- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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And it's not even close, he said.
"Of course, the coaches are going to decide who's out there, but, boy, I don't know any football fan that's been around for nine or 10 years that doesn't think Michael will be outstanding and probably is the best player at this time," Namath said Tuesday night at the United Way's annual Gridiron Gala in Manhattan.
The Hall of Fame quarterback said the key for Vick is avoiding injuries.
"If Mike's healthy, I think he's the better player at this point," Namath said. "Now, Geno's got some talent, no doubt, but we've obviously seen Michael and what he can do. To have some knowledge of [Marty Mornhinweg's] offense, I think that's an advantage, too, for Michael to make the transition. It's a matter of how sound he is."
Namath's opinion isn't shared by his former organization -- at least not publicly. Team officials haven't named a starter, but they've suggested it's Smith's job to lose. They say Vick's role is to "push" Smith, who finished his rookie season on an upbeat note after struggling most of the way.
Ironically, the only person who has called Smith the starter is Vick.
Namath chose his words carefully when asked to identify an area in which Smith needs to improve.
"The safest thing for me to say, the one factual thing for me to say that I know is his passing accuracy," he said. "The rest of it, I don't have a handle on -- his mind, what he sees, how he's doing those things. The one thing I know he has to improve on -- and he does, too -- is accuracy."
Smith completed only 55.8 percent of his passes, 35th in the league, and threw 21 interceptions.
Despite his questions about Smith, Namath said he never considered the possibility of the Jets selecting Johnny Manziel with the 18th pick in the NFL draft. Manziel ended up going four picks later to the Cleveland Browns.
But Namath left little doubt about how he feels about "Johnny Football."
"Manziel brings you out of your seat," he said. "Brought me out of my chair when I've seen the guy play. He's got something extra. He's got another sense, an anticipation, an intangible that most cats don't have when they come in [to the NFL] or in college. He's one of the most spectacular players I've seen at that position in college."