The Tampa Bay Buccaneers enter the 2014 NFL Draft with short-term needs at a handful of positions, as a wide receiver, guard, and tight end who can block could step in and contribute right away on Lovie Smith's team. However, there's a long-term need that the Buccaneers have discussed and been connected with all offseason, and that's under center.
There's never been a long-term quarterback in Tampa, as no rookie signal caller has ever reached his second contract with the Bucs, and no veteran has hung around for more than a couple of years. The most notable QBs in team history either succeeded in Tampa for a brief time (Brad Johnson) or were successful elsewhere (Doug Williams, Trent Dilfer, Steve Young).
Lovie Smith shares a similar long-term struggle at the quarterback position, as his Chicago Bears teams never had the right group on offense to make win a Super Bowl. He's famous for being a good enough coach to bring a Rex Grossman-led Bears squad to the final weekend of the season, but it was ultimately his offense which let him down and led to his firing after the 2012 season.
But Smith is back after taking a year off from football, and he seems ready to learn from his mistakes. He almost certainly knows that those mistakes begin at the quarterback spot on offense. So who will the Buccaneers target to give Smith his franchise guy in Tampa?
"We want to be a fast football team as much as anything, so we like athletic ability and a little bit of quickness and speed at every position," said the new Bucs' head coach at a pre-draft press conference at One Buc Place. He would continue to say that "every position" also means quarterback. Luckily for him, this draft is loaded with athletic talents at the position.
(Side note: This is probably the main reason why Mike Glennon was quickly relegated to the bench upon the signing of Josh McCown. Glennon does some things well, but being athletic is certainly not one of them.)
So who will the Buccaneers target when the draft kicks off? It's easy to say Johnny Manziel is the guy, as the dynamic QB from Texas A&M has wowed fans in the Southeast for two years as he trounced vaunted SEC defenses and made a name for himself on and off the field.
After all, Manziel is not only fast, but he's quick, and shifty, and brings an added dimension at quarterback. He also allegedly caught the attention of Bucs' GM Jason Licht during his visit to Tampa, prompting Licht to say Manziel had a "...very impressive interview. We had a great day with him. Lovie and him both have Texas roots. We enjoyed every minute that he was here. Sharp guy."
But we all know this is "lying season," so let's play devil's advocate. Does Jeff Tedford really want Manziel running his offense?
There's a difference between mobility and running ability at quarterback, and based on history, we can say that Tedford prefers the former, while Manziel has the latter. Tedford's best quarterbacks were capably mobile, but weren't speedsters who broke the pocket and juked defenders out of their shoes. Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers were quick enough to get out of the pocket, but what made Rodgers so great in particular was his presence and awareness about where to go and when to go there when facing pressure.
And that's what's important to Tedford, because it's what he likes to call "having all the answers to the test." He wants order and balance on offense, because he wants his players to understand what they should do in any given situation. Being under pressure is only a problem when a player doesn't know how to respond, but for Tedford, his approach is to make sure that's never an issue.
The problem with Manziel is that one of his top "talents" heading into the draft is what many call his "football instinct." Manziel seems to spin and duck and dodge at just the right time, or find a way to make a bad play into a good one with changed directions and lobbed passes under duress. This flies in the face of what Tedford wants.
Take for example Manziel's most famous of plays, his scramble and lob against Alabama. If you don't remember, here's a gif...
If you watch closely, at the beginning of the play, you see Manziel spin away from his receivers because there's the slightest bit of collapse in the pocket. You'll also see two receivers running open to his short right, both would have been easy completions.
This is the sort of thing that sets Manziel apart to most, but will make Jeff Tedford attempt to grow hair just so he can pull it out.
It's the same reason why the Buccaneers pursued Josh McCown instead of Michael Vick, who they were linked to heavily at the start of the offseason. Vick is also an improviser, and it leads to things like this in the NFL...
Jeff Tedford will prefer quarterbacks who make quick decisions and follows the plan as its constructed, and that's why his team has brought in McCown, and why it will likely avoid Manziel.
So which quarterbacks fit the mold for a Jeff Tedford offense? Both Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr are more than capable athletes who can get outside the pocket when needed. Bridgewater has the added element of being a good thrower on the run, while Carr has a very good arm and a quick release which will suit him well in the Bucs' new offense.
In essence, Carr and Bridgewater are like the Josh McCown to Manziel's Mike Vick. Neither are as dazzling, neither are as polarizing, and both are much more likely additions to the roster in Tampa.
Ultimately, Jeff Tedford might not get to have a say in which quarterback the Bucs pursue when the draft begins, and Jason Licht and Lovie Smith's Texas roots may have blinded them to any other input on Manziel, locking them in to draft the former Aggie at all costs. But if Licht amd Smith have spoken with the man set to call the shots on offense this fall at all, they likely got a resounding "no" when it came to the man known as Johnny Football.
Whether the Bucs even take a quarterback is also up for debate, but if the Bucs are wise, and do what's best for their new offensive coordinator, they'll add an athlete at quarterback who isn't going to forget to study for Jeff Tedford's tests.