MICHAEL VICK'S future. Andy Reid's future.
That load sits squarely on the shoulders of Vick's red No. 7 Eagles practice jersey, as the team prepares for the 2012 season, Vick's second full year as the starting quarterback. We can analyze what it means for Demetress Bell to step in at left tackle, we can watch every springtime rep in which rookie linebacker Mychcal Kendricks glides into coverage, but really, it's down to Vick.
Vick stays healthy and gives the ball away less than he did in 2011, the Eagles are good. Probably really good. Either of those things doesn't happen, well, Vick's contract extension last year was written to make it easy for the Birds to part ways after this season. And Reid's 14th season is the next-to-last on his current contract, for an organization that hasn't let Reid drift into the final year of any pact since Reid arrived in 1999.
Last month, Vick declared "not on my watch," when asked in an ESPN interview about the possibility of this being Reid' final year. Wednesday he had a slightly different message, one that buttressed his recent tweet about the 2012 Eagles being the best team he has been around.
"Nobody has come to me and told me, 'Your future lies in this season.' What I do know is that this is a big year for us, because we've got all the pieces in place. It seems like everything is there for us," Vick, who turns 32 June 26, said after the next-to-last day of minicamp. "What I say is, this team is in position to make a run … This is what the organization builds for, to put a team together that can go out and compete. It takes years to put a team together. When you finally get to that moment, you're like, 'OK, here we go. Let's go get it.' "
To Vick, this is not the time to be thinking about what happens if the team disappoints again. The 2011 Eagles were an 8-8 team that had made enormous changes in a lockout year. Generally in the NFL, continuity is a good thing. Instead of more change, Vick said he feels the Eagles need to solidify what they have. NFL people talk about trying to win the Super Bowl every year, on every team, but that isn't really how it works. This group is the result of a building process that started when Donovan McNabb was dispatched in 2010.
"Everybody's got to understand the concept — you know, [whether] they say our coach is on the hot seat, or whether they say I'm in the hot seat, we're in a position where we can go out and do it," Vick said. "Who knows what it's going to take to do it, how long, but we know [it's tangible]. Everybody sees it. Sometimes when you make changes, it screws things up. I can't say [changing coaches or QBs would be wrong] because I'm not the decision-maker. I'm just glad, like coach Reid, to be a part of it. We've got this opportunity. Everybody doesn't get this chance."
Of course, Vick has faced a little pressure before. There was the whole thing about being the first overall pick in 2001, by Atlanta, the first African-American QB taken in that spot. There was being banished from the NFL and sent to federal prison in 2007 for running a dogfighting ring. There was having to prove he belonged in the NFL and in the NFL community again when he got out of jail and signed with the Eagles in 2009. Vick's stunning 2010 Pro Bowl season made him Reid's quarterback, but Vick regressed last year, and now, the Vick decision and the hiring of Juan Castillo as defensive coordinator are moves that must pan out in 2012 for Reid to have a future here, many observers believe, even if Reid did annex some turf last week when team president Joe Banner stepped aside.
"I think Mike's probably had a lot of scrutiny his whole career, but especially now, especially the way last season went," center Jason Kelce said Wednesday. "Being in this market, the load tends to get a little bit heavier … as a teammate, and someone who meets with him often, our job is to try and take that load off him, to make sure he knows, 'You do what you do and we're going to protect. You make the plays happen. You're the playmaker, you're the superstar. We're just going to try to give you the time to do it.' "
It's fair to wonder if Vick really grasps how much his play slipped last season. This, and the likelihood of a turnaround, has been a continuing offseason theme, one that emerged again this week when Vick acknowledged he was angry over dropping from 20th to 70th between 2010 and 2011 in an NFL Network poll of players, who were asked to rank the league's top performers. (Kelce noted that he did not vote and doesn't know anyone who did; the results are hardly scientific. But they are a benchmark of popular opinion.)
"Going from 20 to 70, I know how competitive I am, I know how good I am, I know how good I can be," Vick said Wednesday. "I know what I can do, what I represent, what I bring to my football team … It's fuel to the fire, it's motivation, it's what I need, in a sense."
Wideout Jeremy Maclin, who struggled at times last season after a puzzling bout with viral illness cost him his normal preparation time, said it isn't just Vick under the microscope, and that Vick's teammates want him to know that.
"I think there's a lot on this whole team's shoulders. It's unfair to put everything on one guy … As a team, I think we're ready to go out there and step up to the challenge," Maclin said. "I think this offseason has done everybody great. I think OTAs went great, offseason workouts went great."
Maclin said Vick "has put in the work, he's put in the extra hours, he's getting us all right."
First-round defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, called away for a funeral, did not make it back for Wednesday's workout … Rookie defensive end Vinny Curry again sat out with an ankle sprain … Today is the wrapup, until training camp convenes July 22 for rookies, July 25 for vets.