AP Photo/New York Jets
Friday, March 21, 2014 | 6:23 p.m.
NEW YORK — Michael Vick is switching green jerseys — and maybe trading his clipboard for a starting job.
The New York Jets signed the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback to a one-year deal Friday, and released Mark Sanchez, the one-time face of the franchise.
"I love competition and I love football," Vick said during a conference call Friday night. "And, I feel I have a lot of football left to play."
Vick will present a real challenge to Jets starter Geno Smith, who played well down the stretch of his rookie season, but finished with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
"As of right now," Vick said, "Geno's the starting quarterback of this football team."
But, Vick also made it clear that he still envisions himself as a starter.
"I wouldn't say I would necessarily be OK with sitting on the bench all year," Vick said. "But, I know what I signed up for and I know what I came to New York to do."
He said his first order of business is competing with Smith and helping the second-year quarterback along. Vick said he met Smith last year during the draft process and has stayed in touch since. He also acknowledged that he won't wear his familiar No. 7 with the Jets, saying it was Smith's number to keep.
Vick was a free agent after spending the last five seasons with the Eagles. He will be reunited with Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who helped the quarterback have the best season of his career in Philadelphia in 2010. Vick was plagued by injuries the last three years and lost the starting job last year to Nick Foles.
"I want to personally wish Michael Vick and his family all the best as he heads into the next phase of his career," Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement. "I really enjoyed getting to know him over the last five years. He always represented our team with a tremendous amount of class."
Vick was considered the top quarterback available in this offseason's free agent class, although he didn't garner much attention. Vick said he was sold on the Jets because he enjoyed the idea of being reunited with Mornhinweg and playing for Rex Ryan, an opportunity he always hoped for.
"He's a great talent who's won many games, including playoff games, in this league," Mornhinweg said of Vick in comments posted on the team's website. "He has the respect of both his teammates and opponents. He's here in a role where he's going to compete and push Geno Smith to become the very best that he can be. Michael will be able to go in and play at a high level and a winning level if called upon."
Vick, who had a solid start in Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense, injured a hamstring in Week 5 last season. He was replaced by Foles, who led the Eagles to the NFC East title and was selected the Pro Bowl MVP. Despite losing the starting gig, Vick was praised by Kelly and team officials for being a leader in the locker room and maintaining an outstanding relationship with Foles and helping him through his second NFL season.
"I have a lot left," Vick said. "It's evident with what I was able to do last year."
The move by the Jets is reminiscent of the headline-making trade they made in 2008, when they acquired an unretired Brett Favre — but as their unquestioned starter. The Vick signing also came two years to the day that the Jets made the stunning move to trade for Tim Tebow.
Vick, a four-time Pro Bowl selection who will be 34 in June, was once considered the most dynamic player in the NFL, particularly during his first six NFL seasons with the Atlanta Falcons.
His playing career was abruptly halted for two seasons in 2007 when he pleaded guilty to being part of a dog fighting ring. He served 21 months in federal prison, and two more in home confinement. Since his release in 2009, Vick has worked with the Humane Society of the United States to stop organized animal fighting.
The move drew mixed reviews by Jets fans on Twitter and message boards, but that didn't concern Vick.
"I appreciate all the Jets fans who appreciate me and accept me for who I am and what I've become, not for what I've done," Vick said. "Right now, my past is irrelevant."
The Sanchez move came as no surprise, but completes a stunning downfall for the quarterback who once drew comparisons to Joe Namath after helping lead the Jets to consecutive AFC title games in 2009 and 2010.
Sanchez struggled with consistency after that, and the lasting image of his time with the Jets came in 2012 when he fumbled after running into the backside of guard Brandon Moore. It was returned for a touchdown by New England's Steve Gregory in front of a national television audience on Thanksgiving night and infamously labeled "The Butt Fumble."
He spent last season on injured reserve after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder in a preseason game, clearing the way for Smith to start every game. Sanchez had three years remaining on his contract, but his $13.1 million salary cap number for next season — and $2 million roster bonus due Tuesday — made it unlikely the team would keep him at that amount.
"I'd like to thank Mark for everything he's done for this team and me personally," Ryan said in a statement issued by the team. "We were rookies together and had some early success, becoming the first rookie head coach-quarterback to go to back-to-back championship games. We experienced a lot together and I really appreciate Mark.
"He's a great player, a great teammate and I wish him nothing but the best."