Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick, one of the NFL's most exciting and marketable quarterbacks the past six seasons, will plead guilty to career-threatening federal charges tied to a dogfighting ring operated on his Virginia property, his attorney said yesterday.
Vick will formally enter his plea Monday as part of an agreement with federal prosecutors that includes a recommendation for prison time. A government official told the Associated Press that prosecutors will recommend Vick be sentenced to between a year and 18 months in prison.
Still pending is an announcement by the NFL on its own disciplinary action against Vick, the first overall pick in the 2001 draft from Virginia Tech. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barred Vick from attending Atlanta's training camp after the July indictment, and the league has been conducting an investigation.
Even though he is considered a superstar, Vick can't expect leniency from the league, said Paul Swangard, managing director of the University of Oregon's Warsaw Sports Marketing Center.
Goodell, elected commissioner last year, has pledged a get-tough policy on player misconduct.
It also won't help Vick, Swangard said, that the indictment includes descriptions of dogs that lost fights being brutally executed and that the NFL believes the quarterback was not candid about the case with league officials early on.
"They will sack him to the degree it can send a message and still withstand union and public scrutiny," Swangard said.
The NFL said in a statement, "We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons."
Vick seemed to fall farther and faster than most professional athletes accused of misconduct. Vick set the record last year for most rushing yards (1,039) by a quarterback in a season. "I don't think you can list many folks who reached the kind of plateau Michael had and saw that plateau reach a precipice," Swangard said.
After his indictment, Nike suspended a lucrative contract with Vick, and Reebok stopped sales of his No. 7 jersey.
The July 17 indictment said dogs that lost fights or fared poorly in test fights were sometimes executed by hanging, electrocution or other brutal means.
Vick was charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.
He initially pleaded innocent. "I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my name," he said in a prepared statement released by his attorney, Billy Martin, after his arraignment last month. "There is nowhere I'd rather be today than in camp with my team," the statement said.
But the pressure on Vick mounted when his last two original co-defendants pleaded guilty Friday and implicated Vick in bankrolling gambling on dogfights. One of them said Vick helped drown and hang dogs that didn't do well. A third co-defendant had already struck a deal. Vick also faced the prospect of additional federal charges.
Vick has become the target of public protests by animal rights activists and others, some of whom said they hoped the case would bring attention to dogfighting elsewhere. Baltimore animal control officials said they have noted an increase in dogfighting in recent years.
Martin, the attorney, said yesterday that Vick agreed to plead guilty, "and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."
In an interview, Martin told AP: "There were some judgment issues in terms of people he was associating with. He realized this is very serious, and he decided to plead so he can begin the healing process."
The lawyer said salvaging Vick's NFL career was never part of the discussions.
"Football is not the most important thing in Michael Vick's life," he said. "He wants to get his life back on track."
Virginia Tech released a statement yesterday from coach Frank Beamer, who coached Vick in 1999 and 2000. "I, like all people who know and care about Michael Vick, was very disappointed and saddened by the news," Beamer said. "Although all the details are not known at this time, I am greatly concerned that Michael has put himself in this position."
Beamer has stood by Vick since the indictment, telling The Sun on Thursday that "he knows he can count on me if he needs to talk." A portrait of Vick hangs in the school's athletic complex, and a Vick flag flies over Lane Stadium.
Vick, from the Tidewater area of Virginia, led the Hokies to an 11-0 regular-season record in 1999 and a berth in the national championship game, won by Florida State.
The Falcons' Web site boasts that Vick, with his quickness and strong arm, is "blessed with rare athletic abilities not before seen at the quarterback position in the history of the NFL."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.