By Tim Dahlberg, AP Sports Columnist
Right about now, Michael Vick would probably gladly trade a year or two out of football for a chance to rid himself of dogfighting charges. He was never going to play this season anyway, not if Roger Goodell, Arthur Blank and thousands of animal rights activists had anything to say about it.
The question now becomes whether Vick will ever play in the NFL again, and even the bravest Las Vegas bookie wouldn't offer odds on that happening.
Hard to imagine Blank or any other NFL owner would be willing to hire a quarterback who is now the poster child for animal abusers everywhere. It's even harder to imagine how the home fans would feel about an alleged puppy killer leading their offense.
Not that it much matters anymore. Because Vick has a lot more to worry about than whether he'll ever play for money on a Sunday again.
Finding a way to stay out of prison is now his No. 1 concern.
The news that two more of his co-defendants will go to court this week to enter plea bargains in the dogfighting case that ensnared Vick is the worst news yet for the man who allegedly not only financed "Bad Newz Kennels" but was actively involved in disposing of dogs who were unfortunate enough not to be major championship material.
It wasn't even a month ago that Vick and three others were indicted on charges they ran a dog fighting ring. Now he stands alone, his three co-defendants now seemingly more than eager to tell all to get their own sentences reduced.
His lawyers still talk bravely about a Nov. 26 trial. But the noose is tightening, just as it did around the necks of some dogs who never had a chance.
The New York Times quoted a source Tuesday as saying Vick's attorneys have been given a few more days to decide whether he should enter a guilty plea. They're playing hardball because if Vick doesn't agree, he could face even more charges in a superseding indictment the government says it plans to bring in the case later this month.
That indictment would likely include even more gory details, though it's hard to imagine much worse than the stomach-turning tales of blood and death in the initial charges.
Vick got rich by making tacklers miss him. But, even with expensive attorneys at his side, it's hard to see how he's going to escape from the government's grasp.
He's basically left with two choices, neither of them very appetizing: Plead guilty and hope for less than the five years in the prison he could get, or go to trial, listen to his former buddies tell all, and risk even more prison time.
He might have been willing to take his chances at trial against the testimony of one of his co-defendants. But now all three can be expected to occupy the witness stand if Vick goes ahead with a trial.
And to think that only a few months ago all Vick had to worry about was a funny-smelling water bottle at the airport and a few one-fingered salutes to fans.
The case against Vick has, in fact, moved with amazing quickness. It was just in April that investigators were searching the Virginia estate he owned where the dog fighting operation was allegedly headquartered, and just a month ago that he was indicted.
Now all of his co-defendants are making deals, tongues are beginning to wag, and prison cells are being prepared.
There's little doubt the feds are making an example out of Vick to send a message that they have little tolerance with an activity that is still reportedly popular in certain rural areas of the south and in the hip hop culture. He's not the first athlete to face charges associated with dog fighting - the NBA's Qyntel Woods pleaded guilty in January 2005 to animal abuse and former NFL player LeShon Johnson has faced charges - but he is certainly the highest profile.
Vick was once the face of the Atlanta Falcons, a brilliant if sometimes erratic quarterback who was rewarded with a $130 million contract a few years back. Now he's the face of another so-called sport, where dogs are groomed to fight to the death and the ones who don't perform are put to death.
His endorsements are gone, and his career is almost certainly over. Millions of people who have never met him hate him, and now even his posse is deserting him.
He's cornered in a pit of his own making, with no escape in sight.
Like the dogs found on his estate, he doesn't have much fight left.
Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser.
"None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm".
Henry David Thoreau
Fail to prepare and you prepare to fail.
"Luck is the residue of design." - Branch Rickey