INDIANAPOLIS — It might be going too far to call Lovie Smith a liar. Even if you follow that up by saying he's a nice one.
That's what Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated did the other day, saying essentially, that he's not buying Smith's defense of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
Bedard praised Smith for having great character and being a terrific leader of men. But he said "he's also one of the worst serial offenders when it comes to the liars' season that is the NFL offseason."
Smith shook up the NFL scouting combine on Wednesday by proclaiming that from what the Bucs had determined through background research, he would have no trouble making Winston the face off the franchise.
He said it during a meeting of three beat writers that I was a part of. He repeated it an hour later in a media session at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"We have a lot more research to do, and we'll do that, but right now, with the information I have right now, we haven't taken him off of our list or anything like that," Smith said.
Smith always has been the kind of coach who always has his players' backs. His coaches', too.
He had enough lousy quarterbacks in Chicago and no shortage of offensive coordinators, too. Bedard covered Smith and the NFC North, so he has heard the praise Smith heaped on those men right before he fired them.
It's not like he ever had a discouraging word for Josh McCown, who was released two weeks ago.
The most recent evidence of Bedard's pants-on-fire description of Smith occurred around this time last year. Shortly after being hired by the Bucs, he was quick to note that cornerback Darrelle Revis could find a role in his Tampa 2 defense and they planned to play plenty of man coverage to take advantage of his cover skills.
That's exactly what would've happened, except Revis was owed $16 milllion per year. After analyzing the roster and realizing that money could fill three needs, Revis was released. Does that make Smith a liar? Not when you consider the Bucs offered Revis a two-year deal worth about $22 million, fully guaranteed.
You can't blame Revis for deciding to sign with the Patriots, a regular in the playoffs, for $12 million guaranteed in 2014. He won a Super Bowl, afterall. Revis could be on the move again this season since his salary cap hit would be $25 million in 2015. I would imagine Patriots coach Bill Belichick would say he wants Revis back. If Revis doesn't restructure and leaves via free agency to seek his fourth team in as many years, I don't think anyone will call Belichick a liar.
There are plenty who don't buy that Smith could ever welcome a player with the off-field baggage that Winston is carrying. But the coach has had troubled players before such as Tank Johnson and running back Cedric Benson. One could argue those experiences would make Smith less likely to gamble on Winston. Or you could suggest that Smith believes he can help these players.
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The Bucs are going to select a quarterback with the No. 1 overall pick. They claim to have a favorite, and given his experience in a pro-style offense, it would most certainly seem to be Winston.
Bedard's argument is that Mariota would be a dream quarterback for Smith given they both have "bullet-proof character."
Another theory boosting the Bucs' preference for Mariota is that offensive coordinator Dick Koetter worked with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich for nine seasons. Koetter hired Helfrich with the Ducks and took him to stops at Boise State and Oregon State. Teams love inside information on players and Helfrich can provide it. Furthermore, the theory goes, the Bucs hired Mike Bajakian as their quarterbacks coach, and he ran a version of the spread option at Tennessee.
Of course, the Vols have had four quarterbacks in the past two seasons, and their struggle at that position might be just as responsible for Bajakian's choice of offensive schemes.
Smith sees his role as not just a head coach but as a developer of young men. A father figure in many cases.
"I am involved and I do give advice, and a lot of times it steps from coach to father figure," Smith said last week.
There's nothing wrong with not buying Winston as the best quarterback for the Bucs. A lot of people are in that camp. But there's no evidence that Smith is lying about Winston. In fact, everything points to the Bucs taking the guy who is a plug-and-play NFL quarterback. Smith believes he can help him. And there's little doubt Winston can help the Bucs.