How Michael Vick reacts to the mandate from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to skip training camp could have an impact well beyond whether the embattled Atlanta Falcons quarterback plays during the upcoming season.
Until Monday, when Goodell ordered Vick to stay away from the team's training camp while the league reviews the federal dogfighting charges against him, at least one person close to Vick felt he didn't fully grasp the ramifications of his circumstances.
"I wouldn't say he's delusional about the problem, but I don't think he sees it as being as big a deal as everybody else," the associate said. "He thinks it's going to blow over eventually … He doesn't know how deep this goes."
That's why Vick had been resisting attempts from the Falcons to accept a leave of absence to deal with his case, according to multiple sources. Vick will be arraigned Thursday and is expected to spend months fighting the charges. Serious preparation for that began Monday when Vick hired high-profile attorney Billy Martin.
Martin could play a key role in the aftermath of Goodell's punishment. "Hopefully (Martin) can convince (Vick) that playing right now isn't a good idea," the associate said. "If Michael is with the team, it's going to be a circus every day."
Or as an NFL Players Association source said, the media will consistently raise the questions: "How is Vick playing? Is he distracted? Did he meet with his lawyers? What do his teammates think? Are people protesting?"
Moreover, what will potential jurors think?
The idea that Vick can play this season if the trial is going on simultaneously is difficult enough to comprehend. But if jurors get the idea that Vick doesn't take his predicament seriously, the perception could be even worse.
"It's almost like he'd be thumbing his nose at the whole process," the NFLPA source said. "This is serious stuff. He's fighting for his freedom."
The NFLPA hopes Vick decides to stay away on his own because it will prevent a potentially sticky situation.
Goodell has stopped short of suspending Vick so far under the guidelines of the personal conduct policy because Vick is a first-time offender under those guidelines. While Vick has had his share of embarrassments in his career (the water bottle incident at Miami International Airport this offseason, flipping off the fans last season and the "Ron Mexico"/herpes situation), he doesn't have any convictions or arrests on his record.
According to a source, that means Goodell will have trouble making a suspension stick. Worse, it could put the union in the position of having to fight the league on Vick's behalf, a potential public relations nightmare.
Bottom line, the entire Vick issue has numerous far-reaching tentacles.
"Everything about this case has to be carefully considered because of all the ramifications," an NFL source said. "The league has to be careful because we don't know that what we do will be part of the federal investigation. Every step has to be analyzed."
Of course, Vick could solve the problem by stepping away.
Such a decision also would save Falcons owner Arthur Blank a public relations disaster. At this stage, he faces criticism from all sides. On Monday, approximately 50 people from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protested in front of team headquarters in Flowery Branch, Ga. PETA also picketed the NFL offices on Friday.
Yet, Blank acknowledged in a statement last week that "we must consider all of our customers in making any decisions," conceding that at least some ticket holders would prefer to see Vick play.
The NFL had patiently tried to convince Vick and/or Blank to take action since the indictment was announced July 17.
"Exasperated? Yeah, that's a pretty good way to describe how (the league) feels right now," said another league source. "I would say that (Goodell) is doing everything he can not to lose his cool, but his patience is running out right now. I think everybody with any common sense agrees that Vick can't be around the league right now and this thing can't keep going on much longer."
Or as a second league source said: "The commissioner has been waiting for the Falcons and Vick to do something. He's not waiting much longer."
That's why Goodell issued a release Monday night. The terms of the banishment were indefinite, and it's obvious the league will have to strengthen the action to make it stick. That was implicit in a letter Goodell wrote to Vick.
"While it is for the criminal justice system to determine your guilt or innocence, it is my responsibility as commissioner of the National Football League to determine whether your conduct, even if not criminal, nonetheless violated league policies, including the Personal Conduct Policy," Goodell wrote.