HE LIVES IN federal prison, his prodigious gifts withering because he couldn't resist the underground culture of violence. He is a criminal. He is a victim. He is a star.

Sometime next summer, if all goes according to the desires of those who know him best, he'll obtain his release and re-enter society committed to a single goal.

Michael Vick will be motivated to prove he's not the monster you think he is.

His vehicle to redemption is football. It was his ticket to celebrity and infamy; it can be his path to salvation. Once NFL commissioner Roger Goodell allows Vick to return to the league, teams are certain to start jockeying for the services of the quarterback, who could be available before the 2009 season.

I can't think of a good reason why the Raiders wouldn't want to get in on the action.

I suspect Al Davis feels the same way, given his history of offering second chances, his fixation with former No. 1 draft picks and his obsession with athletes who run like cheetahs.

Vick would add a dynamic alternative to JaMarcus Russell, Oakland's presumed quarterback of the future. The job should be Russell's to have for as long as he can keep it. He represents a massive investment, and he possesses the raw tools to be outstanding.

But Vick, who has been clocked at 4.3 seconds in the 40, brings an entirely different approach. He was a quarterback in 2004, when he signed a 10-year, $130 million deal — the NFL's richest. Should he return, he'll likely be a hybrid, lining up at quarterback or running back or wide receiver.


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Though Vick will spend the rest of his days tainted by controversy, and surely won't be forgiven by all, those who know him best not only hope he gets another chance but also believe he deserves one.

Arthur Blank, the owner of the Atlanta Falcons and the man who gave Vick that enormous contract, exchanges letters with his former quarterback. Falcons executive Kevin Winston visits Vick at Leavenworth Prison.

More to the point, Raiders cornerback DeAngelo Hall is in regular communication with Vick, and those coaches and players who have migrated from Atlanta to Oakland expressed a willingness to welcome Vick back to the NFL — not only because of his unique skills.

No, they are unanimous in their belief in the man, that he has enough innate character to understand his wrongdoing, rehabilitate and then rebound from his past to become a positive, productive member of society.

Vick is a criminal because his money funded a dogfighting ring in Virginia. Dogs were punished, tortured and killed — often for the amusement of others. As widespread as this violent activity might be, especially in rural areas, it's illegal and inhumane.

In that regard, Vick got what he deserved. He went to prison, where there is plenty of time for one to evaluate choices.

Yet Vick also is a victim. He grew up in a family that lived in the projects in Newport News, Va. Those familiar with the place referred to it as the "Bad News" section of town. Football was his way out, and it afforded him a scholarship to Virginia Tech and, eventually, the riches of the NFL.

But Vick never truly outgrew the"‚'hood mentality. Grow up with war, in an urban combat zone, and it's tough to shed the violent visions of childhood. They linger. Even for a millionaire athlete — especially when so many of his so-called friends either encourage or enable or, worse, insist that their fortunate brother stay tethered to the very criminal subculture he sought to escape.

Maybe now Vick will be scared straight. Maybe he's smart enough now to look back at his own stupidity and cruelty and find better ways to spend his money. Maybe Good Michael can overcome Bad Michael.

Vick's projected release date is July 20, 2009. He'll be 29 years old. Any return to the NFL would require reinstatement by Goodell. Though Atlanta is out of the question, some organizations will be curious, others keenly interested.

There are hurdles to be cleared. But if Vick passes all the right tests — shows contrition, commits to serving the community, is clean and sober — it's only natural and wise the Raiders consider bringing him to Oakland.

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.