In all likelihood, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will be long gone before the Dallas Cowboys pick at 16. But if he's not ... oh, the possibilities. And with Jerry Jones making the decisions, anything is possible.
The problems with picking Manziel, or any quarterback at 16, are obvious. The Cowboys are financially committed to Tony Romo for the immediate future. They had an historically bad defense in 2013. There are so many areas where the team needs to improve at starter and/or backup that picking a quarterback in the first round to sit on the bench is a wasted pick. Or they start Manziel and sit their $100 million quarterback on the bench. Neither is a good option.
So why can't the Cowboys draft Manziel and trade Romo? Without a lot of knowledge about salary cap rules, I thought of it this way: had Romo hit the open market, some other team would have paid him the $100 million the Cowboys did. So why couldn't that team take on Romo's salary now (assuming they make the salary cap work)?
Bob Sturm from the Ticket answered that question for me. Romo's signing bonus of $40 million is currently spread over the first five years of his contract; that's Romo's guaranteed money. If the Cowboys trade him this summer, then the $40 million hit on the salary cap is immediate and total. In short, the Cowboys are stuck with Romo, for better or worse.
I've always liked Romo, so I'm hopeful it's for the better. And because I think Romo is a good quarterback, and because the money the Cowboys are paying him is so much, there's no way Dallas can take Manziel. Either the most exciting college quarterback sits on your bench for a few years, or your $100 million quarterback does.
Good quarterbacks don't sit for two to three years anymore; they play right away. And it's not just "good" quarterbacks who are playing right away. It's easy to immediately tab a guy your starter when it's Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III (who were picked 1-2 in 2012), but even guys picked later are being plugged in, with varying degrees of success. Ryan Tannehill was picked 8th and Brandon Weeden 22nd in the 2012 draft. The top pick in 2011 was Cam Newton, who was an instant success in Carolina. But three other quarterbacks were taken in the top-12 that year, they all started right away, and I wouldn't call any of them "good" -- Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, and Christian Ponder.
Even quarterbacks taken later in the draft are asked to play right away. Geno Smith (2nd round) started all 16 games as a rookie last year for the Jets, and Mike Glennon (3rd round) started 13 for Tampa Bay.
There's another reason for the Cowboys to completely stay away from Manziel at 16 -- picking a quarterback is always a crap-shoot. Let's look at quarterbacks taken in the top-5 of the draft for the since 1998 (the year Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf went 1-2). 21 quarterbacks are on this list, and I would say eight of them have been complete failures.
For all these reasons, the Cowboys should avoid taking Manziel in the first round and instead draft someone who can help a defense that desperately needs it.