On Monday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell granted a conditional reinstatement to former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Per the terms of the reinstatement, Vick is eligible to sign with any team immediately, participate in training camp immediately, play in the final two pre-season games, and will be eligible for full reinstatement by Goodell at any point before Week Six of the regular season.
Within hours, players across the league were voicing their opinions on the news. Three of those players are members of the Buffalo Bills - WR Terrell Owens, FS George Wilson and CB Drayton Florence. Players are entitled to their opinions, and all three men have publicly voiced support of Vick. Owens and Wilson have said they wouldn't mind having Vick as a teammate. Florence, however, has escalated the story to an entirely new level by attempting to rally a fan campaign in support of the Bills signing Vick.
Drayton - may I call you Drayton? - you probably shouldn't have done that.
Before I get into why, I need to make a few things quite clear. I am in no way disagreeing with the general sentiment of Florence's opinions (or those of Owens and Wilson, for that matter). As I said up top, players are entitled to their opinions. They're allowed to wonder what it would be like - how exciting and intriguing it might be - to have Vick as a teammate. In Florence's case, he's at perfect liberty to wish for Vick to come to Buffalo. That doesn't mean his wishes need to be public, nor does it mean I have to agree with it - and I'm certainly not making a case either way here - but a man's got to have opinions.
Voicing those opinions publicly isn't a bad thing, either. We, the fans, are not NFL players. NFL players are essentially a gigantic fraternity. I sincerely doubt any player in public support of Vick condones his past misdeeds. But lots of players around the league have been given extra opportunities. Most realize that this is Vick's last shot, and again, they're at perfect liberty to show him support upon his reinstatement.
Openly campaigning for a player to join your team isn't necessarily bad, either. In this case, it's very ill-advised. You'll be hard-pressed to find a more pressure-packed situation in the entire league than the one in Buffalo right now - and that's before players begin fan campaigns to sign by far the most divisive personality in the sport right now. Florence's comments were ill-advised for several reasons.
It creates the perception the Bills might actually be interested in Vick. That doesn't mean most Bills fans would believe it. We have heard Tim Graham report this off-season that a Bills official laughed at him when asked if the team would be interested in Vick. That's highly consistent with everything I have heard as well (as if a lowly blogger needs to validate reports from Tim Graham). Yet when fans are carrying signs around training camp practices that promote some form of "Sign Vick!", it gets people discussing the possibility. I'll repeat what I've said on numerous occasions: the possibility is beyond remote, folks - no matter how hard Florence's campaigners lobby.
It undermines the team. Florence's public campaign in no way, shape or form divulges anything about his feelings regarding the talent level of his current team. What he has seemingly failed to understand is that, again, it creates a perception (we'll be using that word again, don't worry) that he, and perhaps other players, don't believe the Bills have what it takes to make a playoff run this season. In case you haven't been paying attention, the Bills have been doing a lot of good things thus far at training camp. Bills coaches have a lot on their plates at the moment - as does management, as they try to sign three more rookie holdouts. Public campaigns for any player at this point in the game undermines a coaching staff trying to prepare for a season with a roster it likes, and it puts unneeded pressure on a front office that's already under the gun - if only from a perceptual standpoint.
It undermines Trent Edwards. Buffalo has a quarterback, folks. This is Trent Edwards' team, for better or worse. The Bills have already made a full-out commitment to building around the third-year signal-caller. I can fully understand and appreciate the idea of adding any quarterback that's proven he can perform in this league in the event that Edwards falters - particularly one that can help a team in other ways. X's and O's, it makes a lot of sense. Hell, I can understand why any veteran player would think that too - but keep it to yourself! Owens, to his credit, has gushed over Edwards' potential, and the two have been dynamite through five training camp practices. I don't know how Drayton Florence feels about Edwards, or whether he's bought into the idea that No. 5 can lead his new team to the playoffs. I do, however, know how his Vick campaign can be perceived (told you we'd use it again) in relation to Edwards.
Florence has already got a job to do. I hate to be harsh here, but Florence is a veteran cornerback. He was signed to a two-year, $6 million deal after the Bills failed to agree to terms with now-Reggie Corner and injury-prone vet Ashton Youboty. If the season were to start tomorrow, there's a good chance Florence would be a reserve at both nickel corner and outside. He might not see any playing time at all. I don't know personally how seriously Florence is pursuing his opportunity with the Bills - by all accounts, he's worked as hard as his teammates and performed well at camp - but I do know how he feels about Michael Vick. Again, that's a problem. He's got to worry about himself first. Can we really be sure of his agenda?CB in the off-season. Florence has been a productive player in the league, and he's expected to contend for the nickel corner job. Right now, however, he's getting blown out of the water by second-year man
I like Drayton Florence as a player. I hope he does well in Buffalo. But I'm not a fan of any situation in which I think to myself, "Yeah, it's time for Dick Jauron to have a little word with his players." Buffalo has a job to do - and for any team in training camp, unity of purpose is a must-have. This Vick thing can be a minor pre-season hiccup if Florence's self-started fan campaign for Vick ends now. If the perception that the team isn't confident in itself or Edwards persists, however, all hell could break loose. If the campaign continues, a non-story will turn into a monster - and we've got enough headlines to be dealing with right now, thank you very much.