Lovie Smith made waves at the combine this year by saying the Buccaneers would consider taking a quarterback with their seventh overall pick. Most of the media was surprised, while Mike Glennon wasn’t among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, he’d performed well in his rookie season, especially considering the injuries to Doug Martin and Mike Williams. But as time passes, the dust has settled on Smith’s statements, and I can’t help but begin to agree with him. You don’t rebuild a franchise just to join the middle of the pack, you do it to win a championship. When you look at all the elements surrounding the Bucs entering the draft, grabbing a quarterback at seven might be the sanest thing Tampa Bay can do.
10. The Bucs need to keep up with high-powered offenses in their division
Drew Brees. Cam Newton. Matt Ryan. 37.5% of every season will be decided in games against these quarterbacks. While trying to simply outscore them might not be the best strategy, you want to be able to keep the game close enough to have a chance at the end. But that opportunity is meaningless if you don’t have a quarterback with the skill set and confidence to will his team to a victory as time expires. While a stout defense should provide a lot of assistance, these quarterbacks won’t allow their offenses to be completely shut down. The Bucs need to be able to apply pressure and force mistakes by keeping the score close.
9. Lovie Smith knows the value of a top-flight quarterback
Sure, Smith’s only Superbowl appearance as a head coach came on the backs of Rex Grossman and Kyle Orton. But the Bears were a longshot to reach the Superbowl, and when they did, they were outclassed by Peyton Manning’s Colts. The Bears immediately entered the NFC contender conversation when they traded for Jay Cutler prior to the 2009 season. In 2010, they finished a touchdown away from reaching the Superbowl, which the Green Bay Packers would go on to win. While a great defense can carry a team, it doesn’t lead to sustained success. Just look at the Jets AFC Championship appearances with Mark Sanchez. A great flash in the pan, but where are the Jets now? To build success for years to come is to create consistency from the quarterback position.
8. Superbowl winning teams are built around the quarterback
I know some of you might bring up Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson here, but the days of dragging a quarterback with you to the big game are long gone. Last year was proof of that. Could Russel Wilson have lead the Seahawks to the Superbowl without a stellar defense? It’s unlikely, but that defense also couldn’t have done it without Wilson. Pete Carroll built his team around Russell Wilson’s strengths. He might not have the flash of guys like Brees, Manning, or Tom Brady, but he’s efficient and rarely gives opposing teams the football. Carroll knew Wilson wouldn’t shoot his team in the foot, so they just needed a team strong enough defensively to allow Wilson’s patience to win out. Brad Johnson’s Superbowl win with the Bucs was 11 years ago. To think the NFL landscape hasn’t changed dramatically in the last decade would be a mistake.
7. Smith and Tedford don’t like Glennon
Smith’s statements at the combine are evidence enough of this, and the signing of Josh McCown put the nail in the coffin. With only five picks in the draft, don’t be surprised if Glennon is shipped off in exchange for late round selections. Head coaches often bring in “their guys” when coming to a new team, and it seems like Smith and new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford are insistent on building this team around who they want at quarterback. Glennon’s future in the NFL isn’t done, but his future with the Bucs is.
6. McCown is a short-term solution at best
Josh McCown’s five game stretch with the Bears last year was a great story, but it’s hard to view that performance from a 34 year old career back up as the rule rather than the exception. There’s a reason the Buccaneers are McCown’s 8th NFL team (sandwiched around a year with the UFL’s Hartford Colonials). Lovie Smith clearly enjoyed coaching McCown in Chicago, and it would be great if McCown can be the starter for a year or two. But this isn’t Peyton Manning we’re talking about. McCown doesn’t bring with him the same “win now” impetus, he’s a placeholder for a future cornerstone of the franchise.
5. Tampa won’t need their rookie quarterback to start right away
The great advantage of signing McCown is that the Bucs won’t feel the need to throw whoever they draft into the fire right away. All of the big four quarterback prospects (Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, and Derek Carr) have question marks around them. Other teams looking for their future franchise quarterback, like the Vikings or the Browns, have no other options but to start whoever they draft. The Bucs have time to develop a young quarterback. McCown can be a mentor and starter this year, no one expects Tampa Bay to turn everything around and be a playoff contender right away. By allowing a rookie the time to adjust to the speed and complexity of the NFL from the bench, you give them a better chance at success when they take the starting job.
4. Tedford’s specialty is developing quarterbacks
While the Tampa Bay job will be Jeff Tedford’s first in the NFL, his experience shows his biggest strength is getting the most out of his quarterbacks. A former quarterback himself, six of the quarterbacks he coached in college were drafted in the first round, two of which (Aaron Rodgers and Trent Dilfer) went on to become Superbowl champions. Being so fresh off the college scene, Tedford has seen plenty of tape and has even coached against the quarterbacks he’s considering. His experience in the Pac-12 might also make him more capable of converting an unconventional quarterback like Manziel into an NFL star.
3. A quarterback could be the best value at pick seven
The Bucs already addressed some of their pass rush need by signing Michael Johnson, and it isn’t a wild prediction to say stud wide receiver Sammy Watkins will be gone by the time pick seven rolls around. Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack will likely be off the board as well, but the Bucs could very conceivably have their choice between two or three of the top four quarterback prospects when they go on the clock. They won’t be hamstrung or forced into grabbing a quarterback just because of their draft position (see: the Jaguars picking Blaine Gabbert). They’ll be able to pick the guy who best fits the system they are implementing.
2. Smith visited Bortles and Manziel’s Pro Days
Many teams might have sent scouts or other front office personnel to the pro days of the top quarterbacks in this year’s draft, but only teams who are very serious about taking that player send their head coach. Smith was in attendance at the pro days of Bortles and Manziel, bringing along Tedford to College Station to check out Johnny Football. These weren’t just courtesy visits, Smith wanted to see with his own eyes how these quarterbacks performed. It’s not wild to think Smith and Tedford discussed how they could build their franchise around Manziel while at his pro day.
1. Manziel has lots of critics, Lovie Smith isn’t one of them
Manziel had to deal with the black spot that has plagued a few college quarterbacks in recent memory: being compared to Tim Tebow. While his off-field antics are nothing like the angelic Tebow, people saw his college success as just that: something that worked in college but couldn’t translate to the NFL. People say his mechanics are off, that he too quickly looks to run rather than checking down to other receiving options. Despite all that, Smith isn’t buying into the harsh criticism, telling the Tampa Bay Times, “Football really is football. I know (Manziel is) not your typical prototype quarterback, drop back into the pocket, but there are a lot of quarterbacks doing very well in the league that aren’t your prototypical quarterback.” Is Russell Wilson protypical? Colin Kaepernick? Ben Roethlisberger? No. But they have five Superbowl appearances and three rings between them. When Texas A&M joined the SEC, analysts said it would be years before they could compete with their conference competition. Manziel turned that around in one year. People might not think the Bucs can turn it around right away, but could Manziel once again be the guy to prove all doubters wrong? Lovie Smith certainly seems to think so, and I can’t find a way to disagree.