in the league again at "slim to none."

"You've seen how hard it is for a running back like Ricky Williams to sit out for as long as he sat out and try to come back," he said. "The body ages. The time away does irreversible damage to your skills.

"There have been guys who have sat out a year and come back. But 2 years? Three years? There's not a lot of those stories out there. That's a long time. Especially when you've spent most of it in prison.

"A guy in a normal situation can throw a thousand balls a day for the next 2-3 years and at least stay sharp mechanically. Vick's not going to get that opportunity in prison."

His age isn't a problem. Vick will only be 29 when he gets out. There are plenty of quarterbacks in the league playing well into their 30s, or even 40s. Vinny Testaverde is 44. Brad Johnson is 39. Brett Favre is 38. Jeff Garcia will turn 38 in February. Kurt Warner is 36 and Trent Dilfer is 35.

The problem for Vick is that he's not a traditional pocket passer. His strength always has been his speed, mobility and arm strength. Last year, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards. His career yards-per-carry average (7.3) actually is higher than his yards-per-pass-attempt average (6.7). His career completion rate is just .54.0 percent.

"[The layoff] absolutely is going to have a more profound effect on a guy with his style of play than say, a Testaverde," the NFC personnel man said. "His athletic ability, his ability to run, his ability to create, certainly that won't be what it was in 3 years.

"Quarterbacks who are almost exclusively passers, they're like veteran baseball pitchers who learn to adapt after they lose a couple of miles off of their fastball. They learn to paint the corners. They might not have their fastball anymore, but they've got great control of their pitches. That's not Michael Vick. So that will be a little bit of a dilemma for him."

One possibility for Vick, if he really wants to play again, might be the Canadian Football League. Go up there for a year, sharpen his skills and prove to NFL teams that he can still play.

"That would be a great option for him," the AFC GM said. "Even if it's just for a while. To show that you still have it, if nothing else. Play a year or so there and then come back. Would he be willing to do it? I don't know."

Vick still is technically under contract to the Falcons. That's only because they're still trying to recoup $20 million in bonus money as part of the '04 extension.

They're awaiting an arbitration ruling on that. After that, he will be history. The Falcons want to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the man who once was the face of the franchise. When he gets out of prison in 2009, they won't invite him back.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, in an interview broadcast over the team's Web site, said: "I would never use the word 'never.' I would say there's always a chance. But quite candidly, we as an organization, as a football team, we have to look forward. We have to go forward assuming Michael will not be back."

But somebody out there will take a flier on him. If not as a quarterback, then possibly as a running back or even a return man.

He'll get a chance somewhere. Whether he'll be able to do anything with that chance, well, that remains to be seen.


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