Friday, March 21, 2014
Another Tebow mess? Not with Vick
By Rich Cimini
On the two-year anniversary of the worst personnel move in franchise history -- the Tim Tebow trade -- the New York Jets made another high-profile quarterback acquisition: Michael Vick.
They apparently don't believe in bad omens for March 21.
This time, it was a sound football decision, not a publicity stunt. Unlike Tebow, Vick is a functional passer with the ability, albeit somewhat diminished, to help the team. Yes, it's a quarterback controversy waiting to happen -- Vick versus Geno Smith -- but it won't be a distraction as long as Vick continues to be the player and person he was last season for the Philadelphia Eagles.
And as long as the Jets, who mismanaged the Tebow situation at every turn, don't repeat the same mistakes they made in 2012.
Vick was a model teammate last season when he got hurt and lost his job to Nick Foles. Instead of moaning, Vick supported Foles in every way, winning the respect of cynics around the league.
The Jets are putting Vick in a tough spot because they expect him to compete with Smith for the starting job, but they want him to serve as a mentor to the second-year quarterback. It's a delicate balance, and it takes a selfless person to pull it off.
Other teams might have been hesitant to take the risk, but the Jets feel comfortable with Vick because of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, his former coordinator with the Eagles. "Inside knowledge," general manager John Idzik called it.
On Friday night, shortly after signing his one-year, $5 million contract, Vick said all the right things, vowing to support Smith and help the team win. If he maintains that attitude, especially if he's on the bench, it'll be a win for everybody. If he turns into a diva, it'll get messy and the old circus will return.
"I don't have one ounce of hate in my blood," said Vick, explaining he had too much respect for Foles and the Eagles to make a stink last season when he was kept on the bench.
Once upon a time, Vick was the most polarizing athlete in sports. There was the dogfighting scandal and the subsequent prison sentence, 21 months in a federal pen. He was bad news, but the Eagles took a chance after commissioner Roger Goodell reinstated him.
It's funny how times change. When Vick became a free agent in June 2009, the Jets wanted no part of him, quickly and decisively indicating they had absolutely zero interest. Five years later, they believe he's fit to help groom their potential quarterback of the future.
"I'm a Jet and I appreciate all the Jets fans that appreciate me and accept me for who I am and what I've become, not for what I've done," said Vick, who has rehabilitated his life, career and image. "I think right now my past is irrelevant. We're talking about football, not the things that transpired off the field."
In the Jets' perfect scenario, Vick wouldn't have to play. He'd be Smith's eyes and ears, teaching him and pushing him to become a better quarterback. He'd be a $5 million Yoda. But as we all know, plans rarely works perfectly, especially for the Jets.
If Vick doesn't win the job in training camp, he'll probably get a chance at some point, either by injury or ineffectiveness. If Vick becomes the Week 1 starter, let's be honest, he probably won't last the season, considering his durability issues. Chances are, the Jets will need both quarterbacks.
The Vick-Smith relationship will be vital. Vick said they have a "great friendship" even though it's only a year old. They got to know each other before last year's draft, Vick offering advice to the former West Virginia star.
Vick sounds as though he's already invested in Smith. It's the right attitude.
"[I want to] help him to become the quarterback that we all want him to become," he said.
The Jets will have to do their part, meaning they need to avoid the missteps from two years ago.
They can start by not having a mega news conference to introduce Vick. (Who can forget that Tebow extravaganza?) They shouldn't have clandestine practices to work on top-secret formations, inviting the media as a tease. They shouldn't let live TV into their training-camp practices.
And owner Woody Johnson might want to avoid saying, "You can never have enough Vick."
If the Jets manage this properly, and if Vick accepts his role, this could actually work, March 21 jinx be damned.