Commentary

Jets put Geno Smith's future at risk

Michael Vick looms as a progress stopper to team's quarterback of the future

Originally Published: April 19, 2014
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

It isn't exactly going to be an open competition in New York.

The New York Jets have a plan for their quarterbacks. They like their room. They feel that either Geno Smith or Michael Vick can win games for them this season, and do so from the jump.

There will be competition between the two, but to say there will be an open competition to determine who will be the starter in 2014 isn't totally accurate.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite his trials as a rookie, the Jets want Geno Smith to be their starter going forward.

The Jets want Smith to be the starter. He is the future. He has more upside. He is the one whom they are invested in for the long haul. Vick is merely a rental on a one-year deal.

The Jets, however, are realistic.

Because here's the thing about Vick: He wins training camp. He wins the preseason. The strength of Vick's arm and the effortlessness with which he flings the ball downfield is intoxicating, even if his stats in recent seasons paint the picture of a turnover-prone quarterback on the backside of his career.

Vick will turn 34 in June and isn't nearly as fleet of foot as he was a little more than a decade ago, when the Atlanta Falcons drafted him No. 1 overall out of Virginia Tech. But Vick is still fast. He still has as strong an arm as anyone in the league. He has experience, and he understands the West Coast system that Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg runs.

During his time in Philadelphia, Vick proved he was willing to commit himself to the process of being the best quarterback possible. He learned the value in watching film. He worked hard. He was at the Eagles practice facility early and he stayed late.

At this stage in his career, Vick is motivated by the opportunity to become a starter in the league again. He wants another shot. He isn't ready to end his career or to ride it out as a backup to a younger player. After he lost his starting job in Philadelphia to Nick Foles in the middle of last season, Vick proved that he could be a supportive, encouraging No. 2, but that's not who he wants to be. He doesn't necessarily want to be a mentor. He wants to be the guy.

Perhaps most importantly for the Jets, Vick and Mornhinweg trust each other. They worked together in Philadelphia after the Eagles signed Vick following his prison stint. Vick appreciates the opportunity former Eagles coach Andy Reid gave him. Mornhinweg was part of that decision. He helped Vick come back and excel.

So while the best option long term for New York is to allow Smith to continue to develop by gaining experience on game days, there is an understanding inside the Jets practice facility, a source said, that Vick might very well win the job. He might be the guy come Week 1. With his skills and talent, Vick might make it all but impossible for the Jets to name anyone but him the starter.

By signing wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Chris Johnson, in addition to Vick, in free agency, the Jets have been aggressive in building their team to win immediately. They still have needs -- including wide receiver, tight end and offensive guard -- but they have upgraded their talent at several skill positions with the draft still to come.

It is easy to see how New York could fall in love with all that Vick can do in the preseason, even if the more prudent decision would be to start Smith.

Smith showed flashes as a rookie. He impressed the Jets' coaches with his ability to lead the team to comeback wins early in the season when, understandably, Smith didn't really know what he was doing. In the first five weeks of the season, the Jets came from behind to beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on a last-second field goal in Week 1, the Buffalo Bills in Week 3 and then the Falcons in Week 5, again on a last-second field goal.

After losing at New England by a field goal in Week 2, New York beat the Patriots in overtime by the same margin five weeks later.

A few weeks later, Smith and the team hit a significant slide. In a three-game stretch from Weeks 11-13, Smith threw a combined 21 completions for 259 yards, with zero touchdowns and six interceptions. He took eight sacks, had two fumbles and the team lost three games by a collective 59 points.

It wasn't all on Smith, however. He didn't play well, but no one else on the Jets did, either.

In the last four weeks of the season, Smith gave the Jets reason to hope. Against the Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins, he led New York to three wins in which the team averaged 25.3 points while he accounted for seven touchdowns against two picks. In essence, Smith played winning football.

It was a good first step.

To take the next significant one, Smith will need more time on the field. There is nothing like game experience. It is hard to make strides while holding a clipboard on Sundays.

The Jets need Smith to continue climbing up the learning curve, but given who they brought in to challenge him, it is quite possible Smith won't get the chance. It says here Vick will be the starter when the season starts, which would be a solid short-term move but one that would stunt the growth of the player New York has identified as the future.

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