Time trial for Vick

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo! Sports

Michael Vick's ability to find a way out of the most intense of oncoming rushes, slipping through the tiniest of holes and escaping to safety is what has made him rich and famous, the NFL's highest-paid player.

But he never has seen a blitz like the one coming at him now.

With his friends flipping seemingly by the day, with a mountain of charges about to be stacked against solely him, with a nearly unbeatable opponent massing advantages, it's time for Vick to make the biggest decision of his life.

Attempt one last dodge at the chance for his most improbable victory, or take a knee, plead guilty to the federal charges against him involving a dog fighting and training ring on property he owned in Virginia and hope for a short-enough prison stay that he can play football again.

At this point it may not even be about guilt or innocence for Vick. It's about winning and losing and calculating if the odds of the former appear too great.

Vick is in serious trouble now. The last of his two would-be associates and presumed friends are planning on taking plea deals with federal prosecutors later this week, deals that almost certainly will include their testimony against Vick.

That would give the government four cooperating witnesses and three rolled-over former co-defendants testifying against the Atlanta Falcons quarterback.

The only defendant left standing? Michael Vick.

One man against at least seven supposed eyewitnesses, a ton of physical evidence and prosecutors boasting a 92-percent success rate.

Although a spokesman for Vick's legal team told the Associated Press that "we're moving forward with taking the case to trial on Nov. 26," ESPN reported that Vick's lawyers met Monday with a federal prosecutor and are deciding "what direction to go in."

A change of game plan would surprise no one.

For Vick, the stakes are even higher than for a normal defendant. If the case goes to trial and Vick is convicted, he faces up to five years in prison. At 27, time, in a football sense, is not on his side. Even if he had to serve 85 percent of that sentence (federal minimum), he could miss four to five NFL seasons and be forced, at age 32, to deal with diminished, if not demolished, skills from his time behind bars.

A guilty plea, in all likelihood, significantly would cut down any incarceration time. Vick could wind up with as little as a year.

He conceivably could return to the NFL, and a high-paying contract (with the Falcons or another team), as soon as next season – at least if he can get the league to stand up to significant social pressure from animal rights groups and allow him to play.

For Vick, pleading guilty certainly isn't appealing, but it may be his best and safest option at this point.

As his friends and associates have rolled on him – this, obviously, isn't the most loyal of crews – the challenges only mount.

There is little question that some form of dog fighting occurred on the property Vick owned. That alone presents legal issues, even if he didn't know about it.

Things get worse if prosecutors can prove Vick was involved in the fighting, training, torture and even killing of dogs, as its detailed indictment and further court documents claim. Vick pleaded not guilty to all charges in July, but this may become a difficult case of he said, seven said.

Vick's defense would try to rip apart the credibility of witnesses who are involved in dog fighting and trying to avoid prosecution and punishment themselves (it's not like the government's witnesses were a van full of nuns who happened to pass by). But seven still is a big number.

Vick might be innocent. Vick might even be able to win. But with each of his friends willing to testify against him, the odds of doing so grow smaller.

At some point, justice stops being the chief concern and pragmatic business decisions take over. Can Vick risk losing? Can he risk watching his football skills – and the millions they can earn him – rot away in prison?

That's why this just keeps getting tougher for Michael Vick.

And that's why he must be considering taking the best deal offered, paying his debt to society and getting back on the football field as soon as possible.

Unless Michael Vick, facing a challenge so much bigger than football, is so certain of his innocence he'll count on making one more breathtaking, odds-defying play. This time, the most important of his life.

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