"Michael Vick is visiting the Steelers today."
Okay, I thought, I'll bite. What's the punchline?
Only, it wasn't a joke. It was the honest-to-goodness truth, and somewhere in the top-twenty list of my worst nightmares of all time. But not for the reasons everyone seems to be up in arms.
See, I was one of the scattered few who didn't just accept that Vick had done his time and was back in the NFL. I embraced it. I welcomed his return. I'm the eternal optimist, always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt when they say they have changed.
And, truth be told, he's done everything right since he returned. Just as Ben Roethlisberger put his childish, boorish ways behind him when Roger Goodell wrote him a massive reality check, Vick, too, has become a model citizen. Of course, there are those who will choose to never forgive him. A lot of them, in fact. If you're one, then more power to ya. Unforgiveness is as much your prerogative as forgiveness is mine. I chose to forgive. The world is going to keep turning, either way.
No, the reason I didn't like the Vick signing -- and still don't -- is that he's basically a more mobile, more experienced Landry Jones. Think about it: neither of them can read a defense much better than a high school sophomore on the Junior Varsity team, and neither are particularly skilled at all the throws an NFL quarterback must make. Actually, that's not entirely true; Jones can make every throw on the field about three out of every five attempts. Vick, on the other hand, can make deep throws all day long, hit short throws about half the time, and makes mid-range throws about as often as North Korean state television shows a bare-chested Kim Jong-Un riding his pet unicorn down Main Street.
And therein lies the issue. This offense is one that makes heavy use of short and medium throws to set up the deep ball. It's one that relies a great deal on rhythm, which is impossible when a quarterback can't even get the ball into a catchable place more than half the time.
On top of that, he's fumbled a few times. Okay, he's fumbled a lot. As in ninety-six times in the regular season alone. In 138 games. For perspective, Roethlisberger has had his share of fumbles. But he fumbles at a rate of less than once every two games (78 in 159 games). Vick fumbles half again as often, dropping the ball an average of twice every three games. But let's take it one step further: combining all of Vick's passing attempts, sacks and rushing attempts, he has a total of 4,310 regular-season touches, meaning he fumbles once every 45 times he touches the ball. Roethlisberger does so every 74 times (5,751 touches).
There are definite concerns with this signing, speaking strictly from a performance perspective. But he's here, now. So the question is no longer whether or not he would be a good fit in some theoretical sense. The question, now, is where he fits on the depth chart.
Behind Roethlisberger are two quarterbacks who are remarkably similar in output while being worlds apart in style -- if "style" is the right word for it. Both throw about two interceptions for every three touchdowns. Jones has been sacked on about eight to ten percent of his dropbacks; for his career, Vick is sacked about eight percent of the time. Jones is just above a 50-percent passer, while Vick complets 56 percent of his throws. And let's not forget that Jones has done the majority of his work behind second- and third-string lines, to second-, third- and fourth-string receivers.
Knowing that, head coach Mike Tomlin will need to decide who ends up ahead on the depth chart: the shaky-but rising Jones, who is roughly average at just about everything and knows the system and the playbook (or at least should, by now) as well as anyone on the team, or the former starter with a checkered past who does some things well and is particularly dreadful at others.
Either way, it figures to be a hot battle -- not to mention a hot topic -- for the remaining two weeks of the pre-season.