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 on Friday, and released Mark Sanchez, the one-time face of the franchise.
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.
He was considered the top quarterback available in this offseason’s free agent class, although he didn’t garner much attention. Vick could 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.
“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.
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 former Green Bay Packers star led New York to an 8-3 start, but injured his right shoulder and slumped as the Jets lost four of their final five games and cost then-coach Eric Mangini his job. Favre retired again after the season, before playing two final seasons in Minnesota
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.
He signed with the Eagles in 2009 and revived his career the following season, being selected the AP’s 2010 Comeback Player of the Year and starting in the Pro Bowl. With Mornhinweg as his coordinator, Vick threw for 3,018 yards that season with a career-high 21 TDs and just six interceptions. He also ran for a career-best nine scores.
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.
He spent this past season on injured reserve after hurting his right shoulder in a preseason game, clearing the way for Smith to start every game. Sanchez tore the labrum in his right shoulder in the Jets’ third preseason game against the Giants and needed surgery to repair it in October. He 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,” coach Rex 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.”
The Jets traded up in the 2009 draft to pick Sanchez No. 5 overall out of Southern California, and immediately had success with the two postseason trips. The 27-year-old Sanchez has thrown for 12,092 yards in his NFL career, with 68 touchdowns and 69 interceptions, but his NFL-leading 52 turnovers during the 2011-12 seasons had fans losing patience — as well as some in the franchise.
With his good looks and big-time potential, many fans and media likened Sanchez to the next Broadway Joe. The Jets and then-general manager Mike Tannenbaum rewarded Sanchez with a hefty three-year contract extension following the 2011 season, a deal that included about $20 million in guarantees.
But things really unraveled during the 2012 season, culminating in him being benched for a game in favor of Greg McElroy — who announced his retirement Friday. The lasting image of Sanchez’s time with the Jets, mainly because it was constantly replayed on highlight films, was his lost fumble 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.”