There was plenty of stuff in Michael Vick's locker stall at the Eagles' practice facility Wednesday. There were a couple of unopened packages, more than a dozen shirts, a half-dozen shoes and flip-flops, shoulder pads, a football, lotion, teammate Trent Cole's charging iPhone. A black playbook sat on Vick's chair buried under more mail.
There were two things missing: a red practice jersey all the Eagles' quarterbacks wear, and Vick himself.
These are trying times for the 32-year-old quarterback. Vick still has not been cleared to practice after suffering a concussion against Dallas in Week 10. His team has lost eight straight games and is 3-9. His beloved coach, Andy Reid, is likely on the verge of getting fired. Vick's contract calls for a $15.5 million salary in 2013, but the Eagles owe him nothing if they cut him in the days after the Super Bowl.
Depending on how Nick Foles plays these last few games, it is possible the Eagles will keep Vick. It is essentially a foregone conclusion that Reid will lose his job, but maybe the next coach will decide Vick is the team's best option for 2013, and maybe Vick is willing to renegotiate a more realistic salary given his performance.
But if that doesn't happen, no one seems to agree how hard of a time Vick might have finding another starting job. Working in his favor is the fact that neither the free-agent market nor the draft is loaded with starting quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III aren't out there.
But there probably won't be an abundance of jobs. The most optimistic projection would be eight teams, but realistically, the number is probably closer to four, maybe five. Likely openings include Arizona, Kansas City and Philadelphia. The Jets might part ways with Mark Sanchez, although they owe him $8.5 million in guaranteed money next season. Buffalo probably will stick with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jacksonville, Tennessee and Minnesota have second-year quarterbacks who have not performed at a consistent level or have been hurt, but two years is a relatively small sample size for a franchise quarterback. Oakland might be another possibility.
And there is the matter of Vick's résumé. He will be 33 when next season begins. He completed 58.5 percent of his passes in nine games this season, threw nine interceptions and lost five fumbles. Philadelphia asked Vick to be something he isn't -- a pocket passer -- and the Eagles struggled to score, were terrible in the red zone and were anything but an explosive offense. It didn't help that four-fifths of the offensive line got hurt, and the backup linemen were average at best.
Nevertheless, Vick has lost some of the speed that made him so elusive when he burst back on the scene in 2010. He can't run away from defenders like he used to. And he hasn't played a full season since 2006, when he was in Atlanta. In the past three seasons, he has had two concussions and broken ribs, and has missed 10 games, a total that probably will climb to 14 by season's end.
"He's got a problem figuring out where to go," one scout said.
Not so, said a general manager.
"I definitely believe there will be opportunities for him," the general manager said. "There are people out there that are just clamoring and struggling and trying to find any semblance of a quarterback. Although Michael hasn't performed, there are a lot of reasons for that. I still think he's an incredibly talented athlete. He can move the ball around the field. If used properly, he can win games and win playoff games.
"If I were a GM just starting and wasn't going to have a shot at a quarterback, or [a GM] on the tail end trying to keep my ass alive, Michael Vick would be on my team and taking starting snaps. In this league, you have to eke out wins. You can eke out wins with him, even if you had to put him in spots where he had to run and do things. There are too many people who recognize his ability, his athleticism and what he can do."
Vick had high expectations for this season. It all fell apart so quickly and unexpectedly. The coaches are baffled, and Reid is "pissed," someone close to him said. Like Vick, Reid doesn't want to leave Philadelphia, but he probably won't have a choice.
Would Reid, who almost certainly will have no trouble getting another head-coaching job if he wants it, take Vick with him? It's not out of the realm of possibility. The two are close. Vick respects Reid because Reid took a chance on him in 2009 when he was coming out of prison. Vick desperately wanted to help Reid bring a championship to Philadelphia. Reid loves Vick's fire and his remarkable ability to turn his life around. Vick has been a model teammate and citizen, and has done everything Reid has asked of him.
Hypothetically, if Reid went to San Diego, he wouldn't need a starting quarterback. But what if he went to Arizona, where he could reunite with Kevin Kolb and bring Vick? Would he?
Would Vick be willing to accept a backup role or compete for a starting job? Given the way young quarterbacks have performed the past two seasons, will teams be more willing to give West Virginia's Geno Smith or Southern California's Matt Barkley, whose draft stock has fallen toward the late first round, a shot before an older, injury-prone quarterback such as Vick?
The other variable is salary. Vick will have to take a pay cut, even if he goes somewhere to be a starter.
Vick hasn't spoken to the media since suffering the concussion nearly a month ago. He is following team protocol, and he did not respond to a text message this week. On Monday, Reid said Foles would be the starter for the remainder of the season, but on Wednesday he gave Vick a vote of confidence when asked whether Vick has a future in the league.
"Right now, it's getting over [the injury]," Reid said. "But can he still play? Yeah. Absolutely. Physically, he can still run. He can still throw. Smart kid. He can still play."
We will see whether Vick gets the chance.
Rex Ryan said it wasn't about the money, but it is always about the money. The New York Jets guaranteed Sanchez $8.5 million in 2013 when they foolishly extended his contract this past offseason as an apology for flirting with Peyton Manning. It was a bad move then, given Sanchez's body of work, and it influenced Ryan to name Sanchez the starter for the Jets' game against Jacksonville on Sunday.
There wasn't really a choice between Sanchez and Greg McElroy. Ryan had to go with Sanchez. He is the Sanchize. The Jets made the decision months ago to stick with Sanchez, and even the signing of Tim Tebow couldn't derail that. A touchdown drive by McElroy wasn't going to derail that, either.
Unless they are going to pay Sanchez a ridiculous amount of money to be a backup -- which would be economically silly -- the Jets are stuck with a player who has never had a season-long completion percentage higher than 56.7, has never had a season-long passer rating better than 78.2 and has thrown three more touchdowns than interceptions in his career.
Ryan made the only choice he could this week. He's sticking with his starter, not necessarily because he wants to but because he has to.
• • •
The premier game of the weekend features the 11-1 Houston Texans at the 9-3 New England Patriots on Monday night. It could be a preview of the AFC Championship Game. It definitely is a battle for first place in the conference. Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs is in play for both teams.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, AccuScore ran 10,000 computer simulations of the remainder of the season. It gave Houston a 77 percent chance to win the No. 1 seed in the AFC and New England a 20 percent chance. If the Texans win Monday, those simulations estimate Houston would have a 99.9 percent chance of getting the No. 1 seed. If the Texans lose, that chance falls to 63 percent and the Patriots' chance rises to 36 percent.
The Texans, who like the Patriots have secured a playoff spot, can get the No. 1 seed this week with a win, an Indianapolis loss, and losses by Baltimore and Denver.
Whatever happens, Houston should be in good shape.
• • •
Adrian Peterson is getting stronger and more productive as the season progresses. That's just one of several reasons he not only is up for NFL comeback player of the year but also should be considered for most valuable player. He won't win that one. Neither will J.J. Watt nor Von Miller. As usual, a quarterback will take home the biggest prize.
But Peterson's comeback has been remarkable. It was remarkable that he rehabilitated his knee in time to play in the season opener. It was remarkable that he averaged 83.2 rushing yards per game through the first six games. It is remarkable that he leads the NFL in rushing with 1,446 total yards and has 17 runs of 20 yards or more, including five of 40 yards or more.
And it is even more remarkable that during the past six games, Peterson has averaged 157.8 yards per game. That's right: 157.8 yards per game.
Peterson, 27, and his surgically repaired knee are better than ever. It's too bad it will all be for naught. The Vikings have missed Percy Harvin and, after starting the season 5-2, have lost four of their past five games. No disrespect to Christian Ponder, but Minnesota needs a viable starting quarterback who can effectively manage a game, not turn the ball over and do enough with the passing game to keep defenses honest.
A player matching that description probably will be available in the offseason, and the Vikings would be wise to make a run at Alex Smith.
• • •
Speaking of Smith, I respect Jim Harbaugh's decision to move midseason from Smith to Colin Kaepernick. It was bold. The safer, perhaps smarter play would have been to stick with Smith and his 70 completion percentage for this season, and move to Kaepernick in the offseason.
Harbaugh played quarterback in the NFL. He knows the intricacies of the position as well as anybody. He wasn't risk averse, which in his profession is rare. But after Kaepernick's shaky performance against St. Louis on Sunday, the prevailing feeling in the league is that Harbaugh's decision could come back to bite him this season.
Kaepernick is unquestionably the future, but Smith was the present. Making a big change midstream -- and angering Smith when he essentially lost his job because he reported concussion symptoms -- means Harbaugh can't go back to Smith, even if he needs to.
• • •
Can Washington win the NFC East? Absolutely. That's why, a day after losing to the Redskins on Monday night, New York coach Tom Coughlin said he believes the Giants will have to win all four of their remaining games to win the division.
The Giants split with Washington and Dallas, and have a one-game advantage over the Redskins and Cowboys with four games to play. But their remaining schedule is a bear: home against New Orleans, at Atlanta and Baltimore, and home against the Eagles. The Falcons and Ravens are a combined 11-1 at home, and the Eagles, for all their problems, have defeated the Giants seven out of the past eight games.
Washington has a manageable remaining schedule: Baltimore at home, at Cleveland and Philadelphia, and Dallas at home. The Redskins have won three straight since their Week 10 bye. Jim Haslett has done a masterful job managing injuries to his defense and making halftime adjustments. And the quarterback is pretty good.
"We have to win literally every one of our games," Coughlin said. "That's how I look at it."
As well he should.
• • •
Greg Schiano said that, unlike Harbaugh in San Francisco, he hasn't really proved anything yet in Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are 6-6 and in second place in the NFC South, five games behind the 11-1 Atlanta Falcons.
But Schiano has had a successful first year after spending the previous 11 years at Rutgers, and other college coaches probably will make the jump to the NFL. Schiano said there are few secrets to the game and that if coaches are willing to study the tape, they can learn 90 percent of the game.
Asked what advice he would give college coaches who want to make the jump, Schiano said: "I don't think there's any formula, I really don't. Make sure that's what you want first. I love it, but it's not for everybody. Then make sure you have your ducks in a row in terms of how you want to do things. You don't have a lot of time. This is a very results-based business ... the most results-based business."
Washington is on a three-game winning streak with four to play and sitting at 6-6, one game behind New York in the NFC East. RG3 is as hot as ever. What's the reason for his success? Greg Cosell, the executive producer of ESPN's "NFL Matchup," has studied the tape on Griffin all season.
"I think for the most part they're doing the same thing they've been doing all year," Cosell said. "He's in the shotgun -- call it pistol, read option, whatever you like -- and they rely on backfield action, whether they run action to [running back] Alfred Morris or ghost reverse action with a wide receiver. They try to create enough action in the backfield to do two things: paralyze the second-level defenders, and slow down pass-rushers and defensive ends. All those players on defense become hesitant with what they're seeing.
"Then off of that, they've been predominantly throwing in breaking routes. The underneath coverage is removed because the linebackers are paralyzed and stuck in cement, or they move forward because they think it's a run. They don't run backwards to get in their coverage responsibilities."
Contrary to popular opinion, the Redskins ran only six read-option plays against the Giants this past Sunday. Another reason Griffin is succeeding is that most of the throws Mike and Kyle Shanahan ask him to make, Cosell said, are one-read throws. Also, in seven of their games this season, the Redskins have scored 24 or more points.
The big question is, can Washington use this offense as its foundation in the future? The NFL is quick to catch up to hot trends. After an offseason spent watching tape, will NFC East coaches in particular figure it out?
STATS & INFO
One of the chess matches to watch in Monday night's game between Houston and New England will be the Texans' pass rush versus Tom Brady. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Houston has sent five or more pass-rushers on a league-high 43.7 percent of dropbacks this season. Although the Texans have the most passes disrupted (40) when rushing at least five, they also have given up the most touchdowns and 30-plus-yard passes.
Brady excels against such pressure. He has a league-best 15 touchdowns and zero interceptions against five or more rushers, a completion percentage of 67.5, a Total QBR of 90.7, and the most attempts without an interception (114).
Can Wade Phillips' defense rattle Brady? That will be worth watching.
Waiting on 2nd opinion. Will keep ya'll posted. Don't panic! We do this every year! The MISSION is still the same. #NawlinsInFebruary
— terrell suggs (@untouchablejay4) December 4, 2012
Suggs injured his right biceps late in the game Sunday against Pittsburgh. He will be out indefinitely. It is another blow to a defensive unit that is already without linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe and defensive backs Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith. The Ravens play at Washington on Sunday.
"Thanx for all the SUPPORT love y'all... #illbeback...inmyterminatorVOICE GOOD MORNING TO ALL..."
The Steelers will be without their starting cornerback for at least two weeks after Taylor fractured his right ankle during the first series of the game against Baltimore on Sunday.
"Don't blame Sanchez. I played there. Blame the idiots calling shots. Mark is a beast and will probe it when given a proper chance"
Edwards defended Sanchez in an early-morning tweet Tuesday. Seattle released the wide receiver later in the day. Edwards was with the Jets for Sanchez's first two seasons in 2009 and 2010. In those seasons, he caught 88 passes for 1,445 yards and 11 touchdowns. He is outspoken, sure, and got released by the Jets following the 2010 season, but he was there. One man's opinion.
"Lions losers 20 straight times in GB. Last time they won at Lambeau: Favre was NFL rookie, Aaron Rodgers was 8 years old, Matt Stafford 3."
-- Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) December 4, 2012
In other words, it has been a long, long, long time since Detroit won at Green Bay. The date: Dec. 15, 1999. The score: 21-17. That also was the last season the Lions won a playoff game. Since beating Dallas in a divisional game that season, the Lions are 0-6 in the postseason, including two losses to Green Bay.
All games Sunday unless otherwise noted. All times ET.
Baltimore (9-3) at Washington (6-6), 1 p.m.
The Ravens have a two-game lead in the AFC North, and still have Denver and the Giants at home, and Cincinnati on the road. This is an important game for them to win. Ravens 24, Redskins 17.
Dallas (6-6) at Cincinnati (7-5), 1 p.m.
The Bengals' defense is quietly playing at a high level, technically sound and creative schematically. Bengals 24, Cowboys 20.
St. Louis (5-6-1) at Buffalo (5-7), 1 p.m.
Jeff Fisher said his Rams can hang with anybody. He's right. Rams 17, Buffalo 14.
Philadelphia (3-9) at Tampa Bay (6-6), 1 p.m.
Reid is trying to maintain dignity and decorum as the wheels continue to fall off the Eagles. It is sad, but it is over, for him and for Vick. Buccaneers 24, Eagles 17.
Atlanta (11-1) at Carolina (3-9), 1 p.m.
Everyone keeps doubting the Falcons because of their playoff record under Mike Smith and Matt Ryan. That is going to change soon. Falcons 34, Panthers 21.
Kansas City (2-10) at Cleveland (4-8), 1 p.m.
Last week, grief-stricken and in shock, the Chiefs put together their best, most complete game of the season. Will be hard to do it again. Browns 20, Chiefs 19.
San Diego (4-8) at Pittsburgh (7-5), 1 p.m.
Thanks to an exceptional performance by Charlie Batch last week, Pittsburgh is still alive for the playoffs and starting to get healthy at the right time. Steelers 24, Chargers 20.
Tennessee (4-8) at Indianapolis (8-4), 1 p.m.
Bruce Arians should be a lock for NFL coach of the year. Colts 34, Titans 21.
New York Jets (5-7) at Jacksonville (2-10), 1 p.m.
Sanchez gets another shot in Tebow's hometown. Beats playing at MetLife Stadium. Jets 14, Jaguars 13.
Chicago (8-4) at Minnesota (6-6), 1 p.m.
Seattle did Green Bay a huge favor last week by knocking off the Bears at Soldier Field. The NFC North race is tight. Bears 24, Vikings 23.
Miami (5-7) at San Francisco (8-3-1), 4:05 p.m.
Harbaugh better be right about Colin Kaepernick. He probably is in the long term, but to make a championship run this season? That's a lot to ask of a first-year starter. 49ers 27, Dolphins 20.
Arizona (4-8) at Seattle (7-5), 4:25 p.m.
Fresh off their first meaningful road win of the season, the Seahawks return home, where they are undefeated. Seahawks 24, Cardinals 10.
New Orleans (5-7) at New York Giants (7-5), 4:25 p.m.
This is a huge game for the Giants, who close the season at Atlanta and at Baltimore, two teams that rarely lose at home, and against the Eagles. Giants 35, Saints 31.
Detroit (4-8) at Green Bay (8-4), 8:20 p.m.
Another game at Green Bay. Another loss for the Lions. Packers 24, Lions 21.
Houston (11-1) at New England (9-3), 8:30 p.m. Monday
A preview of the AFC title game? Perhaps. Patriots 27, Texans 24.
Last week: 8-7. Season: 117-61.