Vick finally has a plan

The Real Importance of Thursday for Vick

Thursday was an extremely important day for the future of Michael Vick, although not for the reasons that many football fans think. Much of the focus has been on his on-field debut with the Eagles, his first action in the NFL in two years. While that was intriguing, the real importance of Thursday was that a bankruptcy court approved a plan for Vick to repay creditors and move on with his financial life.

Thanks to the Eagles and the new contract given to Vick and a renewed sense of reality in repaying more than $20 million to creditors, Vick displayed a much more favorable plan to satisfy his creditors, a far cry from an unworkable arrangement he and his team presented months ago.

As I always say to players until I’m blue in the face, it’s what they keep rather than what they make that is truly important. Vick was the highest-paid player in the game a few years ago, rewarded with a $120-million contract in 2004 at a surprisingly early stage of his career and still a delicate age of 24. Five years later, he is working out a bankruptcy plan.

Judge Frank Santoro approved the plan only on the condition that Vick retain a personal financial planner to manage his future earnings with the Eagles, saying that Vick has proven himself unable to manage his finances in the past. You think?

It’s fascinating to me that Judge Santoro ordered Vick to retain a financial planner. Has Vick not had a financial planner before, in years where he was earning upwards of $10M a year? Or perhaps that was the problem, that he had a planner who failed.

As to his future earnings with the Eagles, in a relative sense they’re modest, earning him $100,000 per game this season for a salary of $1.6M, right at the average for an NFL player. Whoever that financial manager is, he or she would be best served to be cautious with that amount, as the future is still unclear. Even in the event Vick is on the Eagles’ roster on March 5 or so of next year, when he will earn $2.5M guaranteed and $5.2M total compensation, there isn’t much a financial planner can do with him except be as conservative as possible and pay off his considerable debt.

As I have noted often, players with issues rarely seem to be acting solo. A common problem with many professional athletes is that they are surrounded by the herd – friends, wanna-be friends, advisers, gurus, cousins, uncles, former coaches, competing agents, etc. Controlling and corralling the enabling herd is one of the most difficult jobs for the player and his representative.

And wait until Vick gets his bill from the people he praised after the plan was approved: his lawyers. That will be a big one.

Treasure to Trash

This week’s version of a team’s treasure to trash features Ernest Wilford. A year ago, Wilford signed a first-day free-agent deal with the Dolphins, a much-heralded signing designed to bring a big and (hopefully) productive receiver into their fold. Now Wilford and his free-agent contract – one of the worst deals of 2008 -- are gone, sent to the trash bin one season after the treasure.

Wilford produced three catches for 25 yards for the Dolphins. With a $6-million bonus and $1 million in salary last year, his production equated to $2.33M per catch, perhaps the most money per reception in the history of the NFL.

Wilford now returns to the team where he was developed and earned his free-agent contract, the Jacksonville Jaguars. I guess you can go home again, especially for a minimum contract.

Rice, Rice Baby

Well, at least Wilford’s minimum salary – if he makes the Jaguars -- will be about seven times that of Simeon Rice. Rice, the third overall pick in the 1996 draft and a three-time Pro Bowl player, is reportedly signing with the New York Sentinels of the UFL.

In 2003, Rice signed what was then the highest contract for a defensive lineman, joining the Buccaneers for a record $41 million over five years, with nearly half that amount guaranteed. Now he has agreed to play for the UFL-mandated salary of $35,000, the amount the new league said it would pay its players with the exception of one quarterback per team.

Without NFL Europe or the Arena Football League, the UFL currently is the only other option to the NFL for professional players. This option is for young players coming up short in their attempts to make NFL rosters, players who washed out of the NFL after some brief experience (J.P. Losman), and now a player or two with accomplished NFL backgrounds not ready to hang up their cleats. Rice, at 35, will certainly be an elder statesman for the Sentinels, provided he’s willing to take on that role.

When I was general manager of the Barcelona Dragons of the World League years ago, we had a player in a very similar situation to Rice. Bruce Clark was a Lombardi Award winner – the first junior to win the award -- at Penn State. He was drafted as the fourth overall pick in 1980 by the Packers but chose the Canadian Football League over Green Bay. He eventually played eight seasons in the NFL for the Chiefs and Saints before ending his career with us in Barcelona.

Bruce bristled a bit at being so much older and more accomplished than most of our team (and league) but eventually became a person who took charge on and off the field, a true man among boys at that level and a natural leader for the team in many ways.

Brett Favre is certainly not the only player who has a hard time giving up the game. For the vast majority, however, the NFL retires them before they can retire themselves. Now Rice, like Bruce Clark in Barcelona, has an option to keep playing and is willing to do so.

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