When Johnny Manziel and other top quarterbacks in the 2014 NFL draft—namely Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater—started taking official visits to New England, alarm bells started sounding across the NFL landscape.
Is Tom Brady's exit being planned?
The Patriots are likely just doing their homework. Advance scouting, previewing potential trade-down scenarios, starting a free-agent dossier...they all make a lot of sense. Probably more sense than pushing Brady out. While that scenario may seem far-fetched—Brady has shown very few signs of slowing down—there is always a little bit of truth in each and every obfuscation.
This could all be a moot point. Manziel and Bridgewater could go No. 1 and No. 2 in the draft, and Belichick would have a little bit of information that could help down the line.
Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah said as much on NFL Network's Path to the Draft (h/t Bryan Fischer, NFL.com):
You have to do your homework, first of all. It is hard to predict where the quarterbacks will go in this draft class. We could easily see one of these guys slide down the board and Tom Brady isn't getting any younger. But these quarterbacks, just because they get drafted by a team doesn't mean they're going to play there from start to finish. A lot of times teams will do their homework on these guys so that when they hit free agency and are on the market, they have a good background on them.
However, if the New England Patriots are on the clock in the first round and Manziel—or Bridgewater—is on the board, I think they send the greater New England area into hysterics and draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Green Bay Packers fans weren't happy when their team selected a free-falling Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL draft. Rodgers sat for three years behind the legendary Brett Favre before taking the reins in 2008. He led the Packers to a Super Bowl victory in his third season as starter. Packers fans were happy then.
Delayed gratification is a hard sell.
Not every team can be lucky—pun intended—like the Indianapolis Colts. Franchise quarterbacks like Peyton Manning don't just leave and get suddenly replaced with another like Andrew Luck. Most teams—good ones anyway—plan to ensure a smooth transition from quarterback to quarterback. Favre to Rodgers. Montana to Young.
If you find yourself needing a franchise quarterback, it is often far too late to start looking for one.
Adding Manziel as a backup to Brady might seem like overkill. There are positions that need far more attention than quarterback. The Patriots have a championship-caliber team that is missing just a few parts to potentially put it over the edge. Many fans want the team to go "all-in." That would be a mistake.
The 2014 NFL draft isn't just for the 2014 season. It sets the table for the next five years. Will Tom Brady—or the player we know as Tom Brady—still be around in five years? That isn't something that Bill Belichick is likely to leave to chance.
There is a young core of talent on offense and defense in New England that could contend for the next decade if it has a top quarterback to bring everything together. You don't throw away an extra six or seven chances at a title just to potentially sweeten one current iteration. That isn't what made the New England Patriots the New England Patriots: a team with three Super Bowl rings and more division titles than anyone in the league since 2001.
In addition to a being a cold-hearted strategist, Belichick is a master of deception. I might be the sucker born this minute. I could be the fool he is playing. He might be sitting back laughing as the media jump and titter as he pulls the strings.
This might be a smokescreen, but when I peer through the haze on Manziel's visit, I see fire.