“We’re sitting here, and I’m supposed to be the franchise player, and we’re talking about practice.”
The NFL has done a semantic disservice by creating a “franchise player” tag. That designation means little more to the team than “best free agent we don’t want to lose.” A real franchise player, as Allen Iverson understood it, was a player who transcended the normal relationship between player and team.
The franchise player is both the indispensable star on the field as well as the jersey that is directly entwined to the team off of it. All players are blamed for poor performance and coaches are always intently questioned after losses. But no one takes more direct criticism for or is more closely associated with overall problems than the franchise player.
Last year, even after the Eagles hitched their wagon to the Second Coming, Vick wasn’t the franchise player. Number seven was still a revelation, much like a penny stock you buy on a whim and ride to millionaire status. Fans, spectators, commentators were playing with house money. They enjoyed the ride and wondered how long it might last.
There were whispers of disapproval as Vick fell back to mortality at the end of the season. Perhaps the NFL has figured Vick out, they said. Maybe he’s not really as good as we thought. Are we sure that sending Kevin Kolb away is the right decision?
In the moment, those voices never amounted to any substantial chorus. There was still too much optimism, too much residual exuberance. Today, however, with the announcement of Vick’s new $100 million contract, that all changes.
Vick’s days as a miracle child are over. He is a high-priced investment expected to perform at an elite level and, more importantly, expected to carry the Eagles to a Super Bowl win. There is no doubt that anything less in 2011 will be a failure for the team as a whole, and specifically for Vick — no matter what stats he puts up or how well he plays. And that paradigm will continue for as long as Vick remains an Eagle.
Vick’s exploits transcended the Eagles in 2010. The team was mediocre, stumbling into the playoffs and exiting in the first round. But Vick became a story much bigger. In 2011 and beyond that will no longer be possible. The franchise player is constrained within the boundaries of his team. Iverson was a star, but once he became more than that for the Sixers his individual efforts never soared quite as high. One could say the same about Vick during his time in Atlanta. The franchise player carries his team. Every spectacular performance lifts the organization. Every loss increases the player’s burden.
Michael Vick is well compensated and adequately prepared to take on this challenge. But accepting the title of franchise player is easy. Enduring it, especially in Philadelphia, is the hard part.
Photo from Getty.