Where will Vick play if reinstated?

The biggest question hovering over the Michael Vick situation is, obviously, whether or not the suspended quarterback will be cleared to play in the NFL this coming season. The logical tangent to that is, well, then where the heck will he play?

There has been very little contact between NFL teams and Vick’s agent to this point, according to league sources, and that’s not a surprise. Every team wants to play its cards close to the vest — that’s pretty much the MO for anything related to Vick these days — and until or unless the guy is reinstated, well, there isn’t much to pursue. I spoke to several coaches and personnel executives about the situation, and some would be stunned if Vick isn’t signed quickly and acting as a backup QB in 2009 if allowed to play. Others really believe the interest in Vick will be scant, and he will first have to prove himself in the UFL.

I spoke to probably 10 people about the Vick situation, and they seemed to agree on two things:

1) Vick is a QB.

Maybe he plays a Wildcat role and has something of a slash element to his game, but Vick has been a QB all his life, he thinks like a QB and he is training to return as a QB. Are there really 96 QBs betters than him out there? “He’s a quarterback ,and if you bring him in, you have to let him play quarterback, at least in some capacity,” one executive said. “All that stuff about being a running back or a receiver, you heard the media talking about that, but I don’t think you really hear scouts or football people talking about that.”

2) It will take an owner with some, how shall we say this … fortitude, to sign him.

This is no ordinary personnel move, as it carries with it so much potential risk and baggage, from a PR standpoint, etc. Vick’s crime — bankrolling a dogfighting operation — is something that deeply resonated with people in all walks of life and inspires great debate. A team has to be willing to get beyond that criticism and fallout if it’s going to bring in Vick, particularly if it happens shortly after he’s reinstated.

So, with all of that in mind, there are several teams that, in the football community, people are discussing as possibilities for Vick. Now, as a disclaimer, these are just educated guesses. As I said, there has been no real contact between teams and Vick. But some teams are mentioned by the various coaches and execs more than others, not that it means it will happen.

So here are the teams that these guys thought could end up in the hunt for Vick, in no particular order:

Dallas — Owner Jerry Jones is someone who’s willing to give troubled players a shot. He isn’t afraid to face criticism and, while some pointed out that post-Pac Man Jones, the Cowboys might not want to go in this direction, it is a team that people are watching. “Jerry is a gambler,” one member of the organization said. “If he feels like there is a player who could help him win, he’s willing to gamble. I don’t know that I could unilaterally rule it out.”

Oakland — Owner Al Davis is an iconoclast. He deals with intense criticism all the time, with the franchise falling on hard times in recent years. He’s fearless and that “Just win baby” mentality has long led to the Raiders being a prime destination for reclamation projects, sometimes with great results. Oakland invested a lot in JaMarcus Russell, but the QB situation remains unresolved. Vick has a big arm and tremendous athletic ability, things Davis has always coveted.

Jacksonville — David Garrard has had some big games and good seasons, but this is an offense in need of a spark. Changes could be coming in the coaching ranks if the Jaguars don’t bounce back in 2009, and this also is a market where selling tickets and attracting attention has been difficult, even despite their success on the field. It’s a small market, so the media glare wouldn’t be as intense (though for the first few weeks, this would remain a huge national story, don’tcha think?).

Miami — Bill Parcells can handle pretty much anything, and I never got the sense that he gave a damn about what people had to say about his football team. The Dolphins use the Wildcat more than any other club it seems, and they used a second-round draft pick on Pat White, who could shine in that package. With so many mainstream pop stars joining the ownership group, I’m not sure I personally see this one happening, but scouts and coaches know Parcells can get the best out of talent.

New England — Pretty much all of the above is said here, too, except substitute Bill Belichick, a Parcells guy, and drop the ownership stuff. The Patriots took on Randy Moss, and everyone finds a way to fit in with the way Belichick constructs and demands a team-first ethos. No one is displacing Tom Brady, but as we know, injuries occur, and Vick would be an interesting backup. And Belichick definitely is a genius when it comes to maximizing the assets of his players (Troy Brown at defensive back, anyone?).

Cincinnati — Owner Mike Brown is another person not afraid to take risks (he was the first owner I can think of to hire a newspaper guy, Geoff Hobson, and let him cover the team with few restrictions for the club’s Web site, now a common practice). The organization has taken heat for troubled players in the past and tried to shed that some, but Vick is a special talent, and we’re not talking about him taking Carson Palmer’s job, but being a backup or situational guy. This organization could use a boost in profile and attendance, too.

San Francisco — Another team with a starting QB situation up in the air, and one that some believe lacks a long-term solution at the position. Coach Mike Singletary commands respect from anyone and everyone going back to his playing days. The 49ers are among several teams that, in published reports, have declined having any interest in Vick, but there continues to be a sense among some football people that San Francisco could make sense. Also, I wouldn’t expect any team to publicly acknowledge wanting Vick, especially before he is reinstated, if he is reinstated. This city could be one where backlash is high, however.

Cleveland — The Browns run the Wildcat — and Josh Cribbs, their Wildcat guy, could be a camp holdout — and some execs wonder if they have a solid starting QB on their roster right now.

New Orleans — A few execs mentioned that Vick might end up having a chance as a backup there. Coach Sean Payton would have to alter the system some for him if Drew Brees got hurt, but a Vick/Reggie Bush Wildcat-type backfield would be something, eh?

There also are two teams that are mentioned a lot in this capacity but where I have been told there isn’t real interest. Baltimore runs the Wildcat, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has used guys like Antwaan Randle El and Brian Mitchell at QB in the past, and Ravens QB coach Hue Jackson has a strong relationship with Vick. Ray Lewis runs the locker room, and there is no shortage of strong figures in the organization, like Ozzie Newsome, who could mentor Vick. But according to sources there, it’s highly unlikely. Troy Smith, who runs the Ravens’ Wildcat, made the biggest gains of anyone on the team this offseason, and according to a source, they really like young QB John Beck as well. It’s not something they are planning to pursue.

Also, Tampa Bay was mentioned a lot, largely because it, too, has an unsettled quarterback situation. A member of that organization said he doubted the Buccaneers would inquire about Vick, however, with Josh Freeman seen as the future there, and they already have enough quarterbacks in camp.

Ultimately, it only takes one team to get it done, and personally, I think there will be a club for Vick if/when he is allowed back in the league. No one will tip their hand too much, and often the team comes out of nowhere (how many people had Terrell Owens bound for Buffalo?). It’s hard to rule anyone in or out at this point, with so much still undecided.

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