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Michael Vick Contract Analysis: Philly Very Likely to Break Even

The truth about the Michael Vick contract is that the Eagles can not be viewed as a penny-pinching, financially prudent organization anymore.  If that was the case, there is simply no way a contract like this could have been given to a player like Vick.  The Eagles are going for it.

Vick’s contract comes with significant downside, not in terms of the guaranteed money, but with the fact that there is hardly any way the Eagles can get value on the contract.  They have plenty of flexibility as an organization, but since Vick will be paid like a top five quarterback for the length of the contract, he will not be able to outperform his deal as he did for the contract he signed in 2009.  The Eagles will only hope for some stability at the position over the next three years, and they’ll be paying almost all of their available salary cap space for that stability.  After just two years, Vick’s contract becomes a series of three one year options in practice: the Eagles can get rid of him at any time after the 2012 season, when Vick will be 32.

When I cross reference this with my own projections for the Eagles roster, the structure of the deal makes complete sense.  The Eagles figure to peak as a team in 2012: when any of their acquisitions from this offseason who provide value will still be in their primes, and under contract.  Realistically, 2010 was already the peak of Vick’s career, and because the Eagles were going to be tethered to him in 2011, there is no realistic outcome (including season ending injury) where the Eagles were going to be in position after the 2011 season to say, “thanks Mike Vick, but we’re moving on.”  The structure of this deal reflects this reality.  Michael Vick is the Eagles starting quarterback through 2012.  After that, it’s based on performance.

Now, Vick’s performance at the tail end of 2010 has to be worrisome.  There is no way the Eagles front office could look at the tape of the Vikings game at Lincoln Financial Field last December and think that the quarterback position will never be an issue so long as Vick is around.  He was far better against the Packers in the playoffs, but was still significantly outplayed by Aaron Rodgers.  Vick isn’t on the same level as Rodgers, and it’s probably optimistic to expect him to perform above Drew Brees and Matt Ryan and return to the pro bowl in 2011 or 2012.  But the Eagles aspirations for the next two years has to be viewed as “at least one super bowl championship” and the incentives in Vick’s contract explicitly reflect those goals.

Vick is being paid in line with his abilities for the next two years, and after that, he would need to exceed expectations to remain the Eagles quarterback through 2015.  The problem with the deal, if there is one, is the fact that the Eagles are going to have to move money around in the 2013 league year to fit under the cap, and that will force them to decide at that point where Vick fits in their plans going forward.  Before that, the deal is rather affordable.

Even if the Eagles manage to “win” value in the early part of the deal (they save some money over having to franchise Vick again in 2012, though they lose flexibility if Vick struggles), Vick is likely to make that value back on the other end.

To say this is a good deal for the Eagles ignores the risk in tethering an organization to Michael Vick, the player.  So I won’t say the Eagles just made a great deal.  But a break-even, fair outcome is far more likely than not.  So long as Vick is really an improved player, and his gains in 2010 were not a total mirage, Vick would have to undergo a sharp and unexpected injury-forced decline for the Eagles to not receive at least two years of starter value out of this contract, which is exactly what they are on the hook for with Vick signing this deal.  As the Eagles correctly surmise in the wake of the Kevin Kolb trade, the Eagles don’t have a good plan B on the roster if the worst case scenario with Vick becomes a reality, and there is hardly a reasonable outcome where Philadelphia has to eat money on this deal.

So while the Eagles are breaking the “financially prudent” mold by paying Michael Vick big money to be their quarterback instead of cheaping out and keeping him around on a series of franchise tenders, this is really more in the mold of the team’s other deals.  The 5-year, $60 million contract the Eagles gave to Nnamdi Asomugha is really a better contract for the player than this Vick deal.  Vick’s contract isn’t nearly as long, and contains similar guaranteed money to Asomugha, and Nnamdi is more likely to see the whole deal than Vick.  The Eagles have plenty of outs in this contract after year two.  And it fits their organizational model for contention as well as Vick does as their quarterback.

In other words, it’s a fair deal with limited upside to the team and plenty of accountability on the end of the player.

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