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New York Jets QB Battle Could Present Short-Term, Long-Term Dilemma
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What's good for the goose is not good for the gander.

The New York Jets signed quarterback Michael Vick to a one-year, $4 million contract last week, immediately casting doubt over the future of young quarterback Geno Smith. Head coach Rex Ryan didn't do much to quiet those doubts at the coaches breakfast in Orlando, Fla., on Tuesday.

"[Vick is] going to provide great competition," Ryan said, via NFL.com. "I think that's going to be a great thing for us. I think it's going to be great for Geno. I think those two are going to push each other, and the end result will be good for the football team. But I think, as I've said before, it's going to be really interesting to watch that competition unfold.

"Geno Smith is going to be hard to beat out."

There was a competition last year, too. Many reporters suggested that the battle between Smith and former starter Mark Sanchez was rigged for Smith to come out the winner.

If there is a true competition between Smith and Vick, the two quarterbacks present two very different best-case scenarios. Smith, 23, is much closer to the beginning of his career than the end; there's plenty of time for him to reach his potential. Vick, 33, is in the twilight stages of his 11-year career; he's running out of chances to add to his legacy.

The Jets brass is probably hopeful that Vick's presence will light a fire under Smith to step his game up. Deep down, they hope Smith wins the competition so that he can continue to build off his hot finish to the 2013 season and prove that he is the quarterback of the future with a strong 2014 season. Vick would be a mentor from the sidelines in that scenario.

Ryan is probably just hopeful that he has a competent quarterback next year, whether he's 23, 33 or 43. 

Let's say Vick wins the competition, just for the sake of speculation. If the Jets make the playoffs with Vick as the starter, what happens then? Does the Smith project get put on hold for another year as the Jets try to bring back Vick? If the Jets struggle, does that mean Ryan gets fired? And if Ryan gets fired, what does the future hold for Smith at that point? Will a new coaching staff try to build around him, or go in a new direction?

What if Smith wins? If the Jets miss the playoffs as a result of Smith's struggles, it seems obvious they would gut the whole operation: new quarterback, new coaching staff, new direction. If the Jets make the playoffs, it would be sunshine and rainbows in East Rutherford, N.J., with Ryan and Smith being viewed as long-term fits in their respective roles, and on a positive trajectory. Either way, Vick would probably be gone after 2014.

Seems like the potential outcomes are much clearer with Smith than Vick.

In the end, none of that should matter. If the two quarterbacks are truly in an open competition, the only thing that should matter is who gives the Jets the best chance to win on Sundays.

Geno Smith vs. Michael Vick, past 16 games
Player Comp Att Comp % Yds YPA TD INT Rate Rush Yds TD
Geno Smith 247 443 55.8 3046 6.9 12 21 66.5 72 336 6
Michael Vick 281 492 57.1 3577 7.3 17 13 80.5 98 638 3

Source: NFL.com

Vick has been erratic, and a turnover machine at times, but he has been the better quarterback in his past 16 starts.  

This is much more than a statistical argument, though. Vick is intimately familiar with the Jets' system, having spent four years working under Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg when the two were together in Philadelphia (2009-12). On some level, though, there's room to wonder whether Vick's style of play is a good fit for the Jets team as a whole. 

The Jets tried for years to build the ground-and-pound philosophy into their offense with a ball-control style of play. Over the past few years, though, they've gotten away from that and their team success has suffered as a result. 

Jets' recipe for disaster
New York Jets Off. TO/gm. Def. pts./gm Def. yds./gm Def. starting field position Opp. def. pts./gm
2013 1.8 24.2 334.9 Opp. 30 2.6
NFL rank 22 19 11 27 29

Sources: TeamRankings.com, Pro-Football-Reference.com

The Jets have ranked in the bottom 11 in offensive turnovers in each of the past three years. Their defense has suffered for it. While they continually rank near the top 10 in total defense (11th in 2013), they give up a lot of points (bottom half of the league in scoring the past three years) because their defense consistently starts with bad field position. 

Neither Vick nor Smith could be confused for a good "ball-control" style of quarterback; Vick had 20 turnovers in the past 16 games, while Smith had 25 as a rookie.

Whoever wins the job, the turnovers need to be corrected. 

Louis Riddick of ESPN suggests Vick could be the starter for a year, with Smith slated for a return to the starting role in 2015.  

It's hard to say what this "means" for Smith, as it will really be up to him. He will need to respond to the competition, which is going to be significant, as Vick is wired to be the starter and does not have the ideal makeup to be a backup. If the powers that be believe Smith is the future and has the makeup to eventually be "the guy," then they will communicate that to him if in fact he does not win the job (I think Vick will end up starting). If they don't feel that way, then Vick will be the bridge to the next guy, whoever that is. Mental toughness is critical at the QB position; we will find out more about Smith's going forward.

Smith started 16 games in 2013, presumably so the front office and coaching staff could get a better look at him and give him some in-game experience. 

If the plan is to take one step back with the hopes of taking two steps forward, the plan is awful. The Jets don't have the time to make such a move, and a "bridge year" at quarterback is a risky move for a team that still has some serious holes.

Ryan is coaching for his job yet again in 2014, after getting a one-year extension on the heels of an 8-8 finish in 2013. He could be gone if the Jets miss the playoffs again in 2014, and then what? Will the next coaching staff feel good about taking on a second-round quarterback who struggled as a rookie and hasn't played extensively in over 20 months (assuming Vick starts and stays healthy)?

Who should start for the Jets in Week 1 of the 2014 season?

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Since becoming the starter for the Falcons in 2002, Vick has missed an average of around four games per season in his NFL career (not counting two years in prison). Vick's injury-prone nature means there's a good chance Smith could see some action even if he's not the Week 1 starter. 

In Ryan's race as the Jets head coach, the end of the 2014 season could be the finish line or just another checkpoint. He earned a one-year extension after the Jets' success in 2014 will ultimately determine which one it is. Ryan's future could be tethered to the quarterback position, which could lead him to favor the better short-term answer in Vick, over the long-term answer the Jets hope they have in Smith.

 

Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.

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