Michael Vick, sidelined from pro football for two years after a dogfighting scandal, has received a conditional reinstatement from the NFL, clearing the way for him to return this season.
But a question remains: Which team is ready to step up and sign the disgraced quarterback?
That's the next step after Monday's news that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has lifted the indefinite suspension of Vick in hopes of granting him full reinstatement by Week 6 at the latest, and possibly earlier.
"I have thought about every alternative," Goodell said in a conference call.
"But I think this gives him the best chance for success. We are not looking for a failure here, we are looking to see a young man succeed."
The announcement came a week after Vick completed his federal sentence, which lasted 20 months with the first 18 in prison and the last two under home confinement in Hampton, Va.
Vick, 29, once among the richest and most recognizable players in the game, has been courted by the start-up United Football League but, at least publicly, has yet to attract interest from NFL suitors.
"There are two ways of looking at it," said an NFL team personnel executive who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect the interests of his franchise. "You're going to get a guy for minimum [salary] who was one of the highest-paid players in the league . . . But there's also so much to deal with during the season. To have to deal with that distraction is a nightmare."
Exactly what that distraction would entail is unclear. Two years ago, Vick and the Atlanta Falcons were the focus of national scorn and massive protests by animal-rights activists. Although he initially denied any involvement in dogfighting, Vick eventually admitted to killing under-performing animals in various ways, including drowning, hanging, electrocution and slamming their bodies to the ground.
In recent months, Vick met in prison and in his home with Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States. Pacelle said Vick has made a commitment to participate in the group's anti-dogfighting campaign, although the public appearances part of that commitment has been delayed because the conditions of Vick's parole limit his ability to travel. (Those restrictions are not as rigid when they concern Vick pursuing his career.)
Asked whether he would expect protests at games if or when Vick returns, Pacelle said: "I can't predict. I think a lot of it will be determined by how he engages with the anti-dogfighting programs with his statements and actions that he takes from this point forward.
"Very few people accept what he did. But a lot of people will be forgiving if he helps combat the problem."
The issue of whether Vick should be allowed to return has long divided the sports world, with some people saying he should be banned for life, and others saying that his federal sentence was more than adequate punishment.
"I do recognize that some will never forgive him for what he did," Goodell said. "I hope that the public will have a chance to understand his position, as I have."
Under the reinstatement plan, Vick is free to sign with a team immediately and participate in preseason practices, workouts and meetings, and play in that club's final two exhibition games. He could receive full reinstatement at any point, but Goodell said he would grant that by the weekend of Oct. 18-19 at the latest, provided Vick lives up to his end of the agreement.
In addition, retired coach Tony Dungy has agreed to continue to work with Vick as an advisor and mentor. Goodell plans to periodically evaluate Vick's progress during the transitional period before the player is reinstated.
In a letter to Vick, Goodell wrote: "My decision at that time will be based on reports from outside professionals, your probation officer, and others charged with supervising your activities, the quality of your work outside football, the absence of any further adverse involvement in law enforcement, and other concrete actions that you take that are consistent with your representations to me."
The commissioner added: "Needless to say, your margin for error is extremely limited. I urge you to take full advantage of the resources available to support you and to dedicate yourself to rebuilding your life and your career. If you do this, the NFL will support you."
In a statement released by his agent, Vick thanked Goodell for the reinstatement and said he realizes playing in the NFL is a privilege and not a right.
"As you can imagine, the last two years have given me time to re-evaluate my life, mature as an individual and fully understand the terrible mistakes I have made in the past and what type of life I must lead moving forward," Vick said in the statement.