PHILADELPHIA (TheStreet) -- The Philadelphia Eagles have named Michael Vick their starter over Kevin Kolb, putting a lot more at stake than just a win against Jacksonville.
Since Kolb suffered a concussion during the first game of the season, Vick has since completed 37 of 58 pass attempts for 459 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Known as a fleet-footed scrambler, he's also run for 140 yards on 18 attempts, but still hasn't been able to evade critics of the dogfighting exploits that led to 21 months in prison.
The Eagles were well aware of the baggage Vick carried when they signed him as a backup in August 2009. The front office and coach Andy Reid just weren't aware he'd be their go-to guy when squeaky-clean longtime starter Donovan McNabb was shipped to the Washington Redskins during the offseason. Now Vick is their best hope of eliminating doubt about that decision, but the biggest risk for the team and its sponsors.
Before he was sentenced to 23 months in prison for running Bad Newz Kennels -- an interstate dogfighting venture in which Vick was personally involved in killing six to eight dogs by hanging or drowning -- Michael Vick was a money magnet. A strong-armed pocket passer who could run like McNabb or former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, Vick's popularity during his college days at Virginia Tech and his tenure with the Atlanta Falcons translated to a $100 million contract with Atlanta and endorsement deals with
( ERTS) also jumped on the Vick bandwagon, putting him on the cover of its
Madden NFL '04
game. In 2005, Vick was No. 33 on Forbes' list of the 100 most powerful celebrities.
It all disappeared after the dogfighting conviction, and Vick filed for bankruptcy in 2008. Public support dried up as well, with Def Jam records mogul Russell Simmons, the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lining up against him. Appalled animal lovers used Vick jerseys as dog bedding and gave pets
However, Vick's prison sentence, his $1 million donation to cover the costs of caring for and relocating his dogs (47 of the original 51 survived, and the majority have found homes) and his continued commitment to the Humane Society's anti-dogfighting campaign have healed the wounds a bit, though tension and distrust remain. While the Humane Society is OK with his starting role, PETA's statement on his promotion was far more conditional: "As long as he's throwing a football and not electrocuting a dog, PETA is pleased he is focused on his game."
If the Eagles and Reid weren't worried enough about justifying their decision to jettison McNabb, PETA's sentiment and lingering resentment among animal lovers serve as a stark reminder of what further Vick missteps could cost the team and the NFL. The Eagles are paying Vick a season at a time, with his services costing them $1.6 million last year and $5 million for the current season, but that's a fraction of what Eagles corporate sponsors such as
Lincoln Financial Group
contribute to the team each year -- not to mention family-friendly NFL sponsors including Philly-adjacent
Despite out clauses written into Vick's contract that would allow the Eagles to release him in the event of a relapse, ensuing damage to the public's perception of either the team or the league could be disastrous -- especially as the league struggled with fan attendance and television blackouts of home games during the first two weeks of the season.
When Vick was signed last year, sponsors were quick to criticize his dogfighting past but remained committed to the team. Vick's mentoring from former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and his model NFL citizen behavior since his signing have kept critics at bay. If Vick's on-field performance or extra-curricular behavior slip, the slack that fans, sponsors and NFL coaches have cut him can turn into a short leash.
--Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.