Say Vick hadn’t left: Would the Falcons be better or worse?

Dec. 6, 2009: Vick the Eagle in the Georgia Dome. (AJC photo by Kent D. Johnson)

Dec. 6, 2009: Michael Vick the Eagle in the Georgia Dome. (AJC photo by Kent D. Johnson)

Updated with Michael Vick quotes from today’s conference call with the Atlanta media.

Michael Vick will start at quarterback for the visiting team at the Georgia Dome on Sunday night. That hasn’t happened before. (He played in the building as a Philadelphia reserve in 2009.) There was a time when it was impossible to imagine No. 7 in a uniform other than the Falcons’, but circumstances, as we know, intervened.

Today’s topic: What if circumstances hadn’t intervened? What if Vick, who took his last snap as a Falcon on Dec. 31, 2006, had remained a Falcon? Would he have he become the complete quarterback he has become in Philly under Andy Reid? Would he have won a Super Bowl as a Falcon? Would the Falcons, in the grand scheme, have been better or worse?

Back to January 2007: The Falcons fired Jim Mora, not least because the offense his buddy Greg Knapp preferred was at odds with Vick’s array of skills, and hired the guy who’d been coaching the Louisville Cardinals. The reason Bobby Petrino was tapped was because it was believed he could turn Vick — who’d already made three Pro Bowls in four full NFL seasons — into more than a glorified single-wing tailback.

The attraction was mutual. In his first week on the job, Petrino admitted he’d been intrigued by Vick since his days as the offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He and defensive coordinator Dom Capers would sit together on team flights, Petrino said, and brainstorm: “What could you do with a guy like that?”

The only official on-field work Petrino had with Vick was in a spring minicamp, but unofficial workouts had gone so well that Petrino told a fellow employee: “We’re going to average 30 points a game.” (In their 45-year history, the Falcons have never averaged even 28 points a game.)

Petrino: What might have been. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Petrino: What might have been. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The week before training camp was to begin, Vick was indicted on federal charges involving a dogfighting ring. He would remain on the Falcons’ roster until July 2009 but have no further role with the team he’d been drafted to lead. Petrino would be gone after 13 regular-season games, fleeing to Arkansas not 24 hours after the Falcons had lost to New Orleans to fall to 3-10. (Earlier that day, Vick had been sentenced to 23 months in prison.)

Would the Vick-Petrino marriage, never fully consummated, have worked? Absolutely. Petrino is no charmer, but he can coach quarterbacks. And Vick, who has since admitted that he didn’t apply himself to mastering his position, would have seen in Petrino the man who could have made him a Real Quarterback. The two would have generated big numbers and won a lot of games. That said …

They wouldn’t have won it all. The support system wasn’t nearly as strong as the one in place today. Rich McKay, now the president and CEO, was then the general manager, and the best that could be said of McKay as Falcons GM was that he had the makings of a fine president/CEO. Yes, he did draft Roddy White and sign John Abraham. He also drafted Jamaal Anderson and Michael Jenkins and Jimmy Williams and the world-class flake DeAngelo Hall. And McKay recommended Mora, who lasted three seasons, and Petrino, who didn’t last one.

It’s possible, if not entirely probable, that McKay would have been kicked upstairs in December 2007 had Vick and Petrino been 13-0. Even if he had, the search for a new GM would have entailed looking for more of the same, not for a snowboarding scout based in Colorado whose initial interview came via web cam. It’s fair to assume that the Falcons wouldn’t have taken a flier on Thomas Dimitroff had they not been reduced to residency along Desolation Row. It’s also fair to assume that, even with Vick still a Falcon, this roster wouldn’t have been fleshed out in the way it is.

The great thing about Vick as a Falcon was that he made you watch. Less great — and this wasn’t his fault — was the sense that the other 52 Falcons were Vick’s wingmen. Dan Reeves had swung the trade with San Diego in April 2001 to draft Vick because this franchise needed a savior:  Once you’ve been dubbed that, you can never be just one of the guys. It wasn’t that the Falcons tried to become a one-man team; that’s just the way it worked out.

Back to basics. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

The back-to-basics bunch. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

To answer the often-asked question: No, Matt Ryan isn’t the talent Vick is, but Ryan arrived in Flowery Branch as a better leader. Only in Philly, where he apprenticed for a year under Donovan McNabb, has Vick grasped that his position entails more than making plays. Only under the tutelage of Reid has Vick become a great quarterback, as opposed to a singular talent.

The shame of it is that such a transformation could have happened here. (And let’s not paint Vick as blameless in his fall as a Falcon. He was the one who got involved in dogfighting and who lied about his unsavory diversion.) Vick didn’t have to wait until he became an Eagle to find the right coach; he already had Petrino.

“I think about it from time to time,” Vick said Wednesday in a conference call with the Atlanta media. “If it was meant to be, it would’ve happened.”

Then: “I was very comfortable [in Petrino's system]. I’d picked it up. I just decided to turn the corner a tad bit too late. Who knows what would have happened?”

Petrino might have been the right coach for Vick, but he might not have been the right coach for the Falcons as a group. Had the team not won big, guys would have tuned him out. Had the Falcons not won big, Petrino might well have bolted for … Tennessee, maybe? The epic undoing of the 2007 season — quarterback gone to jail, coach gone to the Ozarks — forced this franchise to reassess everything, and to its credit it not only reassessed but reconfigured. It hired a good football man in Dimitroff, who hired a good football man in Mike Smith.

Had Vick remained a Falcon, he might well have become Dan Marino (although the two couldn’t be less similar in styles) — a great player who couldn’t lift his team to greatness because the team wasn’t all that good. With Vick gone, the Falcons abandoned the cult-of-personality approach and went back to basics. They’re in a good place now. So is Michael Vick.

By Mark Bradley

327 comments Add your comment

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

[...] least because the offense his buddy Greg Knapp preferred was at odds with Vick's array … read full news Published: Wed, 14 Sep 2011 17:01 Tags: Say Vick hadn't left: Would the Falcons be better [...]

Najeh Davenpoop

September 14th, 2011
1:03 pm

The comments on this are going to be fantastic.

Pretty simple answer: if the Falcons had a good coaching staff, Vick would have been great. The Falcons chose to hire terrible coaches and draft disappointing players when Vick was here, so he didn’t reach his potential.

Brian

September 14th, 2011
1:05 pm

First? maybe?

TO be honest it would be interesting….but I totally agree that without TD, the personel moves would not be the same. The Falcons would probably be explosive…like they’re trying to be now, but overall, not a better team.

@DanWeiner

September 14th, 2011
1:10 pm

For Vick to mature as a football player and Arthur Blank to mature as an owner what happened was a necessary event.

Vick was never committed to the Falcons as much as he should have been. He admitted that much. Why would someone with sociopathic behavior change without hitting rock bottom? Blank was about making a splash. He was a Dan Snyder starter kit, but the Vick thing changed him, how he ran the franchise and who he picked to run the franchise. He’d have eventually gotten it, but that kicked it into gear at 1000 mph.

Vick coming back to Atlanta after what happened was never an option so the only way Vick would still be with the Falcons is if the dogfighting conviction never happened. Under that circumstance there is no way the Falcons would be better off today.

Damage Inc.

September 14th, 2011
1:10 pm

You do like playing with matches don’t you Bradley.

dap01

September 14th, 2011
1:11 pm

If Vick had stayed, the Falcons would have went to the dogs. The Falcons would have been forever a .500 team going no where.

Benjamin [Atlanta, Ga]

September 14th, 2011
1:12 pm

Initial take is that he was, in his own way,a great quarterback while here. Maybe not the standard, prototypical quarterback, and certainly not one without flaws, but we won with him in the lineup, and he was an x-factor that always had to be dealt with.

We’re a different team now, with a different philosophy and different image. I’m happy he’s successful there, happy we have Ryan, and happy we’ve had the success we’ve seen the past three years or so.

$5 Dawg

September 14th, 2011
1:12 pm

I bet there were some fun comments on your blog when the federal inditment came to light.

htwo0rider

September 14th, 2011
1:14 pm

Mark,

you have opened pandora’s box. Nice observations in the article though.

Jay

September 14th, 2011
1:16 pm

When it comes to throwing the deep ball, Vick >>>>>>>>>>>>>> Ryan. You can’t be taught arm strength.

Lord Stanley

September 14th, 2011
1:17 pm

Bradley are you kidding me. The Falcons would be the next Bengals, if Vick was still here. Your posts continue to shock me and not in a good way.

Damage Inc.

September 14th, 2011
1:19 pm

The excitement you felt watching Vick is just like the excitement you feel when wathing a dog (no pun intended)running in traffic. Your just holding your breath hoping something bad doesn’t happen. I’ll take the crew we’ve got now.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2011
1:19 pm

Thanks, htwoOrider.

I’m not a novice where Vick discussions are involved. I was in Flowery Branch the day he was drafted. I was in Richmond the day he entered his guilty plea. I’ve been around a while.

Innocent Bystander

September 14th, 2011
1:20 pm

I think things would have remained “win some, lose some” or gotten worse. Vick has admitted that he never really put any effort into being a good all around QB here in Atlanta. I don’t think, without the reevaluation and determination to change his life brought about by imprisonment, that he would have been able to achieve the recent success he has had with Philly (or the ATL if he had remained here), regardless of who the coach was. Change has to come from within. You can be motivated by outside influences, but you still must be willing to make the necessary changes.

techfan

September 14th, 2011
1:21 pm

Vick is fun to watch and is a good regular season QB. He doesn’t have the mental strength to win the big games though. If he was a great QB then he wouldn’t have thrown an int to end the game last year against the Packers when he could have won the game. The Falcons would have never made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs with Vick as the QB and neither will the Eagles.

[...] Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2011
1:22 pm

Last I checked, Vick won two playoff games as a Falcon.

Big Rod

September 14th, 2011
1:22 pm

You have to keep in mind that vick’s mindset was in a different place. He didn’t put the time in necessary to be a great quarterback. So, you can’t entirely blame the Falcon organization.

Mark Bradley

September 14th, 2011
1:24 pm

There’s blame on both sides, Big Rod. No question about it.

SimpleDawg

September 14th, 2011
1:26 pm

Stupid article.

AtlantaDude

September 14th, 2011
1:28 pm

The offense and defense both have 11 guys. The key advantage for the offense is that their 11 guys know where the ball is going. With a scrambling quarterback, the offense often gives up this advantage. A team can still win a lot of games while giving up this advantage, but none have won a championship that way

(And no, Steve Young was not a scrambling quarterback when he won with SF)

Gorilla Biscuit

September 14th, 2011
1:28 pm

“Last I checked, Vick won two playoff games as a Falcon.” Which means he also lost two.

Freshfromatl

September 14th, 2011
1:28 pm

Wow! I’m about to just sit-back and watch this unfold…

*grabs popcorn*

Najeh Davenpoop

September 14th, 2011
1:28 pm

“The Falcons would have never made it past the 2nd round of the playoffs with Vick as the QB and neither will the Eagles.”

The Falcons DID make it past the 2nd round of the playoffs with Vick, in 2004. How soon we all forget.

NRBQ

September 14th, 2011
1:29 pm

“Circumstances” didn’t intervene, Mark. Facts did.

The facts were Vick’s criminal behavior, lying to the Feds, and a monstrous sense of entitlement.

bigstack19

September 14th, 2011
1:30 pm

Sunday will probably be like a home game for Philly anyway. All the idiots will show up and cheer for Vick with their Vick Falcon jerseys as the team he screwed over by being an idiot, the team the hometown fans should be pulling for is trying to win.

teamguy

September 14th, 2011
1:31 pm

Yeah, Najeh, then watched Vick lay down because it was so cold. Funny thing is, where he landed this time is where he layed down last time.

Tater in AFG

September 14th, 2011
1:34 pm

No, they would not be better. Vick is a better player now because he has matured as a person, or at least he seems to have. You can see it in the ways he plays. I am very proud of him and happy for him (except I hope he loses against the Falcons).

David

September 14th, 2011
1:35 pm

“Last I checked, Vick won two playoff games as a Falcon.”

Big whoop.

Post-it

September 14th, 2011
1:36 pm

I agree that the team is in a better place now. And this is coming from a huge fan of Vick while he was here. The one place where we aren’t in a better place as a team is with the fan base. The racial divide that was caused by this whole mess is really disturbing. In fact, it’s the reason I’m not going to the game this Sunday. Because win or lose, there are going to be so many confrontations that simply would not have happened prior to ‘06.

Lewis Grizzard

September 14th, 2011
1:36 pm

Horrible…..just horrible. Write facts, not hypotheticals. All deception in the course of life is indeed nothing else but a lie reduced to practice, and falsehood passing from words into things.

Chris

September 14th, 2011
1:37 pm

Vick made the falcons ryan is trying to hold on and wont have a good year this year 45-10 Eagles

Chalres Dimry

September 14th, 2011
1:37 pm

Mark , I am usually one of the first to ridicule your articles. With that being said , I will also give credit where credit is due. This a well thought out , very well delivered piece…

It pains me , as well , to think of what the Vick/Petrino era could have produced. Ultimately though , I agree that we are in a much more stable and secure place now than we would have been had he never went to prison.

On another note… Our defense (execpt J. Abraham) looked horrendous.. It is going to be a long year if that secondary doesn’t get it fixed..

Fish Bisch

September 14th, 2011
1:38 pm

They would be much much better without MULARKEY

P Rose

September 14th, 2011
1:39 pm

bigstack19, you hit the nail on the head. I’m so looking forward to the day Vick retires. Maybe then this city can rally around its own football team again, instead of being divided between fans of the team and fans of the man. It’s frustrating to see the stadium half-filled with former Falcon fans now rooting for the man who ruined the team in 2007. I just don’t get the misguided loyalty. As an Atlantan, what’s to like about him? He may be a gifted athlete who is exciting to watch, but he is also an ignorant, selfish jack@$$. And he is an Eagle now. To live in Atlanta, and to want him to beat your team, is the height of stupidity.

KOOL

September 14th, 2011
1:39 pm

I believe that Vick got screwed by the legal system… his punishment was way too harsh. However, I was delighted that he was no longer going to be a Falcon. He could throw a long ball at times, but his intermediate passing was way below average. He was exciting to watch play. I also don’t begrudge Petrino for leaving in the fashion he did. The franchise was a train wreck in 2007.

[...] …Sam Bradford's Injury Not Expected To Keep Him Out Of Monday Night FootballSB NationSay Vick hadn't left: Would the Falcons be better or worse?Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Eagles' Vick, Falcons' Ryan will forever be [...]

Najeh Davenpoop

September 14th, 2011
1:42 pm

“Yeah, Najeh, then watched Vick lay down because it was so cold. Funny thing is, where he landed this time is where he layed down last time.”

Fair enough, but they haven’t won a playoff game since he left. The topic of the article is whether the Falcons would be better or worse if they had Vick right now. I think you can make a solid argument that having a QB with a proven track record of winning playoff games would likely put the Falcons in a better position than they are now, since they have grossly underperformed in the two playoff games they have played since his departure.

cowboys67

September 14th, 2011
1:42 pm

Mark,

Vick was like a person who drinks and drives all the time u get by with for a while but eventually u get busted he had to hit rock bottom b4 he started putting in the work so we would probably b about same. Wish we had a coach n coordinator who liked to throw ball and take shots like andy and marty moornweig

P Rose

September 14th, 2011
1:43 pm

Lewis Grizzard, your mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.

OHIOdirtybird!!!!

September 14th, 2011
1:43 pm

I have never had anything against any article I have read on ajc.com up to this point, but right now I think this is just a ridiculous article to have up right now, especially with philly coming to town….seriously Mark, are you trying to give them Vick field advantage??….sorry bout the complaining but I just think it BAD timing!!

Andy

September 14th, 2011
1:44 pm

I see Mark is playing make believe today. Completely ridiculous to speculate like this. How about a real story?

Chalres Dimry

September 14th, 2011
1:46 pm

Hey Fish Bisch! Vick owns us!!

techfan

September 14th, 2011
1:46 pm

Last I checked, Vick won two playoff games as a Falcon.

Yeah and last I checked he folded in the game after that. He is 2-3 in the playoffs with as many interceptions as touchdowns. Like I said, he is sometimes good for one win. If he plays a tough team, then his team has no chance.

P Rose

September 14th, 2011
1:47 pm

Being an Atlantan rooting for the Eagles because Mike Vick went there is like being a Bostonian in 1919 rooting for the Yankees because Babe Ruth went there.

Glenn Dorsey,Muhammad Wilkerson now Randall Cobb

September 14th, 2011
1:47 pm

Yes…..plus the defense would be better had they taken Glenn Dorsey instead of Matt Ryan. I also believe the falcons would be a better football team had they taken Muhammad Wilkerson, Randall Cobb and Justin Houston instead of giving up all those draft picks for Julio Jones.

teamguy

September 14th, 2011
1:49 pm

Sorry, Najeh. You’re right. .I got off topic. But I am tired of this love affair with Vick from alleged Falcons fans. .but that’s not his fault. Neither was the fact that he was a one man team when he was here. We had some pretty good players, but they stood around and watched him a great deal of the time. Still off topic. .maybe I’ll just shut up.

Richard Dawson

September 14th, 2011
1:50 pm

Well, let’s see. Vick is better than Ryan, so YES.

dmr

September 14th, 2011
1:51 pm

No, the Falcons would not have been better off and neither would Vick. Post Hoc Ergo Proctor Hoc…(look it up). If Vick had stayed in Atlanta, he may never have grown up. Vick needed prison. The Falcons needed Vick to go. Vick needed to become a man. The City of Atlanta needed to heal from all of Vick’s criminal activity.

If the question were “Would the Falcons be a better team with the Michael Vick that stands before you today?” The answer is “quite possibly”. He is fast, athletic, good feet, and he can throw the ball well. But Vick takes too many hits and his season and career could be short lived. Who knows.

I think everyone came out good in the end. Vick paid his penance. I respect the fact that he made it back to pro football. I won’t cheer for him against the Falcons and I don’t hold him up as a role model. Then again, Vick opened up a teaching moment for my kids, and tragically, I can be thankful for that.