FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Michael Vick knows there will come a time when he no longer considers himself good enough to be a dominant quarterback in the NFL, when being considered a backup will feel right and he'll embrace the idea.
He doesn't think that time is now.
Vick, who turns 34 June 26, believes right down to his soul that he's still every bit as good as he ever was, that there are still years to go before he experiences the physical decline all quarterbacks eventually face. So his conundrum with the Jets is tricky to navigate: He is clearly the backup, and he's willing to play the part and not do anything to undermine Geno Smith. But he knows he is good enough to start -- if not for the Jets, then certainly for another team.
"I know I still got a lot of football to play, and I know I can still help teams win,'' Vick told me after Tuesday's minicamp practice. "I just got to hang my hat on that. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about, helping football teams win.''
And about this idea of being a backup?
"It's different, it's different,'' Vick said. "A little premature, if you ask me.''
"I think being a backup this early in my career is premature,'' he said. "I think there are circumstances surrounding that, but I'm confident I'll have an opportunity again.''
He doesn't know where or when that will happen. Will it be with the Jets? This season? Next season? Somewhere else?
"Will it be here? I don't know,'' he said. "I can't say where it's going to be, but I think I'll have an opportunity again.''
Vick has a one-year, $4-million contract, so if he doesn't get the chance this season, then perhaps it will be with another team that believes it is a quarterback away from contending for a Super Bowl. He believes he still can play at the level that has made him one of the NFL's most electrifying players.
How long will that window stay open?
"Maybe three years,'' he said. "I still feel good. My coaches say I don't look like I've lost anything. I'm still going strong. I think it's a credit to my genetics. [Quarterbacks coach David Lee] told me today, confidently, that he thinks I can run a 4.4 in the 40. So I'm just trying to keep it going, keep playing the game from a mental standpoint and enjoy playing football every day, because it's a great game.''
The Eagles stayed with Nick Foles when he performed brilliantly after Vick got hurt last year. But it's not as if Vick's play had deteriorated; after all, he won a training camp competition over Foles. But Chip Kelly wisely kept Foles in the lineup after Vick recovered from a hamstring problem, and Vick knew he had to move on.
"I needed a fresh start after last year,'' said Vick, who joined the Eagles in 2009 after spending 18 months in federal prison for running a dogfighting operation in Virginia. "After so many years of being a starter and what I went through in Philly the last two years, it started out great, but it ended kind of rough. I just needed to take a step back and catch my breath a little bit, and this is refreshing for me.''
Vick had no illusions about the role the Jets were offering. "I signed with the understanding of what it was going to be,'' he said. So he bides his time and waits for the opportunity, whenever it might come. He knows it could be worse.
"You just have to keep the faith,'' he said. "It's all that you can do. A lot of situations are beyond my control, but you know what? I spent 18 months in prison not playing football. I'm playing football, so I've got nothing to complain about. That keeps it in perspective for me.''