Bill Belichick’s legacy as the greatest head coach of all time is perhaps built on making bold decisions more than anything else. Some have been wildly successful (Brady over Bledsoe, cutting Lawyer Milloy) while others have turned around to bite him (4th & 2, benching Malcolm Butler). Still, he has proven he is not afraid to go against the grain, and try what others will not in the name of winning football games. Now, coming off of one of the most embarrassing coaching performances in NFL history, is Belichick again trying to flaunt his flair for the dramatic? Are the Patriots really going to sign Johnny Manziel?
Yes, they’ve been a presence at both of his major workouts. But the Patriots always do their due-diligence, researching every player, exploring every option, considering all angles. It’s no secret the Patriots need to add a quarterback this season, they just may be studying every quarterback on the market. Perhaps they are equally looking into the likes of Geno Smith and Austin Davis, but those guys don’t have public workouts. When it comes to the Patriots, fans and media alike love to look for the deeper meaning in every little action, when sometimes you just have to take things at face value.
But what if instead of taking the Patriots actions at face value, we instead look at Manziel without all the bells and whistles. Here we have a 25 year old former Heisman winner and first round pick just sitting on the free agent market, desperate to get back into the NFL even if it means at a reduced rate. We all know how Belichick will often value players based on their original draft position, even years removed for their selection. Plus, with his mobility and football instincts, Manziel would be an ideal fit for the type of offense Josh McDaniels ran while he was the head coach of the Broncos and the offensive coordinator of the then St. Louis Rams. Would a guy like this, throwing the name and history aside, be a candidate to be McDaniel’s heir apparent to Tom Brady? Ideally, yes. And if Belichick, McDaniels, and Robert Kraft feel like Manziel has worked through the demons of his past, he is the exact kind of player they love to have in training camp.
However, just because he is a option to backup/replace Brady, doesn’t mean he is THE option. There are still plenty of talented kids in the draft who are younger, and more importantly don’t have the inherent risks Maziel brings. If we combine the fantasy and reality, there is a good to very good chance the research the Patriots are doing on Manziel is because they see him as a plan B, if they cannot get their guy in the draft. As important as finding Tom Brady’s replacement is, New England does still have more immediate needs such as a left tackle, inside linebacker, etc. If Bill Belichick feels he doesn’t have the draft capital to get a quarterback he trusts, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him bypass the position completely, and give Johnny Manziel a chance to prove himself. Worst comes to worst, the Patriots would have another shot at a quarterback again in the 2019 Draft (which will have some serious value talent).
Should the Patriots sign Johnny Manziel? I certainly like the upside. But if a guy like Baker Mayfield or Mason Rudolph is available to them in the draft, I’d still rather see the Patriots go that way. Manziel is a tantalizing prospect who’s ceiling is not only one of the most fun playmakers in the NFL, but one of the great retribution stories in sports history. But at the end of the day, the quarterback position is not a place to take risks, and if the Patriots have a chance to compete in the post-Brady era, they need somebody more reliable than a guy who has faced multiple career suspensions at the age of 25.
And therein lies the inescapable truth of Johnny Manziel. If you take away his past and view him at face value, it’s easy to see success. But the NFL, like life, doesn’t work that way. He will always be defined as the wild and careless Johnny Football we knew and loved at Texas A&M, until he concretely proves otherwise. Even Tiger Woods has had to go through/is currently running the gauntlet through a similar trial of public opinion. I’d love to see an NFL team, the Patriots or not, take a chance on him though, and watch him prove me and the rest of us wrong.
P.S. Imagine if the Patriots added Johnny Manziel AND Odell Beckham in the same offseason…