The final phase of NFL scouting has begun. Many of the teams are now flying prospects to their complexes to get a closer look. The collegiate career, all-star games, scouting combine and on-campus pro scouting days are all complete. Now is the opportunity for the teams to evaluate each prospect's character, personality and chalkboard skills.
The consequence of drafting a player who has off-the-field, substance abuse or violence issues are dire. With these types of issues, the team potentially loses the player and then experiences an acceleration of deferred signing bonus and "dead cap space." As a result, the team may not only lose the player but they also lose the ability to replace him due to salary-cap restrictions.
There will be a "dead week" in scouting before the draft, and the spectacle of actual drafting commences on May 8. The Houston Texans are in the unique position of holding the first overall pick.They can draft in their No. 1 position or trade it for additional draft picks. Texans owner Bob McNair and General Manager Rick Smith are brilliant and accomplished sports professionals who have built a powerhouse franchise that simply went off the tracks last year.
Obviously they do not need my advice or pressure to make the right decision with the first pick. But I have represented 60 first-round picks and the very first pick in the first round in eight separate years. Here are my variables and considerations:
When President Bill Clinton ran for office, his focus was simple: "It's the economy ... stupid." In the same vein, to build a winning franchise in the contemporary NFL: "It's the franchise quarterback ... stupid." It takes tremendous judgment on multiple fronts to win in the NFL, but the key to getting to and winning in the playoffs and Super Bowl is having the right franchise quarterback as the leader.
NFL football has evolved from a run-first mentality to a pass-first mentality. Having a quarterback that a team can build around for the next 10-12 years is the critical building block for success. This means having a "win because of" quarterback rather than a "win with" quarterback, one who can elevate his play in adverse and critical circumstances to take a team to victory.
Franchise quarterbacks are not easy to find. It is not just a matter of drafting them -- the modern cap considerations force a team to start a first-round draft pick immediately.
No longer is there room for the tutelage and continued development that players like Aaron Rodgers, Carson Palmer and even Brett Favre experienced. Forget the fast starts of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Robert Griffin III -- normally a rookie year for a quarterback is filled with misadventure and a learning curve.
A strong offensive line and a good defense can greatly assist the rookie QB's transition. The right quarterback coach is another essential. The press and fans have high expectations and a young learning quarterback can have his confidence broken with premature "bust" assessments.
Look at the 1999 draft: Tim Couch, Akili Smith and Cade McNown were all top first-round picks who under-performed. Tom Brady was a sixth-round draft pick, Russell Wilson was a third-round pick and both over-performed and out-paced expectations. These examples clearly evidence that there are multiple ways for a team to fill the QB position, but generally it is the top of the first round where the greatness is found. From John Elway to Troy Aikman to the Manning brothers to Andrew Luck -- the top of the draft should provide the best.
Houston has to believe it will never be this high up in draft order again. Jadeveon Clowney may be a great player, but Houston has already taken the Mario Williams route. The Texans need a quarterback. A hundred miles up the road at Texas A&M is where to find the solution. Johnny Manziel is a freakishly gifted savant at the QB position -- bright, good arm strength, a fiery leader, and the most amazing ability to sustain plays of any quarterback in modern history. With him at the helm, every game is winnable.
I don't represent Johnny, but if I owned or managed a team, I would start with him on May 8.
-- Leigh Steinberg has represented many of the most successful athletes and coaches in football, basketball, baseball, hockey, boxing and golf, including the first overall pick in the NFL draft an unprecedented eight times, among more than 60 first-round selections. His clients have included Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and he served as the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Follow him on Twitter @leighsteinberg.