- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s 1998, and the New York Jets have a young quarterback they like a lot but aren’t willing to marry. They’re intrigued by a mid-30s free agent, a former No. 1 overall pick who lost his starting job the previous year with his second franchise. They decide to sign him, ostensibly as the backup, thinking he still has enough left if he has to play.
Pardon the time travel, but the Testaverde story is relevant because the Jets are faced with a similar situation at quarterback -- not identical, but similar.
This time, the Testaverde role could be played by Michael Vick, who fits the same profile. He is a former top pick, turns 34 in June and will be looking for a third team after losing his job last season to Nick Foles, the new prince of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Jets are intrigued by Vick, and there’s already rampant speculation they will pursue him when free agency begins March 11.
Vick would be a nice fit for the Jets, assuming they part ways with Mark Sanchez. They need a seasoned backup who can fill a two-pronged job description: still good enough to pose a threat to Geno Smith (and win games, if called upon) and willing to serve as a mentor to the young quarterback.
This isn’t to suggest that Vick will pull a Testaverde, who lasted four-plus years as the Jets’ starter and became one of the most beloved players in franchise history, but he would fill the current void. He would be a short-term answer for a team that has to start thinking short term. The full-scale rebuilding project is over.
Make no mistake, the Jets still want Smith to succeed and believe he can, but they’re still not willing to commit to him -- wisely so. Even though they have more invested in Smith than they did in Foley all those years ago, the Jets still have questions. A player like Vick would be solid insurance for 2014. If Smith regresses, if he crumbles under the pressure of having Vick over his shoulder, it’s time to move on. You start over in 2015.
It’s one of the toughest commodities to find, a quarterback willing to be a good-soldier backup but capable of becoming captain of the platoon if called upon. Vick was a model teammate last season, handling the quarterback change with aplomb, but he still wants to be a starter. There’s no telling if he would be amenable to the Jets’ situation. The Jets need to find out.
“A lot depends on the makeup of the No. 2 quarterback,” said an AFC personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “If you’re grooming a young starter, there needs to be a healthy balance of competitor and mentor but also a good resource on the sideline and during game prep. I certainly think [Vick] can still start in the short term.”
Another reason this could work is Vick’s familiarity with Marty Mornhinweg’s system. They spent four years together in Philadelphia, 2009 to 2012, with Vick making the Pro Bowl in 2010 after rebooting his career in the aftermath of a 21-month prison sentence for dogfighting. In 2010, he posted a career-high 100.2 passer rating.
A healthy and rejuvenated Vick, armed with his knowledge of Mornhinweg’s offense, would pose a serious threat to Smith in training camp. General manager John Idzik always talks about competition; this would be real competition. You would have to think it would be Smith’s job to lose. And if he does, so be it.
Obviously, Vick isn’t the same player he was in 2010. Undermined by injuries and turnovers, his production has deteriorated -- with a touchdown-interception ratio of 35-27 over the past three seasons. He has played a full season only once in his career, but the beauty of the Jets’ situation is that he probably wouldn't have to.
Because of his background with Mornhinweg, Vick is a better option than any of the other free-agent quarterbacks. Josh McCown, 34, is interesting, but he did nothing noteworthy in his career until a five-start hot streak last season with the Chicago Bears. He would be a good insurance policy -- until he had to play.
The way to go is Vick -- as long as he’s cool with the conditions: Help the kid as much as you can, knowing that you’ll play if you give us the best chance to win.
If the Jets decide to chase Vick, they might want to include the Testaverde story in their recruiting pitch.