This past Monday news broke that the Eagles had signed Michael Vick for 2013. First, this again proves that the NFL truly never does sleep. Team executives are working year-round, even though there are not any players on the field.
While it was noteworthy that the Eagles had reached an agreement with Michael Vick, it isn’t nearly as monumental as reports made it sound. First, Michael Vick had an existing 5-year $80 million deal with the Eagles with 3 YEARS remaining on it! So Michael Vick was going to be a Philadelphia Eagle in 2013 unless the Eagles decided to release him.
The only reason the media stated that ‘the Eagles had signed’ Vick is because the media portrayed the situation such that the Eagles had essentially already released Vick. So if fans were sucked into the vortex of over-reporting, uneducated analysis, and speculation without accountability that the media fills their airwaves with every day, then the report makes sense. After all, sports news sources need stories, so they pick potential issues and talk about them repeatedly every day. They manufacture sports news. If you listen to these reports, pay attention to how much is opinion and how much is fact.
The fact is that the Eagles would never publicly state their intentions and plans for Michael Vick, especially not in the off-season. Why would any professional sports team want to tip their hand to their opponents about plans for their roster? In the NFL, leverage is king: This is true in the NFL Draft, in contract negotiations, as well as in personnel management. This Vick situation is such a personnel decision.
After Vick was injured during the 2012 season, the Eagles were forced to go to their back-up quarterback Nick Foles. Foles filled in adequately for a team that was 3-5 at the time. Contrary to media reports, Foles was not a super-hero for the Eagles; but with Vick not performing up to expectations, Foles kept the starting the job even after Vick had returned to health. Foles went 1-6 as the primary quarterback, but all we heard about was how excellent Foles was at leading a struggling Eagles team.
The principal statistical measurement for NFL quarterbacks is the QB rating. It factors in turnovers, completion percentage, touchdown passes, etc and produces a numerical rating. Foles was 23rd on the list of 32 quarterbacks eligible for the rating. His 79.1 rating was only one point better than Vick’s 78.1. Foles threw 5 interceptions and fumbled the ball 8 times while only throwing 6 touchdown passes (along with 1 rushing). Granted, it was the first regular season playing time for the second-year quarterback, but by no means should Eagles fans be anointing him as a ‘king.’ Nonetheless, if you listened to the media, Michael Vick deserved to be kicked to the curb! Not traded, not provided with a new offensive scheme, not given a new quarterbacks coach, not given a chance to fully heal, and not given a chance to restructure his contract to more affordable terms.
This is why media reports are so misleading and undependable. They tell you what they want you to hear in the way they want you to hear it so that they have more to report on. To top it off, there is no accountability. These so called experts give their opinions and tell what is going to happen with only a sliver of insight on the situation. And when they are proven to be wrong… days, months or years later, do you ever hear a report correcting their initial report? Even more modestly, do you ever hear these analysts come on the air and say, “I was wrong…” Such a selfless statement hardly exists.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter was very fast to provide his instant analysis that Vick needed to be signed, because Eagles brass “surveyed the free agent quarterback landscape and realized there isn’t another quarterback out there they’d rather have than Michael Vick.” What a way to state the obvious and make it sound like news! Here’s an actual newsflash: There are hardly ever quarterbacks that are reliable as starters with contracts expiring at the end of the season. Remember last year: The big signing was Peyton Manning, but he was RELEASED by the Colts only days before the start of free agency. The only other potentially worthy quarterback on the market was Packers back-up Matt Flynn who had only started 1 NFL regular season game! In short, Michael Vick is better than the group of free agent quarterbacks.
It goes without saying that NFL team executives do not let quarterbacks on their rosters that are legitimate starters hit the open market. Those quarterbacks never make it to free agency. Vick was no exception to the rule. The Eagles would have traded him and/or restructured his contract before they simply released him and received nothing in return for him. Schefter’s report was hardly necessary. The Eagles knew the free agent quarterback market would be poor long before Vick’s mediocre play. They knew Vick was a better option than their alternatives. They had assessed the situation thoroughly mid-season and knew that a reduced salary was the best decision. Vick obviously concurred.
Surveying the Landscape
As previously mentioned, Vick was still under contract with the Eagles, but the media was right in reporting that Vick’s salary cap charge would be problematic for the Eagles. The Eagles knew Vick hadn’t played up to his 2013 $15.5 million charge, and apparently Vick did too. The Eagles likely went to Vick and his agent and told them that they valued his services but not at that steep price tag. After all, the Eagles have a new Head Coach with a new system. And Vick played no better than Nick Foles last season, so Vick would be in competition for the starting gig. Vick was the one surveying the quarterback market and deciding if he could command as much money with another team if he chose to try to force the Eagles to release him. But then he faced the prospect of being condemned for being selfish, being relegated to only back-up roles with other teams, not getting an offer for as much money, having to learn a new system, or possibly even having the Eagles decide to keep him and his large salary. Had the Eagles decided to restructure contracts of players currently on their roster to afford Vick’s salary cap charge, Vick would have been subject to suffering through at least one season as the disgruntled back-up.
In all reality, Eagles executives decided what value Vick had to them and approached the Vick camp with the new numbers. The speculation of his release by the media was all the Eagles needed to solicit potential trade offers. Had the Eagles publicly stated they were looking to trade Vick, they would have instantly lost leverage and possibly ostracized Vick.
They lose leverage, because if a team declares a desire to trade a player, it means they want him off the roster. Other teams realize that if the player isn’t traded, he will be released. So why would an interested team trade a draft pick when they could simply wait for Vick to be released? Accordingly, the Eagles could take unsolicited offers, and if they didn’t like an offer, they could simply say they were never looking to trade. An unsolicited offer could result in a net gain of a 2nd round pick instead of the 6th round pick gained by putting Vick on the trading block. Savvy executives know how to play this game, and they know how to use the media to their advantage.
Wisdom Up Top
In the end, Eagles executives Howie Roseman, Aileen Daly, and Rick Mueller decided that it was more prudent to keep Vick under a restructured contract. Head Coach Chip Kelly even went on to state in his press conference that “you gotta have 2” top caliber starting quarterbacks on a team’s roster in today’s NFL. Coach Kelly analyzed his roster upon arrival, and decided that Vick could fit into his scheme, so why get rid of him? A good coach will always look at his current roster and build a scheme around the existing talent, rather than trying to institute a new scheme and/or his way as the best way. Coach Kelly seems to be applying the former, and that includes realizing Vick’s value. Kelly acknowledged in his press conference that “there’s a lot of different factors” and skills that Vick brings to the table. Kudos to Coach Kelly, as well as the individuals that decided to hire him to fill the Eagles Head Coach vacancy.
Sure, releasing Vick outright would have freed the team of his entire $15.5 million salary, but Vick would have still accounted for a $4.2 million cap charge due to accelerated signing bonus proration. More importantly, why remove a security blanket at quarterback, especially when the team is likely to start a quarterback with only 6 career starts to his name?
The Truth of the Matter
The truth of the Vick contract signing is that Vick and the Eagles renegotiated his contract and have agreed to a reduced deal. Instead of having 3 years remaining and a $15.5 million cap charge, the Eagles now have a fantastic back-up quarterback at a reduced cap charge of $5,166,667 on a 1 year deal, as reported by Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. Vick will receive a $3.5 million signing bonus, $3.5 million base salary and $500,000 in 53-man roster bonuses. (The deal is technically for 3 years, but it will void to a one year deal. Vick is also eligible to earn an additional $2.2 million if he achieves certain playing criteria.)
So the decision TO NOT RELEASE Vick was actually an easy decision, and the process proved to be fairly straightforward. Had the Eagles cut him, they would have had no back-up quarterback, a salary cap penalty, and no compensation from another team. Restructuring his current contract was the best option.
Leave it to the mass sports media to not only get it wrong but to make mountains out of molehills. Vick was never in jeopardy of being cut unless he was entirely unrealistic and stubborn about his value as a back-up quarterback competing for a starting role.
You can look forward to more detailed analysis of sports business next Friday! I can also be reached directly.