While the Hamilton Tiger-Cats remain optimistic they can get a deal done with quarterback Johnny Manziel, the team’s vice president of football operations acknowledged Tuesday that there is a significant gap between the two sides.
“Well, we’re certainly hopeful always. We always go into these things with a very positive outlook but we feel like we put a very competitive, more than fair, more than reasonable offer on the table and obviously we’re very far apart,” Austin told TSN radio. “And like any other negotiation, we’ll see how it goes.”
Austin spoke with local media a day after Manziel’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, released a statement via an American-based football reporter that complained about the CFL’s negotiation list structure and suggested that his client should be the team’s No. 1 quarterback, entitled to similar compensation to the $540,000 earned by former starter Zach Collaros last season – an unusually high sum for a player who has yet to play a down in the CFL and comes with some significant personal baggage.
Burkhardt also imposed a Jan. 31 deadline, or “we will turn our focus to several other professional options readily available to us.”
Austin said he knew that the Manziel camp was going to impose some kind of a timeline, but didn’t know when it would be, or that his agent would make the deadline public on Monday afternoon.
“Erik has been unbelievably transparent, honest and fair right through this process,” Austin told The Spectator Tuesday morning. “He said there was going to be a deadline, but we didn’t know it was going to be Jan. 31.”
Over the weekend, the Ticats made Manziel a contract offer, meeting another deadline, set by the CFL and its negotiation list rules. If they hadn’t made an offer — even if it wasn’t accepted, which Burkhardt’s statement clearly indicates it wasn’t – they would have lost Manziel from their negotiation list to CFL free agency.
To keep Manziel on their negotiation list for up to a year, all the Ticats had to offer was the minimum CFL salary but Austin said their offer was well over that amount ($53,000).
Burkhardt referred to the offer as a “place-holder” and said he and Manziel consider a fair offer is for the Ticats to make Manziel their quarterback with a salary on a par with what Hamilton quarterbacks have made in recent years.
Since the Ticats just re-signed Jeremiah Masoli to a two-year contract with starting-quarterback money and traded Zach Collaros and his $540,000 contract to Saskatchewan (where it will likely be renegotiated downward) Manziel isn’t going to get a starter’s salary too. Especially since he hasn’t played a game in two years. Austin pointed out that even future Hall of Famers such as Doug Flutie and Anthony Calvillo had struggles in their early CFL careers.
“Erik is doing what he needs to do to, I get that,” Austin said. “But our offer was more than fair, more than competitive.”
Austin also said that some of the release’s wording around the Tiger-Cats giving Manziel permission to negotiate with another team was confusing. That permission was given, Austin said, but it was during negotiations earlier in the fall, not now. It’s believed Manziel and Burkhardt met with the Montreal Alouettes.
Burkhardt’s statement said that because Manziel has been impressed with Austin and head coach June Jones, they were restricting discussions to the Tiger-Cats. Until the end of this month, that is. But they have no current permission to speak to another team, Austin said.
Austin said that Burkhardt’s deadline is an artificially imposed one. He said it would “be pure speculation on my part,” so would not comment on why he thought Burkhardt would choose to make such a strong public statement.
“Things can change very quickly,” Austin cautioned. “Things are fluid. We like to stay positive.”
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