Eagles backup quarterback Michael Vick said yesterday he wants to be a starter in the NFL next season and that it would be difficult for him to return to the same role he had in Philadelphia.

"Me and my agent spoke briefly about 2 days ago [about the Eagles being willing to let him out of the final year of his contract]," Vick said on Dan Patrick's radio show. "He's just trying to get an understanding on what we thought was the best-case scenario and how we should approach the situation in regards to being respectful. We thought that was important. We didn't put a timetable on it but it should happen pretty soon. So, we'll see."

A league source told the Daily News last week that coach Andy Reid told Vick he will be traded before April's draft. At last week's Senior Bowl, several teams expressed curiosity about Vick, who should bring at least a fourth-round pick in a trade.

Vick, for whom the Eagles hold a club option for 1 more year for $5 million, was asked if he could play the same backup role with the Eagles next year.

"It would be a tough decision to make," he said. "I would really have to take a lot of things into consideration, the fact that I want to be a starter and the fact that I'm blessed just to be back playing football. If I had to [be a backup], I would. If another opportunity presented itself, then it would be even better.

"I would really have to think about it. But for the most part, I like the coaching staff. I like the people around here, within the organization. Maybe I would do it. Who knows? I'm still kinda young. It may work out."

Vick, who will turn 30 in June, then went back on his previous statement about returning as a backup. "As I think about it now, getting back to your previous question, it would be fairly hard [to return to the Eagles as a backup]," he said. "I know I can play in this league. I know I still have a lot of games left in me. I can be improved and be in shape and have an opportunity to go play somewhere else in the league. I'm just being optimistic and hoping that things work out in my favor. To be honest, I do want to play."

Vick, who noted how difficult it was to play "sporadically" as he did last season, was asked by Patrick where he ranks among current NFL quarterbacks. "I still feel like I'm among the top 10, to be honest. I'm confident in my skills," Vick said.

Vick said he wouldn't be surprised if Donovan McNabb returns next season. "He's proven himself year in and year out," Vick said. "The ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl. Looking back at John Elway's career, it took him 15, 16 years [to win a Super Bowl]. Donovan and Andy have a great relationship. It wouldn't surprise me if he's back."

Trading Vick wouldn't preclude trading McNabb but it could make the decision more difficult. Trading both quarterbacks would leave the Birds with only Kevin Kolb, the least experienced of the three.

Vick also talked with Patrick about his time in federal prison. Vick served 18 months on dogfighting charges.

"A lot of guys were kind of star-struck when I came in. They really didn't think I was going to come into prison," Vick said. "I had altercations . . . it's not out of the norm in prison. Guys challenge you because of who you are. Your status." *