Wednesday, January 8, 2014
Broadway Johnny? Jets should be so lucky
By Rich Cimini
If Johnny Manziel is sitting there for the New York Jets on the night of May 8, their draft room should recreate the postgame scene from the season finale in Miami, where the team celebrated Rex Ryan's announced return with a spontaneous burst of loud and crazy.
There were cheers, screams, high-fives and a bro-hug between Ryan and general manager John Idzik, and they could do it all over again if Johnny Football is available.
For the Jets, a franchise whose draft history is built on great players they didn't want (Dan Marino) and great players they wanted but couldn't get (Brett Favre), it would be a defining moment of uncommon luck if Manziel slips to them with the 18th pick.
The Jets have been looking for the next Joe Namath since Broadway Joe limped off to the Los Angeles Rams in 1977, and they'd be insane to pass on Manziel, who officially declared Wednesday for the NFL draft.
The Texas A&M star was one of the best and most exciting college football players of his generation, and the Jets -- a team on the rise after a surprising 8-8 finish -- could use some best and exciting to galvanize a rebuilding effort that shifts into Phase 2.
Geno Smith was the lowest-rated passer in the league and, although he showed promise over the final four games of his rookie season, the organization still isn't convinced he's The Guy. It was telling that Idzik, who rarely reveals his true feelings, remarked in his season-ending news conference that "we'll look at quarterbacks, yes, we will look at quarterbacks" in the offseason.
You don't look beyond Manziel if he somehow gets past the five teams in the top eight that have glaring quarterback needs.
If he's there for the Jets, they should draft him and announce an open competition with Smith, knowing it would be Manziel's team when he's ready. The one year devoted to Smith wouldn't go to a waste because young quarterbacks with upside have value, and they could always trade him in a year or two, perhaps recouping their second-round investment.
It's rare for a team to use first- and/or second-round picks in back-to-back drafts on quarterbacks -- the Carolina Panthers did it in 2010 and 2011 with Jimmy Clausen and Cam Newton, respectively -- but teams with quarterback questions shouldn't turn away from a potential franchise-changing player.
Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, could be that guy. Don't take my word for it; listen to retired coach Dan Henning, who spent more than 30 years tutoring quarterbacks in the NFL.
"Bring him on, baby," Henning said in a phone interview. "I think he's a Tebow who can pass. He has tremendous leadership ability; the players rally around him. He wasn't going to let them lose [against Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl]. I just think he's a really good player."
Henning said Manziel has "a little [Jim] McMahon in him, so you have to watch the off-the-field stuff," but he's convinced Manziel has the skill set to succeed in the NFL.
Henning is right. Manziel's arm is good enough. He's instinctive. He can improvise with the best of them. Henning said Manziel reminds him of Russell Wilson, meaning he can escape the pocket but still is capable of making a throw on the run.
Manziel will be the most scrutinized draft prospect over the next four months, with scouts questioning his size (6-feet) and nocturnal habits.
Yeah, Johnny Football likes the nightlife, as Namath did back in the day, so there would be some risk in bringing Manziel to New York. If he can get to Las Vegas from College Station, Texas, he certainly won't have any problem finding Manhattan from the Jets' headquarters in Florham Park, N.J.
The Jets would have to prepare for the inevitability of TMZ becoming part of the organizational lexicon, but that wouldn't necessarily put Manziel on the road to draft-bust-dom. Namath loved to party, but he was devoted to his craft and the team, his teammates will tell you to this day. Obviously, quarterback-needy teams will have to investigate Manziel's background, determining his level of commitment.
Manziel-to-the-Jets could be just a crazy dream. ESPN draft gurus Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay rate him as the 12th- and 18th-best prospect, respectively, so you have to figure there will be a team ahead of the Jets that succumbs to Johnny Fever before May 8.
Maybe a trade up? The Jets did that in 2009, jumping from 17th to fifth, selecting quarterback Mark Sanchez. But that was a perfect storm, as they received a sweetheart deal from the Cleveland Browns, whose coach -- former Jets coach Eric Mangini -- was willing to accept Jets trash in a trade package.
The Jets won't get that lucky again, so they'd have to surrender actual commodities (high draft picks) to move up high enough for Manziel. But sometimes you have to take chances. When you're a star-crossed franchise, 45 years without a Super Bowl, you don't look away when a true star crosses your path.