By Paul Newberry
ATLANTA - Horrified by the dogfighting allegations against their star player, the Atlanta Falcons planned to suspend quarterback Michael Vick for four games until the NFL asked the team to hold off while it conducts its own investigation.
What remains unclear: Has Vick played his final game for the Falcons?
"This sort of behavior is really horrific," Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Tuesday, the team's first public comment since Vick was indicted last week. "But these are charges. We have to let the legal process play out."
Blank said he would encourage Vick, indicted on federal charges of sponsoring a dogfighting operation, to put his career on hold while the case is pending.
"These charges are extremely serious," Blank said. "This is not about playing football in 2007. This is about having a life going forward. My only personal suggestion to Michael would be to focus on his defense and focus on putting his life together.
"This is a very difficult process he'll be going through over the next couple of months. It's very difficult to do that and focus on football at the same time."
With training camp beginning Thursday, the same day Vick is scheduled to be arraigned in Richmond, Va., the Falcons felt they had to make a decision on the player who led them to the NFC championship game during the 2004 season and last year became the first quarterback in league history to rush for 1,000 yards.
For now, Joey Harrington is Atlanta's starting quarterback.
Since the end of last season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has used a new personal conduct policy to suspend Adam "Pacman" Jones of the Tennessee Titans for the entire 2007 season; and Chris Henry of Cincinnati and former Chicago Bear Tank Johnson for eight games each.
"Prior to this, we were pursuing the maximum discipline, which is a four-game suspension," Blank said. "We had gone so far as to draft the letter. But the commissioner asked us not to take action until they completed their review."
Goodell discussed Vick's case during a news conference with NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw in Washington, where the two discussed an alliance to help former players.
"Let me make it very clear that the National Football League is very disappointed that Michael put himself in this position," Goodell said. "In no way do we think that dogfighting or anything related to dogfighting is acceptable. We think it's despicable, frankly."
Still, the commissioner said it was important to hold off on disciplining Vick until the league had more time to look into an indictment that is just a week old.
"We're looking at this from the long term," Goodell said. "We understand how our fans are reacting to this. It is very emotional for all of us. But we have to remember that we are still at a state where these are charges. These are allegations.
"I would like to, before any decisions are made about the futures of any player, understand the facts as best as possible. I thought it was in our best interest to make sure we did do that."