FORGET, FOR A MOMENT, if that's possible, what he did and why an organization that perpetually has preached the importance of bringing in character players would sign a guy who has just spent almost 2 years in a federal prison.

Let's just look at the Eagles' signing of Michael Vick strictly from a football standpoint. Nothing else. If he can whip his 29-year-old body back into some semblance of football shape, can he be a difference-making offensive weapon for this team? Can he improve their Super Bowl chances?

The answers are yes and yes.

The Eagles didn't sign Vick to have him push Donovan McNabb for the starting quarterback job. He wasn't even really signed to give Kevin Kolb a run for his money as the No. 2 guy.

He was signed for one reason, one word: Wildcat.

While many NFL coaches don't view the Wildcat formation, which features a direct snap to a skill-position player other than the quarterback, as much more than a glorified trick play, Eagles coach Andy Reid sees it as much more than that. He understands the problems the Wildcat can give a defense if you have the right weapon.

And he believes Vick is the right weapon.

"Michael is an unbelievable athlete, both running the ball and throwing the ball," Reid said last night after his team's 27-25 preseason loss to the New England Patriots at the Linc.

"He's a difference-maker in a lot of areas. He can do a lot of different things for you. I'll think of something for him."

Reid may have a few faults as a coach, but he is one of the best play-designers in the NFL. Give him 5 minutes, a pen and a cocktail napkin and he'll give you a play defenses can't stop.

He is all about creating mismatches. A safety on a swift wide receiver like DeSean Jackson. A linebacker on Brian Westbrook. Now he's got Vick, who he can line up anywhere in the formation; who can throw the ball, run with it, even catch it.

"Strictly from a football standpoint, it's a terrific move," an AFC personnel man said. "Look at the speed they're going to have on the field now when Vick, Jackson and [rookie wide receiver Jeremy] Maclin are all out there at the same time."

"It's a good signing," an NFC general manager said last night. "You've got to have a plan for [Vick] and I'm sure they do. A team with an unsettled quarterback situation couldn't sign him. If he went to a team like Washington, where they spent the entire offseason trying to replace [Jason] Campbell, it would've been chaos. But Philly's a great spot for him. They've got a good program. They've got a Pro Bowl quarterback who won't be threatened by him being around."

More than a dozen NFL teams, including the Eagles, tinkered with the Wildcat formation last season. Nobody used it more than the Dolphins. Twelve percent of their offensive plays were out of the Wildcat formation.

But the Dolphins, and most of the other teams that experimented with it, mainly ran the ball out of the Wildcat. They had a wide receiver or running back take the direct snap, tuck the ball under his arm and run with it.

The Eagles used the Wildcat about a dozen times last season. Threw out of it only once. That was Jackson's ill-fated pass into the end zone against Cleveland that was intercepted by safety Sean Jones, who the Eagles would sign 4 months later.

"Defenses, when they see [Dolphins running back] Ronnie Brown taking that direct snap, when they see [Falcons running back] Jerrius Norwood taking that direct snap, defenses take the safety out of the middle of the field and get into zero coverage, knowing that that guy isn't going to throw it," said former Tampa Bay Bucs coach Jon Gruden, who will team with Ron Jaworski and Mike Tirico in ESPN's "Monday Night Football'' booth this season.

"When that guy back there can be a threat to throw it, it'll be real interesting to see what defensive coordinators do."

Vick will give the Eagles "that guy."

"He's certainly an excellent candidate to run the spread," Gruden said last month. "I think there's a [Wildcat] wave coming. It's not going away. Offenses are going to expand it.''

Asked last night about Vick's ideal fit as a Wildcat quarterback, Reid smiled that sly smile of his, cleared his throat and said, "He can do some of that."

Actually, he can do a lot of that.

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