THREE YEARS ago, Michael Vick was working quietly in the background, running the Eagles' scout team, just glad to be part of the NFL at all, after serving 18 months in federal prison for dogfighting. Vick was biding his time, anticipating a future somewhere else.
Monday, Vick's Eagles career appeared to have come full circle.
"I can't be upset or disgruntled about anything that happens, it's just a blessing to be back playing football, from where I came from, and the opportunities that I've had over the last 3 or 4 years, I would have never thought," Vick said, when asked about having been supplanted as the starting quarterback by rookie Nick Foles, Vick apparently dropped to third in the pecking order behind Trent Edwards. "This is what I love, and I realized that today, out there throwing balls on the scout team."
Vick practiced, then addressed reporters for the first time since he was sidelined by a concussion Nov. 11 against Dallas. He said he would embrace the opportunity to help Foles, designated the starter the rest of the way for the 4-10 Eagles by head coach Andy Reid. After his Sportsradio 94WIP Show Monday night, Reid said he hadn't decided yet whether Vick would be the second or third quarterback, but Vick indicated he was third.
"It's different, but that's just the way things are right now," Vick said. "I have to roll with the punches and deal with it, make the most of it, continue to work hard, try to get better, continue to help Nick out, continue to help Trent, continue to help this football team, that's my job as a leader . . . regardless if I'm the starter or the third-string quarterback."
Asked if he agreed with Reid's decision, Vick said: "I'm a competitor, and I've always felt like and will continue to feel like I'm one of the best and I can play at a high level . . . I want to be out there, I want to play, as a competitor, but it's just not the ideal situation right now . . . I have to accept my role, accept it like a man, continue to find positives out of it."
Vick said he doesn't know his future here, doesn't think sitting out the final few weeks of the season will affect his ability to get another job. "I'm healthy, I'm strong, I'm ready to go," he said.
The Eagles will have to pay him at least $15.5 million next season unless he reworks his contract, but only $3 million of that money is guaranteed, and even then, only if Vick remains on the roster 2 days past the start of the offseason waiver period, typically 2 days after the Super Bowl. The Eagles can release Vick before that date without any financial obligation or 2013 cap hit.
Asked if he wanted to stay here as a backup next year, Vick said he didn't know, would have to discuss that with agent Joel Segal, but, "I just feel like I have a lot of football left to play, I feel like I've got a lot left in my tank. I'm enjoying the game, I feel fresh . . . the future will take care of itself."
The third-QB designation might be a sort of gentlemen's agreement: The Eagles don't need Vick coming into an end-of-season game, throwing for four touchdowns, and muddying the waters, if something should happen to Foles. And, with the Eagles out of playoff contention, Vick, 32, doesn't need to take any more hits this year.
If we've traveled 360 degrees now with Vick since 2009, 180 of those have spun since the end of the 2010 season, when Vick was one of the great comeback stories of all time, a Pro Bowl QB again, the reclamation project who was going to cement Reid's legacy as a Hall of Fame coach. Instead, it is very likely Reid and Vick will exit NovaCare with their belongings within days or weeks of one another next month.
Vick made more than $30 million here, settled on and executed a plan to exit bankruptcy, got married and served as an example of redemption for thousands of downtrodden people who flocked to his appearances on behalf of the Humane Society. But he couldn't stay healthy and couldn't suppress his all-out, go-for-broke mentality well enough to keep the turnovers at a level that would allow sustained success. He threw nine interceptions and lost five fumbles in nine games this season, after 14 INTs and four fumbles in 13 games in 2011. The 2012 offseason narrative was all about Vick staying healthy and taking care of the ball. Behind a bedraggled offensive line, he was unable to accomplish either task.
"Of course, being the quarterback, you're going to get the blame," Vick said. "And I accept it, even though it's tough. It was a lot of hardships this year, not only for me, but for a lot of guys in this locker room. When you don't win, we know what comes along with it."
Vick also said that as has been speculated, he feels he actually suffered the concussion on the next-to-last snap he played vs. Dallas, when he was pancaked by the Cowboys' Jay Ratliff as Vick slid along the turf at the end of a run. "I was woozy," Vick said Monday.
Then, on a third-down incompletion to LeSean McCoy, Vick was pushed backward by former teammate Ernie Sims and hit his head on the turf. At that point, he said, he knew he had to come out because "I couldn't see . . . I kind of lost it, right then and there."
This highlights one of the main difficulties of the NFL's quest to do a better job of dealing with concussions - you can't always know from the sideline when one has occurred. The player has to be willing to come out of the game, and as Vick said Monday, he was not until he hit his head again, which might have worsened the brain injury.
A request to speak with Eagles head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder about this issue Monday was deferred by the team.
"The player that I am, man, when I'm out there, I'm going for the kill," Vick said. "If I'm not lying there and can't get up, then I'm going to get up for the next play and I'm going to give it everything I've got. That's just me, and maybe sometimes it can be, you know, sorta selfish, but I only know one way."
A few weeks ago, ESPN.com reported that sources close to Vick believed the Eagles were slow-tracking Vick's return, telling him he was failing baseline imPACT tests, in order to cushion the decision to go with Foles. The Eagles responded forcefully, pointing out the tests were graded by NFL concussion experts in Pittsburgh, not by the team, and Vick issued a statement in support of the Eagles.
Asked about that Monday, Vick said: "I just roll with the punches. Whatever the doc tells me, I go with. I don't question that. They're professionals, just like we're professionals in what we do. I respect their opinions and their judgment. Right now I'm back and healthy, I feel good."