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Vick sentence ends, judgement begins
Vick judgement 3 col BW

Michael Vick's federal dogfighting sentence is scheduled to end Monday and that is also when he will go back on trial — facing a whole new series of judgments.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, teams, fans and sponsors are among those who will weigh in on Vick's future.

First and foremost, Goodell must decide whether Vick's suspension will end and, if so, when — allowing the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback a chance to play in the league again. Goodell is expected to act fairly quickly, so Vick and teams know his status for the coming season. Training camps for veterans start opening next weekend.

There has been communication between Vick's camp and the league about the process, although neither side is making substantive comments publicly about where things stand.

"As we said in 2007, when he was indefinitely suspended, Michael Vick's status will be reviewed following the conclusion of the legal proceedings," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.

Vick has kept silent and probably will continue to until Goodell makes an announcement. While Goodell is declining interview requests on this topic, his position is fairly well-outlined: He wants a face-to-face meeting, and Vick must show serious contrition.

"Michael's going to have to demonstrate to myself and the general public and to a lot of people: Did he learn anything from this experience? Does he regret what happened?" Goodell said in May. "Does he feel that he can be a positive influence going forward? Those are questions that I would like to see when I sit with him."

Once Goodell's ruling is rendered, NFL clubs will have to determine what, if any, interest they have in Vick. Among the questions teams will ponder: What kind of shape is he in? What position should he play? What type of public relations hit might he bring?

"Teams certainly are going to want to know: Where is his mind-set? Going forward, is he going to be a good citizen? You'd interview him and hope you get a good feel in the interview. That's the first thing," former Redskins and Texans general manager Charley Casserly said. "The second thing is: You've got a guy two years out of football, with no structured conditioning program."

NFL teams are allowed to initiate talks with Vick, because the Falcons released him in June. He was cut less than five years after signing a $130 million, 10-year contract.

Vick's agent, Joel Segal, would not discuss whether teams have been in contact about his client.

An AP survey of the 31 other NFL clubs in November found that at least a half-dozen teams would not shut the door on the possibility of acquiring Vick at some stage.

At his best, Vick — who turned 29 last month — was as dynamic an athlete as there was in the NFL, a No. 1 overall draft pick and three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the Falcons to the 2005 NFC championship game. He was the first NFL quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season; he also never threw for more than 3,000 yards or 20 touchdowns in any season, and his career completion percentage is below 55.

"His best chance to have success would be a Wildcat formation. He was running the Wildcat before they called it the 'Wildcat,'" said Casserly, who works for NFL Network. "Would I give him a tryout? Yeah, I'd give him a tryout — assuming the interview went fine."

Vick's release from federal custody comes Monday, when he can stop wearing an electronic monitor as he begins three years' probation. He is finishing a two-month home confinement in Hampton, Va., which completes a 23-month sentence after he admitted bankrolling a dogfighting operation. Court papers revealed gruesome details about the operation, including the killing of underperforming dogs by electrocution, drowning and hanging.

That is why his toughest critics moving forward could be animal rights activists. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote to Goodell in January, saying Vick shouldn't be allowed to return to the NFL unless he submits to a psychological evaluation.

"We haven't taken the possibility of protests off the table, by any stretch of the imagination," PETA assistant director Dan Shannon said Friday. "But at the same time, we have to see how it's handled before we make any kind of determination."

Eventually, if Vick reshapes his public image, and if he gets the OK from Goodell, and if he finds a team, and if he plays football well, there will come a day where there will be one more group that will pass judgment: endorsers.

Vick used to earn millions in sponsorship dollars on top of his Falcons salary, but that all dried up. Vick's actions cost him his fortune and his NFL career, and some fans feel he deserves a second chance.

They have demonstrated their support, shouting encouragement and wearing Vick jerseys when he has made court appearances.

But would advertisers ever come back?

"Over time, a truly apologetic sports star is forgiven easily by the general public," said Bob Williams, CEO of Burns Entertainment & Sports Marketing. "People said Kobe Bryant was persona non grata for product endorsements after what happened in Colorado, and he's done a terrific job rehabilitating his image and getting back into the endorsement market. He could be a role model for Michael Vick."

Williams thinks Vick needs to begin his image-shaping efforts off the field. If that's accomplished, there is one other key factor.

"The American sports public loves winners," Williams noted. "It would expedite Michael Vick's efforts tremendously if he were on a winning team, a team that went deep in the playoffs, a team that won the Super Bowl."

Potential teammates and foes alike will assess when and whether Vick deserves to return.

The general consensus among NFL players appears to line up with the opinion expressed this week on Twitter by Washington Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who like Vick played at Virginia Tech: "I honestly think Mike has paid his debt to society. I would love to see him play again sooner than later! But I respect the NFL."

As NFL scouting director Gil Brandt put it: "He has to convince both the fans and his teammates that he's a new man."

First things first: It seems quite clear Vick must start the next phase of his life by convincing Goodell of that.


AP Football Writer Dave Goldberg contributed to this report.