The New York Jets surprised quite a few people last year by posting an 8-8 record and then attacking free agency with a fury on offense.
Among the veteran acquisitions the team made was the picking up of quarterback Michael Vick, and, while Vick recently told reporters he believes he's the low man on the totem pole, the Jets' best odds of bettering that record in 2014 lie with the 33-year-old under center to start the season.
When Vick was brought on board back in March, the team talked a lot of "competition," even while head coach Rex Ryan told reporters (per Andy Benoit of the MMQB) that "Geno Smith, regardless of who’s here at quarterback or who the competition is, is going to be hard to beat out…. [Last year] he grew by leaps and bounds.”
However, Benoit then expressed a pretty commonly held outside opinion of the signing:
Most likely, the Jets will talk about a quarterback competition over the next few months, feign one in training camp and then name Vick the starter sometime around the third preseason game. Smith, the 39th overall pick and 16-game starter in 2013, will be on the bench. (And, given Vick’s track record with injuries, he’s sure to come off it.)
Well, not so fast, at least according to what Vick said at Jets' OTA's (according to Rich Cimini OF ESPN) regarding the differences between this "battle" under center and the one with Nick Foles in Philadelphia a year ago:
Going into camp with Nick, we knew it was an open competition and the best guy was going to win the job -- the guy who performed throughout OTAs and the preseason. That's just what it was. It was pretty much cut and dried. This situation is different. It's kind of unique. Even though it's not an open competition, we're both competing every day.
Vick also conceded that, were the two to perform similarly in camp, "Yeah, I would assume Geno would be the starter." Defensive end Sheldon Richardson echoed those sentiments, stating simply, "[Smith] is the starter."
Before we go any further, it's important to note that nothing here is meant as a criticism of Smith, per se. The youngster had an uneven rookie year, but he also had his moments, especially over the last month of the season.
However, that doesn't change the fact that Vick gives the Jets a better chance to win now.
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* Per Pro Football Focus
Granted, from looking at their per game stats last year, it's a close call. Smith had the higher completion percentage (although both were awful) and threw for more yards per game. His record as the starter was better as well.
However, Vick had the much better touchdown-to-interception ratio, a passer rating that was a full 20 points higher and a much higher ranking than Smith at Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
In short, not only is Vick (still) the more athletic quarterback of the two, but, in 2013, he was also more efficient as a quarterback.
Who knew we'd ever say that about Vick?
It's also worth pointing out that some of Smith's late-season success last year can be attributed to the Jets simplifying the offense. As Benoit wrote, "Ryan and [Marty] Mornhinweg took things off Smith’s plate as last season wore on. The Jets became more of a run-based offense, relying less on their deep-dropping, progression-read passes."
Who should be the Jets Week 1 starter at quarterback?
Vick played for Morninwheg in Philadelphia and has a better grasp of his West Coast offense than Smith demonstrated at any point last year.
It's understandable that the Jets are treading lightly. It's a sticky wicket, trying to balance present success with the development of the player the Jets hope is their quarterback of the future.
Naming Smith the starter heading into camp is fine. So is giving him a chance to show he can beat out Vick to start.
However, a faux competition isn't going to help anything, if the Jets were that confident in Smith, Vick would never have been brought in to begin with, and the signings of players like Vick and Chris Johnson doesn't say "we're building for the future."
It says "we want to win now."
And for the Jets in 2014, that means starting Mike Vick.
At least until he gets hurt.
Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.