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Buccaneers need to draft Johnny Manziel

5/7/2014

By calling one name Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers instantly can be relevant.

By calling one name, they can have the kind of star power that will sell tickets and ignite interest among a fan base that has been stagnant, except for the diehards.

By calling one name, the Bucs could have the first franchise quarterback in franchise history.

If Johnny Manziel is sitting there at No. 7, the Bucs have to draft him. Heck, they could even trade up a few spots to make sure they get the most compelling player in this year's draft.

Manziel is a Texas A&M product with a Heisman Trophy, rare mobility, a great nickname ("Johnny Football") and a larger-than-life personality. He's Tim Tebow with one big difference -- Manziel actually can throw a spiral.

Drafting Manziel would cause the same kind of stir that was created when Tebow was drafted by the Denver Broncos and when he was traded to the New York Jets. That kind of infusion of enthusiasm is exactly what the Bucs need.

This franchise has struggled to sell tickets in recent years. This was a franchise that once had a waiting list of 100,000 for season tickets. But interest has waned because the Bucs haven't been exciting since they won the Super Bowl more than a decade ago, and there is no more waiting list.

Manziel is exactly what this franchise needs. He's brash and cocky and seems to attract attention wherever he goes. That would help sell tickets and draw eyes to the Bucs. So would this: Manziel plays an exciting brand of football -- and he wins.

Trivia question: Can you name every franchise quarterback in the history of the Bucs?

Give up? They haven't had one yet. Doug Williams was the closest, but he wasn't with the team long enough. Steve Young became a franchise quarterback ... in San Francisco. Vinny Testaverde, Trent Dilfer and Josh Freeman were drafted with great fanfare, but none lived up to his potential, largely due to weak supporting casts.

It would be different with Manziel. Take a step back and take a realistic look at the Bucs. With new coach Lovie Smith, they should have a strong defense. On offense, they have a big-time receiver in Vincent Jackson and a standout running back in Doug Martin. That's a pretty good start. Throw Manziel into that mix and you wouldn't be throwing him to the wolves -- or the Saints, Panthers or Falcons. You'd be giving Tampa Bay what each of its NFC South rivals has -- a franchise quarterback.

With Manziel, the Bucs could compete with Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Matt Ryan. With Manziel, the Bucs might be able to compete with anyone in the NFL. And I'm not just talking down the road. I'm talking immediately.

Manziel might have his quirks off the field, but he won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman. The guy knows how to play and he knows how to win.

He's not the prototype passer like Testaverde, Dilfer and Freeman were supposed to be, but weren't. Instead, Manziel is more of a cross between Fran Tarkenton and Young. He throws the ball just fine, but his legs are what set him apart. He can extend plays and make magic.

Wouldn't it be nice to see the Bucs make some magic? This is a franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2007 and hasn't won a postseason game since its Super Bowl championship 12 seasons ago.

Sure, there's always the possibility that Manziel -- or any rookie quarterback -- could come in and be a bust. It happens. But I don't think it would happen with Manziel and the Bucs. The odds would be stacked in their favor. This team is ready to be competitive if veteran Josh McCown is the starter this season. This team is ready to be more than competitive if Manziel comes in and immediately takes over as the starter.

You can make a case that all this team is missing is a franchise quarterback. The Bucs would have one if they drafted Manziel.

They'd also have the circus that comes with Johnny Football. But that's not a bad thing. Excitement, relevance and ticket sales come with a circus. If winning happens to factor into that equation, the Bucs would have the total package.

If Manziel is there, Tampa Bay needs to grab him and make one of the most important moves in franchise history.