I was in France all last week and learned that even the French have an opinion about what to do with Michael Vick. We all hear the different options -- a leave of absence with pay, a leave without pay, a year-long suspension, status quo, maybe termination. And anything in between.
Commissioner Roger Goodell has ordered Vick not to report to camp and has told the Falcons to hold off on any team discipline. It's a great move on two levels: It permits the Falcons to start camp without Vick, thereby creating less turmoil around the facility; and it buys time to decide the ultimate fate of the player.
Vick deserves due process like any other American and the Falcons need to study their options. As the season gets closer and the final rosters have to be declared, there will be another major decision that will be made. As one personnel man said, "The lawyers are going to make this messy no matter which way the league and the club decide to go. At that point it may be in the best interest of the Falcons to release Vick and walk away from all the headaches."
The Falcons coaches can resolve their 2007 quarterback situation with Vick out of the equation. It may be Joey Harrington or it may be another quarterback currently on another roster.
We are not saying the Falcons should release Vick today, but we do want to clear up the misconception that Atlanta cannot afford to cut Vick for financial reasons. That is not necessarily accurate. There are a lot of numbers floating around but these are the contract numbers the Falcons are studying:
The Falcons sat with $5,817,795 of salary cap space as of July 20. Vick is No. 1 on the team's ledger with a $13,579,577 cap charge. But if he is released before the final 53-man roster is determined they will get back $6 million in cap space by terminating him before opening day. Combining their present space with a Vick termination and that would create $11,817,795 of cap space. Consider that Atlanta's rookie pool allocation to sign its draft picks is $6,171,000 -- so they would easily have enough space to sign all the rookies and plenty left over to absorb the salary of a quarterback they might trade for, or to extend some young players.
Because it is after June 1, the Falcons would not have to take the big hit on the Vick signing bonus until next year. So in 2008, the Falcons would have to absorb the $14,682,000 charge for all the bonus money paid to Vicki that was being spread out over the length of the contract. At the same time, the salary cap next year probably will go up by $5 million to the $115 million range, give or take a few million. Vick's hit will still leave the Falcons with $100 million to field a team. Keep in mind the Texans are presently taking a salary cap hit well over $20 million for players they released… yet they are getting better.
Falcons general manager Rich McKay knows how to absorb the big hit in 2008 and still help new head coach Bobby Petrino build his team.
Petrino will have a year under his belt and will be in a much better position to change personnel. There are some older players who average 12 years of experience -- Wayne Gandy, Lawyer Milloy, Warrick Dunn and Grady Jackson - who have contracts for 2008 but might not still be there. This will create even more space while the Falcons are in transition.
As one GM said today, a clean break at the right time may be the only way to keep all the lawyers, union officials and protestors out of the process. If and when the Falcons decide to release Vick, they will pull out a form from their files which has four boxes on it. They will be required to check the box that states the reason Vick is being terminated, should they decide to go in that direction.
If they decide to keep him and pay him it will cost a lot more. As one former Falcon said, "We aren't going anywhere this season, so it may be time to change the roster. If Michael is on that Falcons roster on Sept. 2, his $6 million is guaranteed.