Finding the best home for Michael Vick

So now America’s former Public Enemy No. 1 is free, but after two-plus years on the most humbling sideline of all, former superstar Michael Vick tries to piece his civilian life back together.

So now the big-money question: Which teams will make a run at him?

Sure, it’s a fairly simple exercise to run down the teams struggling at quarterback, teams that could use a new starter to plug in — especially a guy with the three-time Pro Bowler’s credentials on the field.

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But which team should sign Vick? Or rather, which team would give him the best possible chance to succeed, both for the team and the player? No ordinary team will do.

In the grand scheme of where Michael Vick should resume his NFL career, the perfect landing spot would have been Indianapolis … that is, if Tony Dungy was still coaching the Colts. Dungy would have been the perfect mentor for Vick. And in fact, he will be serving that role, albeit not in an official capacity as Vick’s coach.

So that needs to be one of Vick’s first criteria: a rock-solid head coach.

The second is the football support staff, from the owner to the player development employee. If there’s heat from the community, the owner must be able to defuse it. But his employees must be able to deal daily with Vick’s acclimation and needs.

And, finally, the locker room must have tolerant leaders, men who have empathy but also the resolve to cope with the initial media onslaught while supporting their new teammate.

Still, deciding to employ Vick will be a difficult decision, considering he lied to his previous owners, coaches and teammates about his gambling and dog fighting operations and even had the gall to lie to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

But when he played, Vick was a top-10 NFL performer in my eyes.

As of right now, I am assuming he will be a bargain-basement acquisition because he is 29 and two years removed from the football field. And even if he says he’s reformed, he must prove it on a daily basis while also overcoming the stigma of being a dog killer and a liar.

There are so few great starting quarterbacks in the NFL. When he last played, Vick was among the elite, although totally different from a Peyton Manning or a Tom Brady. He was never the prototypical quarterback. Vick was a unique talent. Vick was the first visiting quarterback to win a playoff game in Green Bay and later took Atlanta to within one game of the Super Bowl. It’s why Falcons owner Arthur Blank agreed to pay him more than $100 million.

If you assume Vick is still capable of contributing on the field, it now becomes a question of where.

When it comes to football people and the guys in the locker room, the Colts would provide constant positive reinforcement. There are a lot of high-character players there, many of them brought in by GM Bill Polian and Dungy. Those qualities will be important for any team truly interested in signing Vick. The team must be able to absorb the PR hit; be above the fray, so to speak. For a lot of people, the Colts walked on water in Indiana when Dungy was the head coach.

I feel the same way about New England. Bill Belichick would treat Vick like a man and force him to act like one.

There would be no coddling in Foxboro. The way Belichick operates the Patriots, Vick would be surrounded by a solid group of professionals in the locker room. And Goodell would feel good if Patriots owner Robert Kraft agreed to hire Vick; Kraft is a confidante and Goodell trusts the owner’s instincts.

Several football people kept telling me on Monday — after the news broke that Vick was free to sign with an NFL team — that New England was the perfect place for Vick. The Pats were the leader in the clubhouse. Their reasoning was that Vick would have a solid support staff and the Belichick factor — the coach believes he could resurrect Vick’s career and make him whole.

Two nagging thoughts tell me to quit thinking about the Patriots: Tom Brady is on the comeback trail and I visited Boston last month and, boy, do they love their dog parks. That might not make for the best environment for Vick.

Still, we all know that Belichick doesn’t really care about how the fans would react. He cares only about his football team and he definitely knows how to insulate his players from the media world. And that would be a great thing for Vick, who wouldn’t want to be bothered every day by reporters.

I wanted to pick Pittsburgh for the same reason. The Steelers, from owner Dan Rooney to his impressive coach Mike Tomlin, are respected for their personnel choices. If the Rooneys and Tomlin would embrace Vick, his NFL return would be a stable one. Like the Patriots, the Steelers could absorb any PR hit and even with Ben Roethlisberger’s personal woes right now, the team has enough quarterbacks. Although there is not a dire need for Vick, both of these teams would give him the opportunity to get acclimated to football once again. And he could push himself against the game’s very best defensive players and system.

These situations should be more important than money to Vick right now. Joel Segal, his agent, should think the same way. Put him on a quality team with men of character, knowing full well that he won’t play ahead of a Brady or a Roethlisberger. Remember, Goodell will be watching his every move, making sure he truly is a changed man and ready, once again, for the limelight.

So, if Belichick really wants him, Vick should pack his bags for New England. It’s the best football world for him. New England, to me, is what the Giants used to be when Wellington Mara, GM George Young and coach Bill Parcells ran the place in the 1980s.

The word is quality; strong and motivated people everywhere.

From a purely selfish football perspective, the team that truly needs Vick is Denver. I’m talking about the old Vick, the one I remember jumping over defenders when he wasn’t running past them. The Broncos, who used to have a Hall of Famer in John Elway, need a new star at quarterback. Vick could provide that, especially if he returns to his Pro Bowl form. And that should happen because my view of Vick is that he’s wiser and with maturity, he should be less impetuous on the field.

But I’m not sure a rookie head coach is a good fit for Vick. Josh McDaniels, the Patriots’ former offensive coordinator, couldn’t persuade Jay Cutler to stick around. But the bottom line is that Vick would eventually be a standout on the practice field taking reps behind Kyle Orton and Chris Simms. Someone told me the other day that the Broncos internally believe they can win 10 games this season, but when I checked their schedule I didn’t see them playing Oakland and Kansas City 10 times this season.

Denver is better than Jacksonville, a city I suspect would embrace Vick and a franchise that needs to sell tickets. In this horrible economy, the word is that the Jaguars’ season tickets are slightly above 30,000. Buffalo makes some sense, too, because Ralph Wilson isn’t getting any younger and they already have Vick’s biggest booster in receiver Terrell Owens. With Vick, Buffalo would be a city going bonkers over having two of the NFL’s biggest attention getters.

And, yes, the Bears could use a backup and Marvin Lewis in Cincinnati would be a good coach for Vick.

It will be interesting to see what the financial proposals are for Vick. Granted, he is a competitive guy. And like most pros, money usually talks. But Vick needs to look past that. Yes, he might eventually start for teams like Denver and Jacksonville, even Tampa Bay.

But what he needs now is football structure. He needs New England.