By Mark Brown and Jae Barclay
Two Sundays ago, quarterback Michael Vick made $250,000 for doing his job with the New York Jets. Called upon to replace starter Geno Smith, he completed 8 of 19 passes for a paltry 47 yards against the Chargers.
Three days later, the veteran said of his readiness for that game, “Maybe I didn’t prepare or I wasn’t prepared … I learned a lesson last week: always stay ready, always be prepared.”
This is what the Jets are getting for their money after signing Vick last March to a one-year, $4 million contract including a guaranteed $1M signing bonus and another $1M in potential incentives – a guy who doesn’t prepare to do his job. Apparently, Michael Vick is the first person in NFL history not to learn this lesson until reaching age 34 and playing his 12th season as a professional.
This past Sunday, Vick made another cool quarter-million for doing his job against Denver, this time holding a clipboard while standing on the Jets sideline for a few hours. His next paid gig, likely to feature plenty more sideline duty, will come this Thursday night against New England in this season’s first meeting between the archrivals.
New York’s deal with the embattled free agent prompted many questions and raised eyebrows. What would his role be, and would he embrace it? How would it affect Smith, their 2013 second-rounder? Would his criminal past continue to nip at his heels? And just how much would this guy ‒ with declining skills, an injury history, and a record of questionable decision-making and possession management ‒ have left in the tank?
The Jets announced the Vick acquisition mere minutes after officially dumping maligned former first-rounder Mark Sanchez (whose release left the team with $4.8M in dead money for 2014). Adding to the frenzied atmosphere, both moves came on the second anniversary of the team’s ill-fated Tim Tebow trade, making this tabloid lede especially appropriate:
Get your cotton candy and pinwheels ready. The Jets may be bringing the circus back to town.
The rationalization behind the signing was clear: Vick would either compete for the starting job or play amentor role while backing up young Smith. It also marked a reunion of Vick with Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who held that role in Philadelphia during Vick’s first three seasons with the Eagles (2010-2012).
Prior to the signing, Jets general manager John Idzik, Jr. had alluded to that relationship by citing his team’s “insider knowledge” of Vick. However, in January 2013, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that “Vick and Mornhinweg were not on the best of terms this past season with the [Eagles], and neither the veteran quarterback nor the newly hired Jets offensive coordinator are interested in reuniting in New York.” Yet in late April 2014, a month after Vick’s signing, Mornhinweg told the press, “I think this thing will work beautifully … I expect Geno to progress at a high rate with Mike’s help. It’s just that simple.”
Vick’s past, including an 18-month federal prison sentence for his participation in an interstate dog-fighting ring, followed him to the swamps of Jersey. Voices of opposition resonated anew, and not just from the familiar circles of animal rights organizations. Students at SUNY-Cortland, where the Jets hold training camp each summer, circulated a petition seeking to have Vick barred from campus. A Facebook page, now with more than 23,000 “likes,” called for a boycott of the Jets for welcoming the “dog killer.” Meanwhile Jets owner Woody Johnson voiced confidence in his new quarterback’s character, calling him “a changed person.”
Age and Erosion
There were plenty of other observers who questioned the signing purely for football reasons, and the numbers over the previous four years bear out those concerns:
In 2010, Vick’s second season back in the NFL (and first as a starter) after serving his prison term, he had a fantastic year for the Eagles. He finished in the league’s top five in numerous traditional QB statistics, including passer rating (100.2), passing yards per attempt (8.5), average yards per completion (13.0), comeback victories (4) and lowest interception percentage (1.6%). Vick also led all NFL rushers with a 6.8 yards per carry average.
The ensuing years have not been kind to his legacy, with steady declines in performance, playing time, and health. He sustained broken ribs in 2011, another rib injury in 2012 (against the Patriots), a concussion in 2012, and a hamstring tear last year in Week 5 that effectively ended his season, as Nick Foles finished out the string as Philadelphia’s starter.
Turnovers have been a blight on Vick’s reputation for years, and it’s only gotten worse in his post-incarceration phase. While starting in 41 games the last four seasons, Vick has amassed 33 INTs and 36 fumbles. That’s 1.121 turnovers per start, and he ranked 1st, 2nd and 4th in the NFL in fumbles from 2010 through 2012.
The picture looks even uglier viewed through the advanced metrics of Pro Football Focus:
|Year||Overall||Pass||Rush||PFF QBR||PFF QBR RK||Accuracy||Acc. RK|
|2013||-0.2||-4.3||4.3||83.1||Not ranked||66.4||Not ranked|
Vick’s accuracy fell by a whopping 9.9% over the last four seasons. Perhaps of greater concern here is the precipitous collapse of his rushing numbers, which points to issues across the board for Vick as a quarterback. Vick’s legs have been responsible for most of his career highlight-reel plays, whether scrambling away from pocket pressure before heaving a deep completion, or breaking free for long runs from scrimmage. A reduction in his trademark speed, quickness, and agility was bound to happen as he aged, but the effects appear to have taken hold long before the Jets welcomed him aboard.
Echoing the above findings, Football Outsiders ranked Vick 26th in QBR (46.0), 27th in DYAR (-87), and 28th in DVOA (-14.4) for the 2012 season among 39 qualified quarterbacks. And last year, in an injury-shortened season, Vick ranked 27th in DYAR.
The data and observations on Vick appear to have been lost on the Jets front office, but not on their competitors. As one NFL source told Gary Myers of The Daily News, “Do I want to give the keys to Michael Vick? Depends how fast you want to go in reverse.”
DO. YOUR. JOB. (Uhhh… Whatever That Is)
When the Jets began their summer workouts in July, team officials maintained their oft-stated company line that Geno Smith was not, in fact, the anointed starter, and that there would be an open competition for the position between him and Vick. For his part, Vick said (as he had time and again) that the starting job was Smith’s, even telling Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas, “I’m kind of relishing the moment that I’m in right now … I am not required to have to do a lot,” and calling his arrangement “an opportunity for me to refresh myself and take a step back away from the game” with “no stress, no pressure.”
When it came to deciphering whose version of his role was the truth ‒ Vick’s or his employer’s ‒ the pre-season workload told the tale, with the bulk of the first-team snaps going to Smith on a consistent basis. It remains unclear whether that division of labor stemmed from a preconceived and contradictory decision by the Jets to treat Smith as the chosen starter, or a reaction to Vick’s unimpressive performances during the club’s OTA workouts in May. Regardless, it didn’t sit well with some Jets coaches who “privately expressed disappointment that Vick didn’t show up more hell-bent on winning the starting job,” according to Vrentas.
Let the Games Begin
As anyone with a pulse could have projected based on the summer goings-on, Smith entered the regular season as the Jets’ starting signal caller. Vick saw sporadic action in their first three contests, throwing an incompletion on his only pass attempt in a season-opening win over the Raiders, picking up three yards on his lone rush in a Week 3 loss to the Bears, and registering no statistics in a Week 2 loss at Green Bay.
In sum, Vick lined up for three snaps in the Oakland game, all of them described as trick plays by ESPN’s Rich Cimini:
“[They deployed] him twice as a slot receiver near the goal line. He was a decoy on the first play, with Geno Smith giving him a quick look — as if he were going to throw him a pass. Smith ran the other way, as designed, and he fumbled. A little later, they drew up a schoolyard play, with Chris Johnson taking a direct snap and pitching to Vick, who missed a wide-open Eric Decker in the end zone.
As kids, we all used to run those plays in the street — you know, the kind of plays in which we used the telephone pole and the blue Chevy as landmarks.
Mornhinweg is a good play-caller, a sound coach with a little riverboat gambler in his DNA (which is a good thing), but this Vick stuff has to stop. All it does is disrupt Smith and the offense, torturing the fan base with bad memories of the Tim Tebow debacle.”
After a Week 4 loss to Detroit (in which Vick did not play) came the aforementioned San Diego travesty. With Smith benched after a disastrous first half (completing 4 of 12 passes for 27 yards and an interception for a QB rating of 7.6), on came his veteran backup to start the 3rd quarter. The Chargers sacked him on his second play. In the fourth quarter, he was flagged for intentional grounding and later took another penalty for passing beyond the line of scrimmage. That latter infraction wiped out a touchdown throw to Greg Salas.
By midweek came the preparation mea culpa by Vick. How did Jets head coach Rex Ryan react?
Ryan said Vick’s response, which drew national criticism, took “guts” and was “exactly what I wanted. I wanted guys to take a stand and admit that, ‘You know what? I can do more,'” Ryan said. “I think that’s what Mike is doing. He knows what’s going to be said about him, yet he chose to take that stand.”
Vick is not a “decent” starter in the NFL anymore – and not a better option than Smith, which is saying something. The second-year player threw 21 picks in his rookie season (comprising 4.7% of his attempts) on the way to a 66.5 QB rating (dead last among 37 qualifiers). 2014 has brought only marginal improvement for Smith on interceptions (7 picks, 3.7% of pass attempts) but he remains at the bottom of the NFL in QB rating at 69.7 (among 32 qualifiers). The bottom line is: Whether it’s Vick or Smith taking snaps, either will miss a ton of throws and make a lot of turnovers.
Idzik is coming under increasing fire as critics destroy him over his personnel moves. With Vick, he has brought in a controversial, clearly fading veteran with a high turnover ratio to caddy for a struggling sophomore quarterback with a high turnover ratio and unclear upside
The New York Jets still haven’t managed to figure it out, and that’s nothing but good news for the rest of the league.
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