By Jerry McDonald - NFL Writer
Friday, February 21st, 2014 at 2:04 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Filed for print . . .
General manager Reggie McKenzie finally has a level playing field, but having more than $60 million available under the salary cap and a full complement of draft picks won’t get the Raiders turned around unless he finds a quarterback.
Former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel was under NFL scouting combine spotlight Friday at Lucas Oil Field. Manziel, along with Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Blake Bortles of Central Florida, are considered the three quarterbacks who could be worthy of the Raiders’ No. 5 pick in the first round.
The Raiders need many things besides a quarterback, and plan to adhere to their philosophy of serious-minded players who put the team first while evaluating more than 330 players this weekend.
Yet it’s clear if if McKenzie and coach Dennis Allen can’t find a solution to the most important position on the field, the jobs of both men could be on the line. Owner Mark Davis is watching closely, attending his first combine since taking over for his late father.
Manziel hit all the right notes in a jam-packed media session, promising to take the NFL seriously and hinting his hard-partying college days are behind him.
One problem _ he measured in at 5-foot-11 ¾, and only to quarterbacks 6-1 or under (Rex Grossman and Michael Vick) have been drafted in the first round since 1970.
“I play with a lot of heart, play with a lot of passion,’’ Manziel said. “I feel like I play like I’m 10 feet tall. A measurement to me is just a number.’’
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock ranks Bridgewater (6-foot-2 ¼, 214 pounds) as the most ready to play immediately. Bortles, at 6-foot-5 and 232 pounds, has the prototype height and size and enough mobility to get out of trouble.
Allen, a Texas A&M alum, was complimentary about Manziel but stressed the Raiders had only just begun to dig into the backrounds of potential darft picks.
“He’s able to throw the ball from the pocket and can create things with his feet,’’ Allen said in his media session. “As we get more into the evaluation process, he’ll be a fun to to evaluate.’’
While Mayock said film shows Manziel as a quarterback who becomes less comfortable when kept in the pocket, Manziel said, “I’m looking forward to showing up all the people who say I’m just an improviser. I’ve worked hard at improving my all-around game.’’
In going 8-24 over the past two seasons, the Raiders have gone through Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor, Matt Flynn and Matt McGloin as starters. Only Pryor and McGloin remain, and McKenzie and Allen are in agreement it’s possible neither is the club’s quarterback of the future.
Whether the Raiders have the right men in the building to identify the next quarterback is a fair question. Both McKenzie and Allen have backgrounds on defense, and the club whiffed on both Flynn by trade and in drafting the departed Tyler Wilson in the fourth round last season.
In a postseason meeting with the local media, McKenzie answered in the affirmative when asked if he was confident the organization could develop a quarterback. One NFL scout said the Raiders’ supporting cast is so suspect he’s not sure any quarterback could have flourished in Oakland last season.
Other notes and issues facing the Raiders as they go about their businesss in Indianapolis.
– When the draft convenes May 8-10, there is plenty of talent to choose from. Mayock called it the deepest draft he’s seen in 10 years.
– The Raiders have 17 unrestricted free agents on their roster, with whom they can negotiate exclusively until free agency begins March 11. They are are reportedly more than $60 million under the projected salary cap.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer ($11.1 million for one year) and defensive right end Lamarr Houston ($12.5 million) are candidates to get the franchise tag, although McKenzie would prefer to work out long-term deals.
Other players the Raiders are interested in bringing back are running back Rashad Jennings and free safety Charles Woodson, who Allen said “still has something left in the tank.’’’
– The Raiders, according to McKenzie, will seek a veteran quarterback in free agency even if they draft one. The pickings are slim, however, with notable names being Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Minnesota’s Josh Freeman, who had his best season in Tampa Bay working with Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson.