PHILADELPHIA — Eagles quarterback Michael Vick strolled into the NovaCare Complex about 11 a.m. Monday, ventured over to his locker and began sifting through the piles of fan mail, cleats and garb that had accumulated in his stall throughout the season.
He tossed some into a nearby garbage can and stuffed other items into one of the large, green trash bags each player had received from the equipment staff.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson walked by, and they exchanged a hug and a few words. Then running back LeSean McCoy stopped to chat and urged him to stay with the team for at least one more year.
That probably won’t happen.
Vick is among the players who will become an unrestricted free agent this offseason. The 33-year-old has made no secret of his intention to be a starting quarterback in the NFL again. With Nick Foles now entrenched as the Eagles’ starter, Vick likely will have to find another team willing to give him that opportunity.
If no team makes that offer, however, he could come back to the Eagles as Foles’ backup.
“I think I’ll cross that bridge when we get there,” Vick said. “As of right now, I can’t see that far ahead. But my desire is to start for a few more years in this league. I’m 33 and I’ve taken good care of my body. I’m still confident I can play. I feel like I’m built to do this, and I’m not finished.”
That body has often betrayed him, however, including this season.
Vick beat out Foles for the starting job in the preseason and got off to a decent start before straining his hamstring in the fifth regular-season game against the New York Giants on Oct. 6. He played in one more game, got hurt again and spent the rest of the season watching Foles lead the Eagles to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.
Vick drew praise from his teammates and coach Chip Kelly for how he handled the situation. Instead of sulking, he threw his support behind Foles, whom he considers a friend.
“I love Michael Vick,” Kelly said. “I mean, that guy is awesome because of the way he handled a very difficult situation. It was a unique situation. Unfortunately, he got hurt and that gave an opportunity to another guy. But how he handled it, how he helped Nick through the process, it just tells you the type of person he is and the type of teammate he is. That didn’t go unnoticed by me. I appreciate everything he did my first year here.”
4 interesting years
If Vick does go elsewhere, it will mark the end of one of the most interesting tenures in Eagles’ history.
He initially joined the team just before the 2009 season after serving nearly two years in federal prison on charges related to operating a dog-fighting ring called Bad Newz Kennels in his hometown of Newport News, Va.
Animal-rights groups were outraged and showed up at both home and away games to show their distaste. Some Eagles’ season-ticket holders gave up their seats.
Throughout his stay with the Eagles, he’s done his best to try to win over his critics through working with the Humane Society and giving talks to various youth groups in hopes of steering them away from animal cruelty. Last year, he received a key to the city from then-Atlantic City Mayor Lorenzo Langford for showing up at a shelter and talking to residents in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“I’m very thankful for the Eagles for giving me the opportunity to make amends to fans,” Vick said. “Some people forgave me, and some people won’t, and I understand. I really do appreciate the fans, the organization and my teammates. I feel like I’ve been blessed for what I’ve been able to accomplish in my life both on and off the field.”
On the field, he hit his peak with the Eagles in 2010, when he was on the other side of a quarterback switch. Vick began the season on the bench but was summoned into action when Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion in the season opener against Green Bay. Vick wound up starting 12 games that season and earned a Pro Bowl berth while leading the Eagles to the division title and the playoffs.
Vick remembered how Kolb supported him that season and acted the same way toward Foles this year.
“Mike’s been tremendous,” Foles said. “Ever since I got here, he’s been a tremendous teammate and tremendous leader for this team. He’s got great character as a person, and he’s helped me a lot. He always has my back and knowing someone has your back, that’s huge.
“That’s who Mike is. We have a great relationship, and we always will. I love Mike, and I will support Michael Vick no matter what he does (in the future).”
That relationship could lead to a reunion next season.
Because of his age and injury history, it’s not certain another team will give Vick a chance to compete for a starting job. Most either have established veterans in place, promising young quarterbacks or are hoping to draft their next franchise quarterback later this year.
If he’s going to be a backup, he may consider returning to the Eagles.
If not, he will always remember his time in Philadelphia with fondness.
“It’s hard to sum up my time here,” Vick said. “Everything’s been so surreal and happened so abruptly. I really do appreciate the fans, the organization and my teammates. A lot of guys here I’ll always remember forever. They are my brothers. I’m just praying that things work out in my favor.”
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