NEW YORK — Michael Vick is in for the New York Jets. Mark Sanchez is out.
And, the stage is set for one hot quarterback competition this summer with Geno Smith.
The Jets signed the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback to a one-year deal Friday, and released Sanchez, the one-time face of the franchise.
“Anywhere I go, or any team, I’m always going to compete for the No. 1 spot,” Vick said during a conference call. “And I will encourage any other quarterback behind me or in front of me to always compete for their job, for the No. 1 spot.
“That’s how champions are made.”
Vick will present a real challenge to Smith, who played well down the stretch of his rookie season, but finished with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. The Jets, however, never labeled Smith their starter entering the offseason — and last year’s second-round draft pick will have his work cut out during training camp if he intends to be under center in Week 1 this season.
“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 starting-caliber player.
“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.”
That means competing with Smith, helping the youngster along and getting better himself.
“At the end of the day,” Vick said of however things turn out, “I’ll be content with it.”
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.
Vick was still considered the top quarterback available in the offseason free-agent class. Vick said he was sold on the Jets because he enjoyed the idea of reuniting with Mornhinweg and playing for coach Rex Ryan, an opportunity he welcomed.
“I love competition and I love football,” Vick said. “And, I feel I have a lot of football left to play.”
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 while helping him through his second NFL season.
“I really enjoyed getting to know him over the last five years,” Eagles chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement in which he thanked Vick. “He always represented our team with a tremendous amount of class.”
Vick thanked the Eagles, their fans and the city of Philadelphia in an open letter posted on The Philadelphia Inquirer’s website.
“I was honored to be their quarterback and took the privilege to heart every day,” he wrote.
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 surprising 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 help 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.”
Sanchez’s release 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. He struggled with consistency after that, and spent last season on injured reserve after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder in a preseason 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.
Needing another veteran to push Smith, the Jets set their sights on Vick as soon as free agency began last week.
“I came to New York to play football,” Vick said. “That’s what I came to New York to do. I came to New York to play football. As long as I have a uniform on, I’m good.”