Vick is expected to be suspended by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after news broke Tuesday evening that Vick was indicted by federal authorities in connection with dog fighting in Virginia. The indictment followed a three-month investigation.
While Goodell was not reached for comment, two sources said the commissioner has been monitoring the Vick case since April, when investigators initially found evidence of dog fighting at a home Vick owned in Smithfield.
"Where (Vick) is in the most trouble is that he lied to the commissioner," a league source said. "He told (Goodell) in April that he didn't know anything about this. The commissioner gave (Vick) every chance to come clean, be straight about what was going on. Instead, he just kept denying it."
The NFL released a statement that both cautioned in not prejudging the case and said Vick would be evaluated under the league's personal conduct policy.
"We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," the NFL statement read. "We will continue to closely monitor developments in this case, and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities. The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal. Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts. The matter will be reviewed under the League's Personal Conduct Policy."
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, urged the league to take "appropriate" action.
"Dog fighting is a serious federal and state crime, and enforcement authorities have treated this investigation with the seriousness it deserves," Pacelle said. "We will continue to work with law enforcement with the intention of bringing to justice any individual who contributed to this cruel and violent treatment of animals.
"Now that Michael Vick has been indicted, the NFL should not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary action under its internal guidelines."
The indictment is a long way from proof of guilt. In 1999, former Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tony Martin faced money laundering charges in federal court and was found not guilty.
Vick and three other men – Purnell A. Peace, Quanis L. Phillips and Tony Taylor – were indicted on a pair of conspiracy charges that carry a total maximum of six years in prison if convicted.
"That indictment is brutal," said John Goodwin, the lead investigator from the Humane Society. "The details in there are amazing. That's much stronger than most of the cases I've seen."
The league was made aware by federal authorities of the indictment Tuesday afternoon about an hour before the news was released to the general public.
Until then, federal authorities had been tight-lipped with the NFL, not revealing any details of an investigation they commandeered from local authorities in May. The NFL had been in constant contact with local police in Surry County until that point and believed that Vick was going to be indicted, sensing the local authorities had enough to build a case against him, according to one of the sources.
"Obviously, we are disturbed by today's news from Virginia," the Falcons said through a statement issued Tuesday evening. "However, we are prepared to deal with it, and we will do the right thing for our club as the legal process plays out. We have a season to prepare for and training camp opens next week. Our plan is to continue to do everything we can to support our players and coaches."
Now, the question is how fast will Goodell react and how long will he suspend Vick? Vick has yet to be convicted of a crime or even be arrested during his six-year career, but Goodell has made player conduct his most significant issue through his first year in office.
Tennessee Titans cornerback Pacman Jones has been suspended for one year although he has yet to be convicted; Jones has been arrested or called into questioning by police at least 10 times since entering the league and faces charges over a shooting in Las Vegas in February.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry has been suspended for eight games for multiple transgressions and former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson is also facing an eight-game suspension whenever he is signed by another team. The Bears cut Johnson in June after he was pulled over in Arizona for impaired driving.
Other NFL teams are eager to see how Goodell will react to the news on Vick. A Titans source said in May that Tennessee management was watchful of how Vick might be treated in relation to how Jones was punished.
"There's a lot riding on this one," a league source said. "Perception is really important right now for the entire league and (Goodell) has set the bar pretty high. I think the one thing going for (Goodell) if he's going to suspend Vick is that he gave Vick a chance to tell the truth."
Vick met with Goodell in New York, shortly after the raid on Vick's property, before the NFL draft in April. Vick told Goodell and said publicly that he never went to the house and that he was unaware of what his family and friends were doing there.
Reports by media outlets in Virginia disputed Vick's story. Witnesses said that Vick had been seen there many times. The federal indictment also lays out a much different story, saying that Vick participated in the commerce of dog fighting. The indictment said that dogs and participants were brought in from as far away as New York and Texas for fights.
The indictment also specifies that the raising and training of dogs were conducted at the home. The home features a series of kennels and a small building in the back where fights were supposed to have taken place.
The indictment also lays out a detailed and ugly description of how the fights were run, including how dogs that lost fights were killed afterward, if necessary. Dogs were often shot, drowned, electrocuted or strangled if they could not otherwise be saved.
"We're talking about activity that went on for years," Pacelle said. "Yes, these are accusations. But for him to have claimed that he knew nothing about the activities there is unbelievable … that's why we think the league should suspend him under its conduct policy.
"If you're just going to wait for the judicial process, why even have a conduct policy?"
If Vick is suspended for any length of time, the Falcons are likely to turn to backup quarterback Joey Harrington as the starter. Regardless, Vick's progress under new coach Bobby Petrino is expected to be thwarted as he deals with all the legal issues associated with the indictment.