PHILADELPHIA -- It has all been hard, Michael Vick's transformation from pariah to Pro Bowler. He stepped out of prison in Leavenworth, Kan., a little more than two years ago without a clue what his future held. He had his fiancée, his kids and his family, and little else. No money. No job. No fame, only infamy.
Now, Vick seemingly has it all. It is an amazing, redemptive tale, capped off by the news on Monday night that the Philadelphia Eagles had signed Vick to a six-year, $100 million deal that includes $40 million in guaranteed money. He is their star, their hope, their present and their future, and he got there step by step, one long day at a time.
Vick's status now as the Eagles' starting quarterback is a testament to how hard he has worked over the past two years. He arrived in Philadelphia basically a broken man, out of shape, tentative, and not all that happy to be third on a depth chart that included Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb. But Vick shelved his ego -- no small task -- and put in the work he never was willing to do while in Atlanta.
It is one thing to climb back up the mountain, quite another to prosper there, and with money now in his pocket, we will be able to see what really motivates Vick. Is it simply money and fame? Or is there more to it? Does he really want to win it all, to lead the franchise that gave him a chance where they so desperately want to go: the podium, next to Roger Goodell, for the presentation of the Lombardi Trophy?
"Nothing will make me happier than to put a ring on this guy's finger right here next to me, and mine as well," Vick said Tuesday, sitting next to Andy Reid, the ink barely dry on the new deal. "That's my focus. That's what I'm setting out to do. And that's what I'll rally this team to do."
As he has done for most of the past two years, Vick said all of the right things Tuesday. He thanked the Eagles' brass, including owner Jeffrey Lurie, team president Joe Banner, general manager Howie Roseman and Reid. He thanked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Tony Dungy, as well as his agent, Joel Segal, and his family.
Vick becomes the first NFL player to receive two nine-digit contracts in his career, which given how he squandered all of the money the Falcons paid him, begs this question: Will he also become the first player to lose two nine-digit contracts?
Like everything else in his life, Vick said he is trying to learn from his past mistakes. He admitted, "It's a lot of money, however you look at it," and promised he would keep his inner circle tight, say no more often than he says yes, and rely on his advisors to help limit the demands on his time and wallet.
"Obviously, [the money] is going to create a lot of demands," Vick said. "I know what comes along with it, and I know how to handle it."
Or, perhaps more accurately, how not to handle it.
Philadelphia certainly did not throw Vick a bunch of money so that he can blow the opportunity they have given him. They believe he is their answer at quarterback, a leader and a presence unlike any they have had since Reid joined the team in 1999. McNabb was a skilled player and the face of the Eagles franchise, but he was not beloved in the locker room like Vick is. Vick is a natural born leader, a grab-your-facemask kind of guy who demands that his teammates follow him. And they do.
The Eagles have been outspoken about their Super Bowl-or-bust approach to this season, from adding big-name free agents to re-signing Vick (and, perhaps next, DeSean Jackson). Vick said that, too, will continue to motivate him. The money, he promised, will not make him soft.
"I know the clock is ticking," Vick said. "That's more motivation for me to try to get it done as early as I can."
Only then, if Vick leads Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl title, will the questions about the money and his motivation and whether he has really changed totally be answered. After being around him just about every week for the past two seasons, I tend to think that he has changed, that he is sincere, that the money won't consume him as it did previously.
Based on Vick's performance and actions of the past two years, the Eagles are confident Vick is a changed man. They are aware his playing style presents the risk of injury, but as for his character, they are confident the man they have seen is the man they will continue to see.
At least they hope so.
"I just have a lot of faith in where he's at in his life and how he got here and the level of appreciation he has," Banner said, "but that story's yet to be told."
No, it hasn't, and as one NFL general manager put it, the Eagles are going to "live by the sword, die by the sword."
Will it be worth it?
"He has me believing," the general manager said. "I think at the outset I did not believe that, for some reason. I believe he has so much support in the league. His support group has changed from a handful of guys, agents and his brother to heavy hitters in this world, Roger Goodell, Tony Dungy. He's got a lot of people reminding him of the importance of his presence and his being that I do believe he can succeed, while he's physically able."
That should put the window at the next couple of years, as long as Vick can stay relatively healthy. He has scaled the mountain, and the trip was arduous. Listening to Vick, new money in his pocket, it doesn't sound like he plans on coming down any time soon.
Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.