I had a bit of luck last year, projecting the Jets as the Packers' most likely trading partner for Brett Favre long before the team was even considered to be in the running. But what about Michael Vick? That's trickier.
Let's be clear about something, though: Vick will not only play in the NFL, he's likely to start some games in 2009.
There are two categories of teams to consider in the Vickstakes: Teams that don't have a QB of his abilities and teams that don't need him right away but could fit him into their plans.
I think there will be several teams in the running, but only one team that offers the right situation both for the player and the organization.
Teams without a 2009 QB with Vick's ability
Vikings, Bills, 49ers, Jaguars, Panthers, Dolphins, Bucs, Rams, Lions, Browns, Jets
First, let's remove the Lions, Jets, Bills and Browns from this list: Each has a young QB that management wants to develop, and Vick is not the guy you want on the bench.
Most people would also add the Broncos to this list, but trust me: Kyle Orton is the least of the Broncos' worries this season. Another close call is Jacksonville with David Garrard, who followed an up '07 with a down '08. I've included them here because Vick's game is so close to Garrard's that even if he didn't start, he'd be a solid No. 2.
So the teams at the top of this category are the Vikings, 49ers, Bucs and Rams.
If I were the Vikings I'd swear off Favre and pick up Vick... but that's just not likely. Memories of The Party Boat are still too fresh in Minneapolis, or at least they are with Vikings ownership, and it's pretty clear that Favre and the Norsemen have a mutual man-crush thing going on. So even though there's logic here, I'm taking them off the list for now.
The Bucs are a warm-weather team with a new coaching staff and three mediocre veteran QBs. Vick would have a good chance of taking the job here, but somehow I just don't see this as a likely match. The Panthers are another NFC South team with similar prospects, but they're a conservative franchise from a conservative town, and even if they were to make a run at Vick, I just don't think he's going to be all hot to visit Atlanta once every year.
The 49er's QB situation is awful, and Mike Singletary is the kind of coach who will be confident that he can redeem a hard-case like Vick. A landing here would make a lot of sense, and yet... well, somehow an East Coast dog killer just doesn't fit the mold for this franchise. Does that matter? Yeah, I think so.
Which brings us to the Rams. This team has been hovering around the league basement for three or four years now, and Marc Bulger is best-suited to be someone's veteran backup at this stage of his career. The only competition is Kyle Boller, so it's not as if there's anybody you can cite as "waiting in the wings."
Vick would have some weapons at his disposal in St. Louis, and let's not forget that this is a dome team in a weak division. I can't think of any particular organizational bias against Vick, and the more I think about this one, the more logical it seems.
Finally, the Dolphins. They've got a veteran pocket passer (Pennington), a young "QB of the future" (Henne) and a rookie (Pat White) who was drafted as a "Wildcat" QB. With its strange commitment to the Wildcat as it's change-up set, the Dolphins offer Vick a chance to play plenty of downs even if he doesn't "start" at QB. Imagine a Wildcat with Vick under center... or split out wide... or filling the halfback slot.
It's hard for me to put him in Miami, but you can all but bet that their people will be talking to his people as soon as he's reinstated.
Teams that might want to fit him in
Patriots, Cowboys, Eagles, Titans, Redskins, Seahawks
These teams have decent or better-than-decent starting QBs, yet you can almost feel the spittle drooling down the faces of their front-office staffers.
The Patriots need a backup and being arrogant bastards they'll be sure they could bring Vick around. It won't work, but you could almost see it happening. Almost.
The Eagles just aren't sold on an aging Donovan McNabb, despite that whole "kiss-and-make-up"' thing last season. But can you imagine the Philly fans and how they'd get on Vick after the first INT? No way Vick wants to land there.
The Titans were supposed to be cruising along in the Vince Young era until he went psycho on them and left the team with Kerry Collins, who doesn't have much left in that arm. Can you imagine Young and Vick competing? Boggles the mind. And I suspect Jeff Fisher will decide he just doesn't want to go down that alley.
The Redskins and the Cowboys are owner-driven teams, and both of these men love shiny new toys. Vick is neither new nor shiny, but he's likely to look that way to Synder and Jones. Both teams have talented young QBs, but that won't stop these megalomaniacs from making a run at a star.
And finally, the Seattle Seahawks are a dysfunctional team run by new HC Jim Mora Jr., who was the absolutely awful HC of the Atlanta Falcons during Vick's hey-day. Will the Seahawks attempt to sign Vick as Hasselbeck's "backup?" In a word, yes.
The Most Likely Contenders
Miami will want him... but will want him to play a "slash" position that may not interest him. Mora will want him as the Seahawks' backup ... but Paul Allen may not, and Hasselbeck isn't going to take kindly to Mora playing footsies with his former Atlanta QB.
To me, that says the answer to this riddle will be St. Louis. Vick will get highly publicized feelers from Seattle, Miami and Washington, but will ultimately spurn all those to sign a two-year deal with the Rams. He'll begin the season as Bulger's backup, but he'll be starting by November, and he'll likely sign a relatively generous contract extension in the off-season.
St. Louis offers Vick a unique set of circumstances, not the least of which being the relative obscurity of the Midwest. Vick isn't equipped to survive in a mass-media city. Second, the expectations for the Rams are extremely low. That's good, too. Third, Bulger is a fading veteran who can "win" the camp battle and give Vick plenty of time to shake the rust off his game.
Steve Spaguolo is a defensive-minded HC in his first year, and he just hired Pat Shurmur, the former QB coach of The Eagles, to run this offense. Shurmur will know a thing or two about mobile, athletic quarterbacks based on his McNabb experience, so he'll have a pretty good idea on how to get the best out of Vick. If Vick works out, then the Rams will strike "QB" off their to-do list. If he doesn't, they'll be picking high again next year anyway.
Don't expect to see the Rams at the front of the Michael Vick story in June. But don't be surprised when he holds up Rams' jersey in mid-July. They'll get him because they represent a clean break and a fresh start for a player who certainly needs both.