Writer and philosopher George Santayana once said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
If the Oakland Raiders truly want to move forward and build a championship organization, both the team’s brain trust as well as the faithful across the Raider Nation would do well to heed those words. With many pundits projecting it and Raider fans clamoring for it, GM Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen are no doubt feeling the pressure to take Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in the draft. And coy comments from both men about the quarterback situation in Oakland have only served to stoke those already blazing fires. But the inescapable fact of the matter is that the Raiders would be falling into the same horrible traps Al Davis did in his later years and would likely set the franchise back, perhaps by years, if they took Johnny Football with their first-round pick.
This is a story that Raider fans should be very familiar with. You have a highly touted quarterback entering the draft — a quarterback with freakish athletic gifts, a cannon for an arm, knack for winning, few questionable transgressions and very colorful, storied and highly successful college career. Sound familiar yet? If you’re one of the Oakland faithful, it should. Coming out of LSU in 2007, JaMarcus Russell was as celebrated and hyped as Manziel is today. Russell was tabbed a “can’t miss prospect” and a “once in a generation talent.” A 7-18 record as a starter, 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, a QB rating of 65.2, drug arrest and partridge in a pear tree later, it’s pretty safe to say that the “once in a generation” talent that was JaMarcus Russell missed. And missed badly.
Fans of Johnny Football will assert that Manziel is not Russell and Russell is not Manziel. Obviously. But uniform number aside, there are some striking similarities between the two. Not acknowledging that fact is the same sort of myopia that the late Davis suffered from in the later years of his career. There is no question that Johnny Manziel is a talented quarterback. He’s got a lengthy list of highlight reel plays to his credit. There is an aura and a mystique that surrounds him. He was a winner in college. All things that while true, can also be attributed to JaMarcus Russell.
Will Manziel turn out to be the second coming of Joe Montana? Or will he be the second coming of Jamarcus Russell? We obviously don’t know yet. What we do know is that he is not the right fit for a Raiders squad that has more questions than answers at this point. With a defense that couldn’t have stopped Manziel’s A&M squad last year, an offensive line that had trouble keeping their quarterback upright and no receiver that can really stretch the defense, there is no shortage of areas the Raiders need to address through free agency and the draft. The organization, now that it is free of Davis’ questionable personnel moves and with some flexibility under the cap, need to build the team from the ground up. Which means they need to make smart, solid moves in the draft and free agency rather than going all in on an untested rookie quarterback.
There is no question that in this, their third year in control, Allen and McKenzie’s jobs are on the line. Without marked improvement from a 4-12 squad, they will likely be out of work by the end of the season. Manziel, talented though he may be, is not going to come in and magically transform the team into a winner on his own. Not without the team building a solid foundation first. That means Allen and McKenzie must resist the temptation to buy into the mystique of Johnny Football and make intelligent football decisions rather than try to just grab some headlines. They need to make decisions for the team like their jobs depended upon it. Because they very well might.
Manziel is a sexy pick filled with a ton of potential and upside. But once upon a time, so was Russell and his legacy is one that left a taste so foul in the mouths of Raider fans that they’re only just now washing it out. The Raider brain trust shouldn’t force their fans to eat another steaming helping so soon.