This week, Mike Vick spoke to the press for the first time face-to-face since being signed by the team and a lot of reading between the lines has taken place. While the Jets have stated that there will be a little-c-competition, Vick was quick to shut the door this past week on that little-c-competition being "open" and therefore turning into a big-c-competition.
"Going through the competition with Nick [Foles], we knew, both of us, that it was an open competition; the best guy was going to win the job," Vick told reporters last Thursday. "This situation is different. It's kind of unique. Even though it's not an open competition, we're both competing every day."
Vick is saying all the right things, subjecting himself to his coaches, front office and teammates while expressing that he still wishes to play. There's no upside to him rocking the boat. If he needs to play, he can play, but he knows his place is to make Geno better first. There's a conflicted duality there for a player who was the first overall pick more than a decade ago, but it is a common refrain for many NFL players as they see the end of their career on the horizon.
Over the next four months, when it comes to the Jets, there will be more ink and pixels dedicated to the Geno Smith / Mike Vick storyline than any other for the sole purpose of grabbing your eyeballs. It would seem that the Jets quarterbacks, coaches and front office staff have agreed that Geno Smith is the team's top quarterback -- even if there will be some level of competition or "pushing" as the team has termed it.
So how did we get to this point?
Free agency began on March 8 with the contract negotiation period, Vick didn't sign with the Jets until March 22. A full two weeks passed between the time when Vick and his agents could officially talk with teams to find the quarterback a new home and in all that time, Vick didn't go to a clear-cut landing spot where he could start ... be that Oakland, Houston or maybe even Minnesota or Jacksonville, despite clear deficiencies. Instead, there was lots of talk about him staying in Philadelphia or going to San Francisco, both as backups.
Instead, Vick wound up signing with a team that played their rookie quarterback in all 16 games last year despite, as offensive coordinator Marty Morhinweg termed it, some "horrendous" offensive efforts. Obviously the team would like to see Geno Smith start all 16 games again in 2014 with less horrendous play, but the team couldn't stomach taking their chances with the flatlined Mark Sanchez in that second spot.
The team pitched Vick on joining the Jets and on March 22 he came to New York.
On a conference call that day, Vick talked about his role and that of presumptive starter Geno Smith.
“As of right now I’m planning to come in and compete with Geno [Smith],” Vick said during a his introductory call. “I’ll push [Geno] as hard as I can, push him to be the best, try to become the best that I can be ... for me it’s all about competing right now and trying to bring the best out of the other quarterbacks.”
Vick was then asked about whether he'd be alright with sitting on the bench for the entire 2014 season. His answer was telling.
“I wouldn’t say I would necessarily be OK with sitting on the bench all year,” Vick said. “But I know what I signed up for, I know what I came to New York to do. First and foremost I came to compete and be a helping hand for Geno, and he has a long way to go. We both talked. We both agreed we’re going to push one another and make each other better. So whatever happens, happens. And I know what I signed up for. At the end of the day I’ll be content with it.”
Those words sound like those of a player who understood his role as the backup from his first day. They also sound like the words of a longtime starter explaining that he still considers himself a gamer and that he would like the ball in his hands; but that he also understands he came to New York to help the Jets by helping Geno. Whether that entails Vick sitting or playing, he understands he's here to play a role. That's the hive mentality that has come over the team since GM John Idzik took charge. Not necessarily a bad thing.
“Everything we do will be an organizational decision," Rex Ryan told Pro Football Talk back in early April when asked about his quarterbacks. "I’m the guy that ultimately says, ‘this guy is the guy’ or whatever in front of everybody. [But] believe me, it is a collaborative effort. Marty Mornhinweg as our offensive coordinator, great offensive coordinator, [we] will lean heavily on him [and] in my opinion, the best quarterbacks coach in football, David Lee ... That decision’s a New York Jet decision and at the appropriate time we’ll make that decision.”
With Mornhinweg being one of those sage voices that coach and general manager will listen to closely, what did Mornhinweg say about his quarterbacks?
In his first interview since the team signed Vick, Morhinweg told reporters shortly before the draft that the Jets signed Vick “for a purpose,” and that the former Eagle has “a really important role here.”
According to Mornhinweg, that role is: “To compete, to push Geno and to make Geno the very best [Vick] can make [Geno]. I wanted to make sure that Mike was ready for that. I think this thing is going to work beautifully. We’ll see. I would expect Geno to progress at a high rate with Mike’s help.”
Pretty clear, yes? That sounds like a day-to-day manager explaining that Employee Number One's main job is to help Employee Number Seven. Still, it's not as if Mornhinweg thinks Vick is over the hill.
“He’s 33-years-old, and he’s still got it,” Mornhinweg said.
While Vick has expressed the desire to start, Mornhinweg knows from his time in Philly that Vick can swallow his pride and help out his teammate this summer, no matter what.
“Mike’s going to handle [playing behind Geno] real well,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s going to do the right thing. If he’s called upon to play and when he’s called upon to play, I expect Mike Vick to play at a real high level.”
While Vick seemed the subject of much of the interviewers' interest, Mornhinweg answered questions about his starter too.
While Smith struggled through his first 12 games, Mornhinweg was buoyed by his December play, saying that Smith played “at a real high level," by limiting his turnovers in the final four games, with no interceptions in the last two.
“He progressed beautifully in the last quarter of the season,” Mornhinweg said. “Geno is in the middle of a progression. He’s a fine young quarterback.”
Coach Rex Ryan agrees based on what he saw at the end of 2013.
“Geno Smith is going to be hard to beat out,” Ryan said two weeks ago on WFAN with Mike Francesa. “He knows the offense forward and backwards.”
While Smith may be difficult to beat out, Ryan did say that that Vick “definitely” has a shot to win the job in the preseason. So how would such a thing happen?
“We have to protect the football better, first and foremost,” Rex Ryan said last November after Smith's four turnover implosion against the Bills. While Smith had a few games he didn't finish, the team stayed with him and had the benefit of seeing his turning the corner a few weeks later.
Still, offensive turnovers have plagued Rex's last three seasons with New York. Granted the team's defensive turnovers have been down, but Mark Sanchez's play almost dragged one of the greatest defensive minds in football down with him. Among other things, offensive turnovers have been one of the team's biggest undoings in the last three seasons.
So, while all signs point to the Jets letting Geno start this September, the one way that doesn't happen is if he can't protect the football accordingly. But thanks to the front office's big picture thinking, the team has a veteran gamer should it come to that.
But if it does, it is only because the Mike Vick did everything he could to help the guy ahead of him first.