Michael Vick spent a good bit of his Monday morning cleaning out his locker at the NovaCare Complex, filling a large gray garbage bag with personal items, autographing gloves and sneakers so they could be donated to charity. The whole process had an air of finality that even Vick himself couldn't help but recognize. He is a free agent. He wants to be an NFL starting quarterback again. That will not happen here, not with Nick Foles around, and Vick knows it.
"It's hard to sum up my time here," he said. "Everything has been so surreal and happened so abruptly."
He is right on both counts, and because of how and why Vick became an Eagle, his five years with the team have to be evaluated on two levels: Vick as person and Vick as quarterback.
Remember: He arrived in August 2009 as the guinea pig in Jeffrey Lurie and Andy Reid's attempt to weave the cause of social progress into their plan for winning football games. After Vick had served 18 months in prison on dogfighting charges, Lurie and Reid signed him for the dual purpose of chasing a Super Bowl and saving his soul.
This was a risky proposition from the start. A pro sports franchise's first mission always should be to do all it can within its league's rules to win a championship, and the Eagles ostensibly had put that priority aside for the sake of rehabilitating Vick. They invited criticism from those who believed Vick's crimes too heinous to warrant a second chance in the NFL, and there was no predicting how he would act, whether prison had truly changed him for the better.
In hindsight, it apparently did. He generally carried himself with maturity and graciousness, carried out his community-service obligations, and never embarrassed the franchise off the field.
"He has been a joy to have," Lurie said. "He has represented the team always with class."
On that level, the Eagles were successful. It was in their effort to rebuild Vick as a quarterback that he and they came up short.
That Vick improved in the fundamentals of the position under Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is beyond dispute. And after he took over for Kevin Kolb as the team's starter in 2010, that memorable six-game stretch he unfurled - bookended by a breathtaking Monday-night performance against the Washington Redskins and a 21-point, fourth-quarter comeback against the New York Giants - did more than win the Eagles the NFC East that season. It persuaded the team to sign him to a $100 million contract, and it provided a glimpse of the player Vick might have been earlier in his career, if his coaches had placed the same demands on him that Reid and Mornhinweg had . . . and if he had placed them on himself.
But that glimpse was as good as it got for him here. Over the next three years, his record as a starter was 12-17. His turnover-prone play - a sign that Reid and Mornhinweg's tutoring could take him only so far - along with his inability to avoid injury contributed to those disastrous 2011 and 2012 Eagles seasons. And yes, his career as an Eagle did end abruptly, with that hamstring injury in October against the Giants, because it gave Foles the opportunity to show that Chip Kelly's offense could be more dynamic without a "mobile quarterback" as it had been with Vick. He evolved into a locker-room leader - helping to cool the flames ignited by the Riley Cooper incident and never raising a fuss once Foles supplanted him - but his greatest contributions remained there, on that intangible margin.
So he'll get another new beginning, with a team that needs a new starting quarterback or wants to challenge its incumbent, and there are plenty of those sorts of situations. The Jacksonville Jaguars, the New York Jets, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - any of them might be willing to take the chance that Vick, even at 33, would be an upgrade. He came to the Eagles as an experiment, and he will leave as one.
"I'm praying that things work out in my favor, but you never know," he said. "I'll just try to stay optimistic about it from a realistic standpoint, as far as what I want and the things that I can attain and try to achieve. . . .
"Things have certainly taken a turn for the better. I just want to keep that momentum going."
He'll just have to do it somewhere else, though the esteem in which his teammates hold him was obvious Monday. One by one, they came to his locker to say goodbye - DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy lingering there with him longer than anyone.
As McCoy approached, he smiled and shouted loud enough for everyone in the room to hear, "Yo, don't pack your [stuff]. You ain't going nowhere."
But Michael Vick knew the truth, and he kept filling his gray garbage bag.
How Did Vick Do in Philly?
Did Michael Vick improve as a quarterback while with the Eagles? Here are his passing and rushing numbers with the Atlanta Falcons and Eagles.
Falcons 2001-06 Eagles 2009-13
74/67 Games/Started 54/40
58-48-1 Record as starter 20-20
53.8 Completion Pct. 59.5
11,505 Yards 9,984
71 (4.1) TD passes (Pct.) 57 (4.4)
52 (3.0) Interceptions 33 (2.5)
75.7 Rating 87.7
529/3,859 Attempts/Yards 298/1,998
21/55 TDs/Fumbles 15/36
7.3 Avg. per carry 6.7