With his federal dogfighting sentence completed Monday, Michael Vick begins another tough challenge. He must resurrect his football career and put in order the finances he ruined as a result of running a dogfighting ring.
Vick spent 18 months in prison in Leavenworth, Kan., and the past two months under home confinement in Hampton, Va. Federal Judge Henry Hudson prohibited him from giving interviews or speaking publicly. Vick worked a construction job, trained for a possible NFL return and shuttled back and forth to a bankruptcy court to try to set up plans to pay off his many creditors.
As a player, Vick made a name for himself with his ability to improvise and scramble. Starting Monday, each step he makes while getting back into society will be scrutinized and judged. A wrong move could keep him out of football longer.
Q: What timetable does NFL commissioner Roger Goodell have in trying to set up a formal meeting with Vick?
A: Goodell has said publicly that he feels no rush to have a meeting with Vick, and no meeting is scheduled. Vick's advisers are optimistic that Goodell will meet with him soon, and they are hopeful that the commissioner will be compassionate enough to let him back into the game. It's pretty clear Goodell wants to see how Vick handles himself during his first few weeks of freedom.
Goodell has received some good reports about Vick from people he trusts. Former Colts coach Tony Dungy met with Vick while he was in Leavenworth and gave a favorable review. That will help. Goodell knows that the head of the Humane Society, Wayne Pacelle, has said publicly that he supports Vick's return to the NFL and wants Vick to work with the organization giving speeches to youth about the evils of dogfighting. Goodell may wait to see how Vick does with the Humane Society.
Goodell could take one of two positions: look at Vick's time served and determine that two years away from the game is enough and reinstate him, or appease the many dog lovers in the country and not reinstate Vick until 2010.
Q: If Vick is reinstated, which NFL team will try to sign him?
A: That's a huge guessing game. The team that signs Vick must have either a high-ranking person in the organization who knows him and endorses him, or a coach or general manager strong enough to push ownership to accept the negative publicity that comes with signing him.
Many of the main candidates to sign Vick already have said no (Seattle, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and San Francisco). New England coach Bill Belichick is a strong enough coach and could use Vick's athletic ability in Wildcat formations, but it's not certain Patriots ownership would entertain the idea of having Vick on the roster. The Raiders would seem to be a natural spot because of owner Al Davis' willingness to give great athletes second chances. But the Raiders already have too many quarterbacks on their roster and have several high-ranking team officials who are dog lovers and might try to block such a move. Expect no interested team to tip its hand until Vick is reinstated.
Q: Would Vick consider going to Canada or playing in the United Football League?
A: Vick's prison sentence could affect his chances of getting a visa to play in Canada. More importantly, though, Vick doesn't want to play in the CFL, according to a source. He also hasn't entertained any thoughts of going to the new United Football League, which has a six-game season that starts in the fall, according to a source. Vick wants to play in the NFL and the NFL only.
Q: How much money did Vick lose during his two-year imprisonment?
A: The Falcons released him from a 10-year, $130 million contract. From that contract, Vick lost about $70 million. According to bankruptcy records, Vick is about $20 million in debt. Included in that debt is $6.5 million he must pay back the Falcons because of the missed time from his contract.
Q: Has Vick been preparing for a possible return to football?
A: Vick started working out seriously this past fall with the hope of earning a chance to play. Tommy Reamon, Vick's former high school coach, has helped Vick with his throwing at his home the past two months. Because of the limitations of his home, Vick concentrated on passes shorter than 30 yards. Vick's workout program should pick up starting Monday, when he can throw at a football field.
Q: How important is it for Vick to get back into the NFL this season?
A: It's vital. Missing a third season could make it difficult for him to catch up. He's 29 years old, young enough to bounce back and have a productive career. But the problem is that the game has gone away from Vick's style of play. The current game stresses passing accuracy, but Vick's accuracy as a passer declined during his final two seasons with the Falcons. Realistically, he might be only a third quarterback and a Wildcat option during his first season back. If he can succeed with that, maybe he can compete for a starting job sometime in 2010.
John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.