For the second straight week, the Jets’ decision makers appear to be at odds with at least one of their signal-callers when it comes to the most important word in the Florham Park lexicon: Competition.
Rex Ryan, a reformed parrot for the John Idzik way of thinking, says Michael Vick and Geno Smith are “no doubt” competing for the starting quarterback job. It’s the same message he and Idzik have delivered since the day Vick walked through the doors. It’s also a message with which Vick continues to disagree.
On the same day Ryan doubled (Tripled? Quadrupled?) down on his pledge that Vick and Smith are openly battling for the right to the start Week 1, the savvy veteran dropped a rather telling retort:
It’s nothing new from Vick, who for weeks has been telling anyone that asked that this is far from an open test of quarterbacking skills. It seems he knows something we don’t, or at least something the Jets won’t tell.
"I knew what I was getting into when I got here," Vick said. "It's everything I expected. I'm having fun with the guys.”
While Ryan and Idzik are busy reading from their pre-written P.R. playbook, Vick is giving you the inside scoop. No matter how many times the “C” word is dropped between now and September 7, the decision has already been made. It’s Smith’s job to win, lose and draw, a refrain that stinks of mediocre familiarity.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This is the franchise and coach that put Mark Sanchez through the rigorous Kellen Clemens competition before gift-wrapping him the starting job for the next three years. When they actually chose to “threaten” Sanchez’s stability, they decided Tim Tebow was the answer. Now, with another quarterback who is far from proven and another defense that is playoff-worthy, they bring in Vick to play the show pony. New regime, same mistake, it would seem.
Some would understandably question Vick’s motives. Why would a rapidly-aging quarterback, in possibly his last chance to start, undermine the only coach and GM that appeared willing to roll the dice on him in free agency? The conspiratorial among you would likely reason that Vick is attempting to lure Smith into a false sense of security, convincing the young QB that he’s simply there to be an ear to bend in the film room and on the sidelines before thoroughly outperforming a complacent 23-year-old in August. If that’s the case, then Vick is playing the greatest long con I’ve seen in my time as a Jets fan. But it’s far more likely that Vick is simply done with the games at this point in his career and is painting a more honest picture than the organization, which is still trying to rinse itself of the stink of the circus era.
The truth is Vick was far from desired in free agency. The Jets offered him the best payday, while also presenting the best shot he was going to get at a starting job -- not because he’d get the chance to earn it in the offseason, but rather step into it mid-season.
The only reason Smith wasn't pulled sooner last year was because there were simply no better options. The Matt Simms Experiment was a desperate move, one that woke Smith up enough for him to perform admirably over the season’s final four games. Vick presents a far better option simply by being in the building. If you add in his experience in Mornhinweg’s system and his obvious physical gifts, it’s not hard to argue that he is the best quarterback on the roster.
The real question is how the Jets will handle things if Smith isn't the clear No. 1 in training camp and in the preseason. What if Vick is at least slightly better, if not definitively the better option? Will they stick true to their mantra and abandon their second-round pick for the hired gun? With Ryan’s job on the line, he’ll want the guy that gives him the best chance to win. Then again, how much say Ryan has in this organization is up for debate.
Meanwhile, Vick’s comments tell the story of an organization already wedded to “their guy” and not necessarily the best guy -- a view that shouldn't surprise anyone given the history of this team under Ryan and the brief look we got at Idzik’s roster management last season. For all the talk about Ryan and Idzik’s philosophical disagreements, their propensity to stand by their guys is a faulty trait shared.
In the end, Smith could make all of this moot with his play on the field. Ryan has spent the offseason raving about Smith’s progress in Marty Mornhinweg’s offense, while simultaneously pointing out how tough Smith would be to beat out in this “competition.” Then again, it’s tough to take any NFL coach or executive at his word in March, April and May. In the days of non-contact drills and playbook installs, everybody is a contributor and little honesty is given.
All we have right now is the words of a coach fighting for his job against those of an outsider quarterback, who entered Florham Park with clear eyes and information that the public doesn’t have. You can choose who to believe.
Corey Griffin is a columnist for theJetsBlog.com and a co-host of theJetsBlog Podcast. He can be reached at @cgriffin415 on Twitter or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.