Should the Dallas Cowboys Make Johnny Manziel Their Next Franchise Quarterback?

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistApril 25, 2014

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel passes the ball during a drill at pro day for NFL football representatives in College Station, Texas, Thursday, March 27, 2014. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)
Patric Schneider

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is 34 years old and has undergone surgery on his back twice in less than a year. Naturally, it's fair to wonder if and when the Cowboys front office will seek a potential long-term replacement for its franchise's oldest, yet most important player. 

It's no secret that owner/general manager Jerry Jones likes when he and his team make headlines, and it's been quite some time since the NFL draft has possessed a headline-maker like Johnny Manziel. If Jones wants himself a rock-star quarterback, this could be his chance. 

ESPN's Ed Werder suggested this week that it's possible Jones could make Manziel a Cowboy with that No. 16 overall pick.

This isn't necessarily sane, but it might not be crazy. That's the problem with the crapshoot that is the NFL draft. We talked earlier this week about the fact the 'Boys would be better off blowing things up if they don't succeed in 2014, and the likelihood of that happening is high. These days, the easiest way to rebuild in a quick, efficient fashion is by grooming your next franchise quarterback, sometimes before his predecessor has left town. 

That happened in Green Bay, where Aaron Rodgers backed up Brett Favre for the first three years of his NFL career, starting zero games during that span. If Manziel were to hold a clipboard just as long in Dallas, he'd get his chance to start three months before his 25th birthday. 

Sure enough, Rodgers made his first start in Green Bay about exactly three months before his 25th birthday. 

Quarterbacks have long shelf lives in this league, so there'd be nothing wrong with a delayed start like that. It happens all the time, and it could be good for a player like Manziel, whose game may need some polishing before he can be an effective NFL quarterback. 

So it would be possible for the Cowboys to let Romo play for the lion's share of that lucrative six-year contract extension he signed last offseason while also preparing his successor. Such a strategy would also give them insurance in case Romo runs out of gas early from a health or performance standpoint.

Hell, it could even place enough extra pressure on Romo to finally push him to win some playoff games. If he doesn't succeed, he could be cut or even traded, especially now that he has already received the majority of the guaranteed money that came with that $108 million extension. 

Jones clearly is infatuated with Manziel. They've met "on multiple occasions over the last few months," according to Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News. And as Werder said, he was reportedly "raving about" Manziel this weekend in front of Romo. 

The last time Dallas took a quarterback in Round 1...
YearQuarterbackRound picked
2009Stephen McGee4th
2007Isaiah Stanback4th
2001Quincy Carter2nd
1991Bill Musgrave4th
1989Troy Aikman1st
Pro Football Reference

Of course, there's a very strong chance Manziel doesn't last 15 picks. Werder also reported this week that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers "would seriously consider" taking him seventh. He's also been tied to the Browns, has worked out for the Texans and could be targeted by quarterback-needy teams Oakland, Minnesota and Jacksonville, all of whom pick in the top eight. 

It's one thing to pick Manziel 16th, but it's another for a team with as many needs as Dallas to trade up multiple spots in order to land a long-term project who is far from guaranteed to deliver as an NFL player.

Jones is a gambler who rarely stays put in the draft—he has traded 80 percent of his first-round picks since buying the team 25 years ago—but that Dallas defense has more holes than Bonnie and Clyde's getaway car. Mortgaging the rest of this draft, or parts of future drafts, for Manziel would be viewed by many as a reckless and myopic move. 

Regardless, if he winds up in Dallas, a reasonable argument can be made that Manziel has the ability to sweep this franchise and its fans off their feet. He's not a conventional quarterback prospect, but those conventions are shifting quickly.

Guys like Drew Brees (6'0") and Russell Wilson (5'11") have crushed the myth that height is required to be an elite quarterback, which is good for the 6'0" Manziel. Mobility is more important than ever, which also helps. The game has changed, even in the last five years, and Manziel's style might translate better now than at any point in the past. 

You won't get anything close to a consensus here, and the trustworthy Gil Brandt doesn't see the fit from an organizational standpoint, which is understandable. 

But on and off the field, there's an obvious connection to be made. 

"I think Manziel brings energy, he brings leadership, brings a competitiveness," said ESPN's Mel Kiper during a conference call this week, per Machota. "He’ll bring that it factor. He has it. He’s got that magic that everybody talks about."

And this is a guy who might actually be tailor-made for the media crush and the frenzied atmosphere in the football capital of the world, as David Whitley points out at

Dallas QB might be the most scrutinized job in America. Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Derek Carr aren't used to having TMZ reporters tail them to the bathroom. Manziel has lived that life for more than a year. The spotlight not only didn't bother him, it seemed to inspire him.

The Cowboys always seem to end up, or try to end up, with players like this. Just as they did with Dez Bryant in 2010, Morris Claiborne in 2012 and Roy Williams back in 2002. And just as they wished they had with Randy Moss in 1998. 

Manziel is as marketable a prospect as you'll find, which might not matter to your average fan in Fort Worth, but it is a factor for Jerry Jones the businessman. When Jones wears that hat, when he views this franchise as an entertainment company, Manziel's popularity matters. And the fact that he's no sure thing also means the Cowboys—and Jerry's brand—will continue to dominate ESPN's fodder-filled programming for years to come. 

That aside, the Cowboys should soon be looking for a fresh start. The glitzy Manziel doesn't offer a departure as far as other quarterback prospects, and this team has many needs elsewhere, but quarterback should be a legitimate immediate priority. You can't win without one in this league, and the clock is ticking on Romo. Nobody knows when exactly midnight arrives. 

At least Manziel would appear to mesh with the culture that exists in the Dallas football world. Whether that's a good thing or bad thing is up for debate, but such a move could be viewed years from now as a stroke of genius.