NFL draft confessions: The Bucs set the trap, and I took the cheese on Johnny Manziel

Bucs general manager Jason Licht is right when he says there is a lot of B.S. to sort through when discussing the NFL draft. Some of us are tired of spreading fertilizer
Mike Evans was the Bucs’ true target in the 2014 draft. But head coach Lovie Smith and other members of the organization deliberately professed their love for quarterback Johnny Manziel, above. [AP Photo/Tony Dejak, Fil]
Mike Evans was the Bucs’ true target in the 2014 draft. But head coach Lovie Smith and other members of the organization deliberately professed their love for quarterback Johnny Manziel, above. [AP Photo/Tony Dejak, Fil]
Published Apr. 20, 2018|Updated Apr. 20, 2018

TAMPA — The NFL draft is one big game of Liar's Poker. Deal me out.

Even the guys with a seat at the table don't know when someone is bluffing.

Bucs general manager Jason Licht knows that the team's No. 7 overall pick this year will be affected by how many quarterbacks are taken ahead of their selection.

"It'll definitely impact the players that will be available," Licht said. " I wish I had a crystal ball and could tell you. You hear a lot of different scenarios.

"This is the time of the year for scenarios and B.S, and you have to sort through it. Nobody knows what those teams are actually going to do. There's a lot of misinformation out there."

As we get closer to the NFL draft Thursday, the propaganda campaigns will ramp up.

Make no mistake, the media is the primary conduit for such subterfuge. But after a while, you get tired of spreading the fertilizer.

Over the years, when it comes to the draft, I have been lied to on the record. Off the record. Every kind of record.

Full confession. In 2014, Lovie Smith's first season as the Bucs head coach, he set a trap before the draft. I took the cheese.

Coincidentally, the Bucs owned the No. 7 pick. Veteran quarterback Josh McCown had signed as a free agent from the Bears. Smith relegated Mike Glennon to No. 2.

The Bucs' real target in the draft was a star at Texas A&M. But which one?

Smith did not want all the mock drafts zeroing in on their top guy. Rightly or wrongly, he believed he needed a smokescreen.

Of course, we all know now that receiver Mike Evans was the Bucs' true target. But Smith and other members of the organization deliberately professed their love for quarterback Johnny Manziel.

That's right, Johnny Football.

Just imagine.

Smith sort of piled on the cow chips. He attended Manziel's pro day. He talked about all the fall Saturdays he spent on the couch at his home near Chicago watching college football, sometimes with former Cal coach Jeff Tedford, whom he would hire as offensive coordinator.

The game has changed, he insisted. The NFL was changing with it.

Sure, Manziel had his flaws. He was undersized at 6 feet, 210 pounds. He didn't have the most accurate arm. There were plenty of alarm bells going off about his character.

But the front office, including Licht, had its assignment. Sell it: Johnny Manziel is going to the Bucs.

Even Smith tried to sound convincing when cornered before the draft.

"I had time to watch quite a few games, and I had a chance to watch him — a lot,'' Smith was quoted as saying in a story I wrote for the Tampa Bay Times before the draft. "So you add all that up.''

What he really meant was that he watched Evans go up and catch jump balls from Manziel time and time and time again.

Manziel really didn't have a ton of advocates in the NFL. Someone (and you know who you are) told me Texans coach Bill O'Brien loved him. Of course, the Texans did the right thing and took defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 1 overall pick.

ESPN NFL draft guru Mel Kiper loved Manziel. They may carve that on his tombstone. Kiper had Manziel going No. 7 to Tampa Bay.

Smith said he believed Manziel's style of play would transfer to the NFL.

"As far as how he'll take his game to the NFL level? I think most outstanding players in college, a lot of them, end up being a very good football player in the NFL,'' Smith said. "Football really is football.

"I know he's not your typical, prototype quarterback who drops back into the pocket, but there are a lot of quarterbacks doing well in the league that aren't your prototypical quarterback."

One other thing is that Smith loved Texans. McCown was a Texan. Manziel was a Texan. Evans was a Texan. That part was 100 percent true.

That's the thing about misinformation. It has to have a certain amount of truth to be believed.

I got a kick out of Saints coach Sean Payton volunteering in MMQB that none of the big four quarterbacks this year — Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield — will be confused for Carson Wentz. He was hailed for his sober honesty.

Oh, by the way, you know who benefits if anyone listens to Payton? Payton! He's looking for a young quarterback as the eventual replacement for Drew Brees but doesn't have a selection until No. 27.

"That might be his opinion,'' Licht said of Payton, smiling. "He's been in this for a really long time. He's a really sharp guy.''

So who really knows what's going to happen in the first round next Thursday? All we know about the Bucs is they expect to get a pretty good player at No. 7.

You know a team is successful at disinformation when it is linked to multiple players. In one mock draft or another, the Bucs have been linked to Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, Quinton Nelson, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Vita Vea and Derwin James.

"I'm not saying I would ever lie,'' Licht said. "But sometimes you don't need to answer questions.''

We may want to  just stop asking them.