Vick, NFL have a lot on their plates

Michael's Vick charmed life, Arthur Blank's African vacation, the Atlanta Falcons hopeful season, the NFL commissioner's busy docket, and training camp's anticipated kickoff each has been disrupted with the most unimaginable and unconscionable story since former Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth conspired to kill his girlfriend in 1999.

Tremors from New York City to Flowery Branch, Georgia still were being felt Wednesday, one day after Michael Vick was indicted in a highly-publicized dogfighting case. Those tremors will not let up anytime soon.

The fallout is as extensive as the questions being asked and the points popping up.

Roger Goodell now faces the most significant issue of his NFL commissionership — how to handle the Vick situation.

Already the league is upset that what Vick told Goodell during their Saturday, April 28 meeting at the NFL draft contradicts the information contained in the 19-page federal indictment handed down Tuesday.

Still, the league is determined to exercise patience, something Duke did not when three of its players were indicted and the school cancelled its lacrosse season.

The NFL held a round of high-level meetings Wednesday to discuss the Vick situation, and how it should be handled. The plan, for now, is not to suspend Vick, but in a case this volatile, anything is possible.

Before it would make any decision on Vick, the league first wants to gather more facts, delve into the strength of the evidence against him, figure out the timing of the case. Until more information filters in, it looks like no decisions come out of 280 Park Avenue.

But the league does not expect to have to wait long. Lawyers consider the eastern district of Virginia, where Vick will be tried, "the Rocket Docket." Cases are known to move faster there than any place else.

Before long, the league and football followers will have the answers they want. Then action against Vick can be taken.

If any action is taken against Vick now, it will have to come from Falcons owner Arthur Blank, not Goodell.

Blank could ask Vick to take a leave of absence to concentrate on his legal issues while the Falcons focus strictly on football — something that would be impossible if their embattled quarterback is in training camp.

Should Vick participate in camp, Falcons practices are going to be turned into an unwelcome and unsightly media circus, with TV satellite trucks camped out at the team's training facility all summer long. Blank's only way out is to ensure Vick is not there.

Yet Blank returned from his African vacation and to his offices only Wednesday. His approach, according to those within the Falcons, still has to be formulated.

But the image- and community-conscious Blank now faces his most critical decision as Falcons owner. He could be forced to make the decision that Goodell does not have to right away.

It also should be noted that Blank essentially fired former Atlanta head coach Jim Mora for inappropriate remarks he made during a radio interview. Vick's transgression doesn't compare. He has been indicted, though not convicted.

Then again, there are relationships to consider here as well. Blank hadn't treated Mora like a son and paid him $37 million in bonuses and $44 million in salary the way he has with Vick.

For all the respect and riches that Blank has showered on Vick, it's possible that he was flat out duped.

In one-on-one, face-to-face meetings, Vick has told Blank — just as he told Atlanta general manager Rich McKay and new Falcons head coach Bobby Petrino — that he had no involvement with the house in Smithfield, Va.

Should Vick be proven guilty, his legal concerns will be his biggest issues. But Vick also never would be able to recover his credibility with Blank, McKay, Petrino, Goodell or anyone else in the NFL.

Yet Vick will do what he can now. He was planning to call Blank on Wednesday, though it is unknown whether the quarterback connected with the owner. Whenever he does, it will not be hard for Vick to discern Blank's feelings. The Falcons owner is said to be irate.

Just as Vick's Virginia house has been scrutinized, so will the quarterback's contract. Back in December 2004, Vick signed a 10-year, $130 million contract that included $37 million in bonuses.

Were it $37 million in signing bonuses, the Falcons would be within their rights to pursue some kind of payback. But much of the $37 million was paid in the form of roster bonuses, money far more difficult to recoup under legal precedents.

After a recent ruling in wide receiver Ashley Lelie's case against the Denver Broncos, teams have been barred from pursuing option bonus money. Roster bonus money is similar to option bonus money, which is why most people around the league think that Atlanta will have a difficult time getting back any of the bonus money it paid Vick.

Still, it did not stop the NFL's Management Council from diving into the issue, as it should. Shortly after Vick's indictment was announced, the management council already was poring over the pages of Vick's contract, seeing if the Falcons would be entitled to go after any of the money they already had paid out.

But Vick's deals had been restructured at least twice, leaving pages of documents to pore through. Even after its work is completed, the management council is not expected to uncover many loopholes to the Falcons advantage, meaning Blank and the Falcons are expected to be on the hook for the money they already paid Vick.

No truth to the rumor that Atlanta is now offering two first-round picks for Matt Schaub, the quarterback it traded to Houston for two second-round picks and two spots in the first round of the draft.

Not that Falcons fans want to hear this, but the Texans are ultra impressed with the quarterback they acquired this off-season from Atlanta — before Vick's legal issues surfaced.

Schaub has demonstrated leadership, accuracy, intelligence — the traits the Texans expected to be getting when they landed the quarterback for two second-round draft picks and two spots in the first round of the draft.

Before the trade, there were some in the Falcons organization who felt that Schaub would not fit into Petrino's offense. But there also were others who thought that the Falcons would be better served holding on to Schaub.

Details already have filtered in — see the 19-page indictment. But we, as the public, are about to learn more about dogfighting than ever before.

Think about it this way: A few years ago, what did anyone outside the elite athlete know about "the cream" and "the clear." Now we know more than we want to about steroids. And in the coming days and weeks, it's about to be the same with dogfighting.

On the December day that Blank first listened to the Seattle radio interview that eventually and ultimately cost Mora the Falcons head coach job, the Atlanta owner remembered the one bit of advice he got when he bought the team.

Patriots owner Robert Kraft told Blank that he was going to be surprised at the media scrutiny in the world of football compared to the world of business. Initially, Blank admitted he dismissed Kraft's message. But over time, he realized how true it was.

And in the days and weeks to come, it is going to be hammered home.

In the most unwelcome of ways.

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