ORLANDO, Fla. - Jets owner Woody Johnson is aware of and sensitive to the criticism among some Jets fans who are angry the team signed quarterback Michael Vick, who served 19 months in federal prison for his role in an illegal dogfighting operation. But Johnson said he is convinced Vick is "a changed person" and that most Jets fans will come to understand Vick better during his time with the team.
Johnson also said he believes that Vick ultimately will benefit the Jets on the field, whether he becomes the starter or is a backup to incumbent Geno Smith.
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"I'm always concerned about the fans, and there's really nothing I can do, other than to try to let them know who Michael Vick is,'' Johnson said Sunday in an interview with Newsday at the NFL owners' meetings.
"We know his past. He didn't make great choices back then, but he, like a lot of people, deserves a second chance. He's done his time in jail, and he's come out as an advocate against this kind of violence against animals, particularly dogs."
Vick has worked with the Humane Society since getting out of prison in May 2009, and is an outspoken advocate for animal rights. Johnson said he spoke to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who reinstated Vick, and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who signed Vick in 2009 amid intense criticism from many fans who were outraged at the decision. But Lurie was extremely positive about Vick's role in advocating for animal rights, and was effusive in his praise of Vick after he signed Friday with the Jets.
"The people who I've talked to think he's a changed person,'' Johnson said. "They think he really regrets what he did, and he's trying to make a difference now. He has been very good for hopefully getting rid of this activity in the country."
Johnson is excited about the potential Vick offers, although he said it's too soon to know whether he'll be the starter.
"We're looking for the best player to help to be with Geno, to help Geno, to set some competition up with him and improve the team," Johnson said. "So I think we picked a good player in Michael. We have to let it play out."
Johnson said Vick's signing is not a reflection of the team's losing confidence in Smith, who enters his second NFL season.
"We have a lot of hope for Geno," Johnson said. "The coaches are confident in him and he has the demeanor and attitude."
So why bring in an established starter like Vick, who lost his job in Philadelphia last year after he injured his hamstring in Week 5 against the Giants.
"We always try to bring in a veteran, particularly for a young guy," Johnson said. "[Vick] has been around football. He can give a lot of insight to the younger player in terms of what it's like to play in the NFL and what it's like to play quarterback, the hardest position. I think that's invaluable."