By Ernie Palladino
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The name Michael Vick is to an animal lover like a period is to a written thought. It’s a real conversation stopper.

The back story is well-known — the dog-fighting ring, the abuse, the outright murders of the animals. It was all so malicious and disgusting that no one with a heart even slightly softer than a slab of granite could ever continence his return to the NFL.

But he did return, which is why this next statement is going to jar some folks.

If the Jets truly have an opportunity to sign the Eagles free-agent quarterback, they should do it, and don’t wait until after he walks out of their executive offices later today.

They should do it because, quite honestly, Geno Smith is not the answer at quarterback. At the very least, he should not be considered the undisputed answer, which he where he stands on the roster right now. In Vick, they would be bringing in a 33-year-old with plenty of experience for the next year or two, a man capable of starting games and mentoring Smith on finding receivers downfield while also making plays with his legs. Vick has made a career of that and, though he may never get a bust in Canton, he can impart that knowledge to the former second-rounder. If nothing else, signing Vick might allow them to avoid drafting another quarterback high and spending another tense, frustrating year or two waiting for the newest franchise hope to develop.

Of course, Vick comes with a certain piece of baggage that would turn Louis Vuitton ashen. Few would want an animal abuser who spent 18 months in prison on their roster at all, and that’s understandable. But here’s the thing. Vick served his time. He returned to the league in 2009, which puts that event somewhere between the Paleozoic and the Mesozoic eras in football life.

In other words, it’s old news. Unless he has totally pulled the Eagle green jersey over the league’s eyes, he has lived a clean life since getting a second chance. He’s gone so far as to become an animal advocate. Forgive him or not, he has paid his debt to society in that department, and the NFL long ago gave him the right to continue to earn millions.

The real issue with this current incarnation involves health. Concussion, hip and hamstring problems plagued Vick the last couple of seasons, eventually leading to his benching as Nick Foles rose to starter the final six games and playoffs. The real question surrounding Vick involves whether his body can take it anymore.

In a free agent period where John Idzik has only picked up Broncos receiver Eric Decker and re-signed guard Willie Colon for a year, a quarterback signing wouldn’t hurt despite the baggage. Smith is in sore need of a quarterback controversy, and Vick can deliver that. As Giants general manager George Young always said, “There’s nothing like the hot breath of competition on a guy’s neck to make him play better.”

In the Jets’ case, Vick’s presence would force Smith to either sink or swim. Unlike Tim Tebow, the ringmaster of the 2012 training camp circus around Mark Sanchez, Vick can still be considered starting material. If his health holds out, he could even win the job outright. Besides, he knows Marty Mornhinweg’s system inside out, having worked under him for four years in Philly.

Quite simply, Idzik needs to make a signing here. Yes, Vick will come with some baggage. There will inevitably be questions about the dogs — for one day. After that, it will be all about completions, yardage, touchdowns and the condition of the chassis that makes it all possible.

It’s worth the temporary aggravation for Idzik’s quarterback-poor roster.

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