FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Michael Vick would like to clarify something about his final season in Philadelphia, the one that began with him winning an open training-camp competition and effectively ended with an injury that allowed for the emergence of his backup, Nick Foles.
"He didn't take my job," Vick was explaining Thursday, after a practice with his new team, the New York Jets. "You think he took my job? I got injured. That's different. I've been reading a lot of comments that I lost my job. I never lost my job. I got hurt. Anybody in their right mind who understands football knows I lost my position to injury, then I tried to come back to help the team and I couldn't, and I reinjured my leg. Just write it correctly."
Vick was so gracious as Foles flourished in his stead that he stood beside his friend at a press conference last season, an appearance designed as a show of support for Foles, whose fitness for the role was then being questioned. But that brief spit of competitive fire from Vick on Thursday -- the veteran still so sure the Eagles job would have been his, if only his hamstring had healed -- came just a few moments after Vick all but conceded the Jets' starting job to Geno Smith, a full two months before what is supposed to be a competition begins at training camp.
Vick was standing under a lighted "Vick 1" placard in the locker room, but if that is his jersey number here, it is quite clearly not his position on the depth chart -- and he and everyone else knows it. Jets officials are apparently the last people willing to admit what Vick baldly stated.
"Going through the competition with Nick, we knew, both of us, that it was an open competition; the best guy was going to win the job," Vick said. "This situation is different. It's kind of unique. Even though it's not an open competition, we're both competing every day."
Vick is resigned to this odd reality, and it comes through in his voice. The biting reminder about his place in Philadelphia provided a jarring juxtaposition with the flat tone he chose to use in describing his current role. The question is why the Jets would want it this way, considering that Smith committed 25 turnovers in 2013 and was the season's lowest-rated passer, despite a late-season surge that apparently has the Jets' brain trust believing their 2013 second-round draft pick has turned a competitive corner.
Vick, who signed a one-year, $4 million contract with the Jets, said he was grateful for the opportunity the team presented him, even though it appears to be the opportunity to carry a clipboard for a player who is still not yet likely to be his equal, at least when Vick is healthy. Vick explained that he took the Jets' offer in part because he did not have to go very far from where he was living. But it is also apparent that Vick might not have had many better options.
"It's still tough right now. I'll admit it. I won't lie," Vick said. "Deep down, you always want to be a starter. You always feel like you're a starter. That's just the competitive nature in me. Hopefully, that opportunity will come again one day, and I've just got to keep working for it. Nothing is easy in this league."
Vick said later that he is just trying to live in the moment and not play mind games with himself, so he is now viewing this as a one-season tryout for a chance somewhere else. Failing to provide a real competition is what got the Jets in trouble with Mark Sanchez, who was never able to elevate his game in part because he was never pushed. And while Vick is sure to be a more realistic option to start than a late-career Mark Brunell ever was, the fact that this apparently is going to be the competition that never was is not likely to help spur Smith to greater heights.
This gives the Jets the most compelling quarterback situation in a division that requires teams, if they are to have any hope of big-picture success, to field an offense that can outscore Tom Brady. The Bills made the blockbuster trade of the 2014 NFL Draft, moving up to select receiver Sammy Watkins, so that EJ Manuel could have a reliable target. The Dolphins are constructing an offensive line to protect Ryan Tannehill, so he can launch the deep ball to Mike Wallace more often.
The Jets acquired Eric Decker and Chris Johnson to finally add some pop to a long-dormant offense. But they're seemingly prepared to hand the quarterback job to a player who is not, at least right now, the best quarterback on the team. Vick said he thinks that if he and Smith perform equally in camp and the preseason, Smith will remain the starter. That makes sense -- Smith, 23, is younger, and if he is already Vick's equal, his ceiling is presumably higher.
But given Vick's tone, one wonders just how significantly Vick would have to outplay Smith to convince coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik to change their minds. By a greater margin than Sanchez was outplaying Smith by last preseason? That is to say, before Ryan inexplicably inserted Sanchez late into a meaningless preseason game and a shoulder injury knocked Sanchez out for the year, leading Smith to be handed a job he probably would not have earned had the competition continued.
Smith, assuming the appearance of ninja quarterback while wearing a wide white headband Thursday, is saying all the right things about this being a legitimate fight for the job. But if he is breathing a sigh of relief, he couldn't be blamed. It's one thing to have an incumbent's confidence. It's another to be aware that the competition already knows the race is over.
Smith chalked up his ham-handed handling of the ball last year to being a rookie, to learning a new offense, all the very real issues that most teams who do not have rookies named Andrew Luck struggle with. And so perhaps Smith will make the kind of leap, in both command and production, that the Jets ostensibly sensed during the turnaround that saved Ryan's job last December.
Smith was just 11 years old when Vick made his dynamic entry into the NFL in 2001. He said Thursday he marveled at the same highlights we all did, watching Vick dance around the pocket.
"He was amazing," Smith said. "We all had those 'wow' moments, watching Mike."
Vick believes he is still capable, at 33, of such moments, and few offenses could use them more. If he's right, the Jets might have to avert their eyes from Vick's highlight reel to maintain their belief that Smith is the better choice.
Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.