While it is certainly in a much better place than it was a year ago (which is hardly a ringing accomplishment), the New York Jets' quarterback situation is one of the more tricky situations in the NFL to solve.
They do have a young quarterback in Geno Smith, who has flashed the potential to be a franchise player, but the maddening inconsistency he displayed throughout his rookie season will force the Jets to again look to improve the position, as opposed to throwing their unwavering support behind him—as they once did with Mark Sanchez.
The fact that the Jets are starting to learn from their former mistakes is a good sign, but it does not make their task of finding a second quarterback who can solve all of the team's problems at the position any easier.
The free-agent class of quarterbacks is rather thin this year, Michael Vick becomes free to sign with any team as a free agent, the Jets should not hesitate to bring him on board as soon as possible.
Obviously, bringing in Vick will hardly go under the radar. Given his checkered past and inconsistent play over the past few seasons, acquiring the veteran QB will be yet another polarizing decision made for a position that, to the Jets, is alien to consistency and serenity.
Given the fact that the Jets are finally starting to remove the "circus" label from their name, bringing in Vick might be seen, at least initially, as a sign of regression, the kind of misstep that defined the Jets' decline in the Mike Tannenbaum era. However, taking a closer look at what Vick brings to the table as a player and a person, the move makes too much sense not to happen.
In the spring of 2010, the Jets were on the heels of a appearance in the AFC Championship Game. Their young quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was undoubtedly going to develop into the next Joe Namath (or so the fanbase thought)—all that was required was an experienced backup who could guide Sanchez through the murky waters of being an NFL quarterback.
How well this person could actually play the position was hardly relevant.
The Jets chose Mark Brunell to fill this role, which he did rather well. He did mentor Sanchez, who made noticeable improvements in his sophomore campaign. However, the Jets' new franchise player became too comfortable with the fact that he had virtually unlimited job security, as the aging, noodle-armed Brunell was never going to threaten Sanchez for the starting job.
As a result, their once-promising quarterback found himself fighting a reputation of being "lazy" and coddled.
Two years later, the Jets drafted his replacement.
There were a lot of mistakes that were made by all parties involved that resulted in the current low point that is Sanchez's career, but their inability to give him real, authentic competition at any point in his career (prior to 2013) was a major factor in his decline.
The Jets need to learn from their past mistakes and stay away from giving Geno Smith fixed competition designed to preserve the starting role for a handpicked player. Smith needs to be challenged every step of the way. He may not be comfortable, but he will be a better player for it.
Michael Vick is no spring chicken—at the age of 33, he is clearly on the downward arc of his career (although his time away from football may have bought him a few years). He still has a ton of arm strength, and when healthy, he can run with the fastest players in the NFL.
Vick also brings an added bonus because of his relationship with Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who was the quarterback's OC in Philadelphia. Under Mornhinweg, Vick revived his career and the coach's presence on the Jets' stave would help Vick make a seamless transition to a new team.
It is easy to forget that it was Vick, not Nick Foles, who won the starting job outright in training camp last season with an interception-free preseason.
For Vick, being healthy is the hardest part. He has not played a full 16-game season since 2006 when he was playing with the Atlanta Falcons. This year, his concussions allowed Nick Foles to permanently seize the starting job.
In the dirty quarterback market, there is no flawless player available. After all, if Vick was a healthy and effective player, he would still be the Eagles' starting quarterback.
What if Vick Wins?
If Vick provides serious competition to Smith for the starting gig, it would also mean that there is a chance that Smith's days as the Jets starter would be over, at least in the immediate future. While they would never admit it, general manager John Idzik and his staff would hate to see their young quarterback be tossed aside so early in his career, thereby putting an early scar on their draft record.
However, when considering the potential downside to riding out Smith like the Tannenbaum administration did with Sanchez, moving on from Smith sooner rather than later may be a franchise-saving decision.
Given the fact that they are projected to have an immense amount of cap room this upcoming season, the Jets are poised to have a roster that is ready to contend for a championship. The last thing they can afford is to fall into the same trap of waiting on a young quarterback to develop while the rest of the team is ready to win—which is exactly what happened with Sanchez under the previous regime.
If Vick wins the starting job outright, so be it. Vick is good enough to keep the now-stacked Jets roster competitive in 2013, and the Jets can address the quarterback position again next year, depending on how the season plays out.
Plus, having Smith on the roster gives the Jets insurance as well, as there is an excellent chance that Vick would miss time due to injury if he were to start. With Smith's raw talent, there are not many better backup quarterback options in the league.
Moving on from Smith so early in his career might seem a bit cutthroat, but in truth, the only thing the Jets owe Smith is his weekly paycheck. After all, if he truly is the team's franchise quarterback, he should be able to beat out a 33-year-old Vick, no?
Off the Field
Vick's controversial past is immediately viewed as a negative, but saying that Vick would be a negative asset to the Jets because of his past overlooks the seeming transformation that defined his tenure in Philadelphia. Upon his arrival in 2010, Vick appeared to be a changed man both off the field and on, where he rededicated himself to the game of football.
Learning from a squeaky-clean player like Mark Brunell has some benefit, but Vick offers Smith a perspective with which few people on the planet can identify. He has seen the lowest of the lows and has found a way to rebound from what could have been a career-ending incident.
Mike Vick: "I thought money could get me out of any situation and I ended up going to prison... lesson learned." http://t.co/eTRhjRtknJ— Lou Dubois (@dubois) May 15, 2013
Meanwhile, Smith has started to get a whiff of the downside of life as a high-profile NFL player. His recent incident with a dispute with Virgin Airlines made news, as Smith was seen getting removed from a plane (the company would later apologize to Smith for their actions).
Whether Smith was right or wrong in the situation, the incident was a perfect example of how even the smallest incident can become national news.
Obviously, Vick's situation was infinitely more serious, but Smith can still learn plenty of life lessons from Vick, even when in competition with him. Just by observing the way Vick conducts himself and prepares, Smith will in turn be a better player for it.
Of course, Vick is not the only option for the Jets in their search for a backup quarterback. Players like Josh McCown and Chad Henne are both experienced, serviceable quarterbacks who are capable of being stop-gap options—but the neither of them provide the combination of talent, experience and value that Vick would bring to the table.
Coming off an impressive season in which he kept the Chicago Bears afloat while Jay Cutler was injured, Josh McCown is going to be one of, if not the, most sought-after quarterbacks on the market. Not only was he effective in Cutler's relief, but he is a "cleaner" off-field player and does not have the same injury concerns as Vick—which is only going to rack up the price even more.
Meanwhile, Chad Henne is an experienced veteran, but he is not nearly as effective as Vick or McCown. His 60.6 completion percentage is far from embarrassing, but the Jacksonville Jaguars have a top-five draft pick for a reason.
Plus, neither player has the unique life experiences that Vick has in terms of going through an unrivaled amount of turmoil and being able to turn his career around.
When combining the talent and off-field perspective that Vick brings to the table (in combination with his relationship with Mornhinweg), the Jets would be foolish to pass up a perfect solution to their second quarterback job.