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Vick's future in the NFL uncertain

ATLANTA - Michael Vick knows where he'll be spending most of the next two years, locked away in a federal prison, doing his time for dogfighting.

Once he's a free man - probably in the summer of 2009, assuming he gets time off for good behavior - what comes next?

Will NFL commissioner Roger Goodell lift Vick's indefinite suspension? How many seasons will the quarterback miss beyond this year and next, which are a given? Will another team be willing to take a chance on Vick? If he does get back on the field, will he still be the same electrifying player? Will he even be a quarterback?

'No one knows,' said Dan Reeves, who was Vick's first pro coach with the Atlanta Falcons. 'A lot depends on him and what he does with these next two years. I don't know if anybody knows what's going to happen. Either he comes out a better person or he comes out a bitter person.'

Reeves is right. It's impossible to predict what might happen two years from now, after Vick has served the 23-month sentence imposed Monday by a federal judge in Richmond, Va.

Most seem to believe Vick will at least get a second chance in the NFL, assuming he keeps his nose clean in prison and comes out with the proper amount of remorse for taking part in a gruesome dogfighting ring.

But one thing seems certain: Vick won't get his second chance with the Falcons.

The team has kept him on the roster only while it pursues efforts to recover nearly $20 million in bonus money. The Falcons already won the first round of the legal fight, which has now gone to a federal judge in Minnesota.

Owner Arthur Blank, who gave Vick what was then the richest contract in NFL history near the end of the 2005 season, sounded as though the Falcons are moving on without any plans for bringing back No. 7.

'I would never use the word 'never,' Blank said in an interview broadcast on the team's Web site. 'I would say there's always a chance. But quite candidly, we as an organization, as a football team, we have to look forward. We have to go forward assuming Michael will not be back.'

Blank predicts Vick will miss three full seasons. After all, the quarterback still faces state charges in Virginia that could mean more time behind bars. And Goodell has not indicated when he will lift the suspension, which could run longer than any prison sentences.

'If Michael makes a mistake and eats fried chicken and French fries in prison every day and comes out at 250 pounds, he's not going to be able to play football,' Blank said. 'How he's able to keep himself in shape, stay athletically tuned and mentally tuned, I don't know.'

But Reeves, who coached Vick from 2001-03, sees no reason why he can't return. Even if he misses three full years, he only would be 30 entering the 2010 season.

'I don't think he would lose his ability to throw the football,' Reeves said. 'It's sort of like riding a bicycle. Once you learn how to throw the football, you know how to throw the football.'