Thank you, Cleveland Browns. It appears that you will be saving the Raiders from themselves in this week's NFL draft.
The Raiders pick fifth in the first round. The Browns pick fourth, one slot ahead. And the Browns are supposedly poised to select quarterback Johnny Manziel from Texas A&M, the supernova media draft day focus.
If that's true, it is magnificent news. Then the Raiders won't be attempted to take Manziel, which would be a huge mistake. Even if the Browns pick someone else -- as one network has reported they might -- and Manziel is available to the Raiders, they should move on to another name.
Uh, excuse me, but did you watch the Raiders at all the past couple of seasons? Through the 24 defeats and eight precious victories?
Manziel, known as "Johnny Football", is getting mixed reviews in terms of whether he will be a guaranteed star or a bust when he tries to become Johnny NFL. Also, Manziel will create a distraction wherever he goes and likely needs a year or two of seasoning before he becomes a starter. But that is not really the issue.
Let's say the Raiders could -- and do -- draft Manziel. Who are the playmakers to which he can deliver the ball? Where are the wide receiver and tight end weapons?
The Raiders need playmakers. More to the point, they need plug-and-play playmakers. They need men who can step right in and make an impact, offensively or defensively. Reggie McKenzie, the general manager, must use his early choices to select healthy players with no question marks about their physical condition or their developmental background.
It sounds easy. But last spring, McKenzie flubbed that task:
Hayden and Watson may turn out to be valuable men as they move along in their careers. But they did not help the Raiders win football games last season. This week, the Raiders need to draft those sorts of players. There cannot be a third straight 4-12 season. It's no exaggeration to say that Thursday, Friday and Saturday will be the most critical three days of McKenzie's professional life.
Patience has been the byword with McKenzie in assessing his work to date, for the fairest of reasons: When he took over the Raiders in 2012, McKenzie had to rebuild the front office almost from the ground up, after the death of Al Davis and the cleanout of his "yes-men" scouts. It was almost like starting up an expansion franchise.
The question about every new general manager in the NFL is whether he is a guy with a stopwatch, or a guy who assembles an organizational culture. The difference: A guy with a stopwatch is able to identify great athletes, but then turns them over to the head coach for whatever happens next. A guy who can assemble an organizational culture is someone who identifies the best athletes to fit into the proper slots that best mesh with the concepts of the head coach.
Why is that an important distinction? The guys with a stopwatch, even if brilliant in their niche, usually do not succeed in the G.M. role. (Most recent local example: Scot McCloughan of the 49ers.) The guys who assemble an organizational culture eventually do succeed. (Most prominent local example: Al Davis in the 1970s and 1980s, until he lost his way.)
So which one is McKenzie? The jury is still out. In McKenzie's first Raiders draft two years ago, the Raiders had no picks until the end of the third round. Last year, the draft didn't wow anyone. But McKenzie's decisiveness with the quarterback situation -- acquiring veteran Matt Schaub of the Houston Texans and trading Terrelle Pryor -- was an indication that there might indeed be a master plan.
Many mock drafts this spring have the Raiders selecting Sammy Watkins, the wide receiver from Clemson. This makes perfect sense. He would surely give Schaub an exciting target. Plus, Watkins has not had major surgery this year. And he did play high school football.
McKenzie does not have to select Watkins for them to have a great draft. Perhaps he has his eye on some other talented athlete. But he had better be a plug-and-play player. And when the first round is over, if Cleveland or any other team does choose Manziel to make the Raiders' options less complicated, McKenzie needs to send them a thank you note.
Round 1: Thursday, 5 p.m., ESPN; Rounds 2-3: Friday, 4 p.m., ESPN2; Rounds 4-7: Saturday, 9 a.m., ESPN
GMs need to consider character as well as talent. PAGE 5