By Jason Keidel
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As always, the Jets enter a season draped in uncertainty. They have a coach already on the hot seat, a general manager ready to can him, and a young quarterback who’s a few wind-swept throws from being plucked from the lineup.
And if that weren’t enough, their backup plan at QB is a man who spent time in prison for funding an epic dogfighting ring, responsible for countless canines being murdered in slow, savage fashion.
To be clear, this slice of cyberspace has frowned upon Michael Vick. Frankly, the court could have doubled-down on his prison sentence, and many of us would be good with that. And to the appalling, “They’re Just Dogs” crew, let that be your kid’s dog he choked, drowned, or electrocuted in some rancid, blood-soaked barn. See how you feel about that.
But, having said that … he’s here.
And it’s time, for better or worse, to move on with the Mike Vick Project.
He’s not as fast, strong, or durable as he was when they clicked the cuffs on his nimble limbs, but he’s better than Geno Smith right now, and to deny that could cost the Jets several wins.
And since Rex Ryan is in pure survival mode, a three-game losing streak from COBRA payments, he would be wise to start Vick right now. Sure, there’s no rush to declare a starting quarterback and competition is often good for the competitors and the team, but Smith’s 25 turnovers during his rookie year can’t be repeated if the Jets are to flourish and Ryan is to keep the loose grip on his job.
Vick has produced prodigious numbers, and once won a playoff game at Lambeau Field. Granted, that was way back and he beat Brett Favre, not Aaron Rodgers. But right now Vick’s ceiling is exponentially higher than Smith’s.
And in today’s NFL you don’t have the time to coddle your quarterback, nurse him with a sagacious longview for your program. Back in the day you could allow for a few bumps and bruises on the road to stardom. Troy Aikman and Peyton Manning, for instance, could lose double-digit games during their rookie campaigns, knowing the team was blindly invested in their sprawling careers.
Rex doesn’t have that luxury. Should the Jets stumble to a 2-4 start he could find himself wearing a different headset, buried in some ESPN booth on Sunday nights, breaking down defenses on a TV chalkboard.
So the best way for Rex to avoid weekly calls to his local unemployment center is giving the ball to the electric southpaw. Vick doesn’t have the game that made him the No. 1 pick over a decade ago, nor can he run the same, microscopic 40 times that made scouts shake their heads and their stopwatches to verify the numbers.
But when healthy he can stuff a stat sheet. Not too long ago he registered a few miles on the Washington Redskins, becoming the first player in NFL history with at least 300 yards passing, 50 yards rushing, four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns in one game. All of that happened under Marty Mornhinweg, who is now Vick’s coach with the Jets.
Durability is indeed a concern. Vick, 33, hasn’t lasted a full season since 2006. But since he was released from prison, he played 12, 12, 13, and 10 games. And he only played seven last season because Nick Foles turned into a touchdown machine, allergic to interceptions and almost all mistakes.
Considering the new parts and uncertainty on the offensive line, the Jets need someone who can improvise, which has been Vick’s specialty since he splashed on the scene in 2001. His ad hoc skill set is what separates him from Smith, who doesn’t have a fraction of Vick’s traction when a play breaks down. And beyond his advantages in speed and experiences, Vick has a much stronger arm.
So it’s pretty plain that you take the QB with 21,489 yards passing, 128 passing touchdowns, and 5,857 yards rushing over the fledgling QB with 3,046 passing yards, 12 passing TDs, and 366 rushing yards. Not to mention Vick has 58 wins to Smith’s 8.
There are concerns. Not only Vick’s brittle limbs but also the idea that he could start eight games, come up lame, and leave Smith to start the season just as the weather breaks bad. Vick’s blessed left arm is most needed in November and December, particularly in the wind tunnel of the Meadowlands.
But if you’re worried about Smith’s ego, you’d like to think he’s tough enough to endure a small sabbatical while he learns the game. He knows Vick is a decade older and his freestyle game doesn’t lend itself to the rigors of old age. So any contributions Vick makes will be transitory. But it will buy the Jets a few months to mentor Smith, and perhaps a few early season wins.
And if Smith makes a mature appraisal of his future, he’d see that this could be the best situation. Indeed, he could have used a veteran presence last year, but Mark Sanchez wasn’t available, in body or, especially, in mind.
The NFL has always been an unforgiving sport. It abhors vacuums and weakness. And few people know how fleeting stardom can be than Vick, who is eager to be defined by his final chapter, not his latest chapter.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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