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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Johnny Who Dat?

The 2014 NFL Draft is tomorrow night. The prime time television event has been the topic of seemingly endless speculation, commentary, and opining by sports media. One of the top stories in the draft is the potential landing spot for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.


Manziel has been projected as high as the top pick in the draft to as low as a second rounder and everywhere in between. Johnny Football has the “it” factor both on and off the field. He is a natural born star. His ability to improvise, make something out of nothing, extend plays with his feet, and make extraordinarily difficult passes makes him and exceptionally high potential NFL prospect. His size (or lack thereof – standing a tick under 6’0”), demonstrated willingness to run, and party animal persona off the field may give pause to scouts, coaches, and general managers.

Sometimes it takes hardware to get hardware. 1

There are a lot of teams at the top of the draft board that need a quarterback. The Houston Texans, who hold the first pick in the draft, along with the St. Louis Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cleveland Browns, and Minnesota Vikings all have uncertain long-term futures at the QB position at this time. These teams also have options.

The Texans have the option to trade down in the draft, while the Rams, Jags, Browns, and Vikings all have quarterbacks under contract that were previously drafted in the first round. Bradford, in particular, has shown flashes of high end potential. All of those teams may pursue a quarterback at the top of the draft. It’s also possible that none of them will do so.

Critics have said Manziel's partying while in college could be a deterrent to teams with high draft picks. Don't hate the player; hate the game!

Manziel is not the only first round quarterback prospect available. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater is generally regarded as the “safe” pick – more NFL ready with a better pocket presence and no “media magnet” baggage. Blake Bortles of Central Florida is regarded as the superior physical specimen among the potential first-day draftees. And teams may be willing to reach for Derek Carr of Fresno State, whose stock appears to be rising in the days leading up to the draft.

Other later round prospects with greater than average later round potential like LSU’s Zach Mettenberger, Georgia’s Aaron Murray, and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron are options for teams wishing to address other position needs with prospect who carry less performance risk like South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney, widely speculated to be the most likely top pick in this year’s draft.


So, as one may gather from the title of this article, I’m going to throw in my case for my home team, the New Orleans Saints, to make a run at J. Football if he is available when the Saints draft with the 27th overall pick. Yes, the Saints have more pressing needs at wide receiver and cornerback.  They could also use a center, a running back, and some additional depth at linebacker. By the way, they are set at the starting QB position for the foreseeable future with future Hall of Famer and Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees.

So why would the Saints want to naturalize Manziel into the Who Dat Nation? First of all, every team needs a backup quarterback. The Saints probable backup to Brees, based on the current roster, is veteran journeyman Luke McCown. McCown  would be a great plug-in for a series or a game, maybe two, should Brees suffer a short term injury.

But if Brees suffers a season ending injury or is hurt during the postseason, it’s over. McCown is capable of managing a game, executing his assignments, and not giving the game away with mistakes. That won’t cut it for very long. It’s a Band-Aid strategy, not a long-term desirable fix should that problem arise. Johnny Manziel has demonstrated the potential to come in and make plays in the NFL as a rookie, especially considering his mobility.

While Brees has never missed a start in New Orleans due to injury, Father Time is undefeated and untied at reducing productivity and eventually ending NFL careers. Brees is 35 years old. Realistically, he has about three MVP-candidate level years remaining, five at the absolute maximum (this assumes that Brees plays through the end of his current deal and does not retire before his skills erode). The Saints will need to replace Brees one day and that day may not be farther away than the length of Manziel’s first contract.

Finally, Manziel has real value. Even if Drew Brees stays healthy and plays productively into his early 40s…even if Brees suffers no significant injuries during the next four or five seasons, Manziel would give the Saints options. If Manziel is nowhere near seeing the field entering his third season, he will still be an extremely valuable commodity – a high potential, mobile QB, with two years of experience behind a Hall of Famer with almost no wear on his tread. The Saints could easily recoup their 1st round pick plus more, pursuing the next rookie to groom behind Brees in a future draft, all while having had the benefit of a potential impact-making backup.

Luke McCown cannot do this. 3

The rookie salary structure makes Manziel no less affordable than any other veteran backup. The titanic size of Brees’ current deal should offer enough assurance to Brees that he is the captain of the ship until he chooses not to be or simply cannot do the job anymore. Star athletes’ egos can be delicate and potentially volatile, but Brees has repeatedly demonstrated the leadership to be secure enough in himself to handle the addition of a high profile rookie QB.

With expectations clearly stated and managed properly, Johnny Manziel could serves as a valuable asset to the Black & Gold. I think the chances of the Saints using a first round pick on any QB are slim. It’s nice to think “what if”, though.

Someone has to step in if Breesus gets hurt. No disrespect to Luke McCown, left, but I'd prefer Mr. Football. 4
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