The game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes on Friday night will be a kind of snap referendum on the Johnny Manziel trade. If Johnny plays well and the Als win, the Ticats will look like fools for dealing away a prized prospect while their own season goes down the tubes.
This is ludicrous, of course. The transaction that sent Manziel and two offensive linemen to Montreal – both of whom are also starting against their old club – in exchange for two former all-stars and two first round picks can’t be rightly judged until Manziel has something resembling a body of work in the CFL (at the very least.) And there’s an argument to be made that the full scope of the deal won’t be realized until the return for those picks come in.
But that’s not how sports works these days, certainly not in the social media-fueled fame vortex that Manziel lives in. Johnny delivers screaming headlines, clicks and hot takes no matter where he goes and what he does and so Friday will be no different, no matter the outcome.
As a team, the Ticats have handled the Manziel mania pretty well, saying all the right things before, during and after his time in Hamilton. Even this week, head coach June Jones was more than willing to indulge in plenty of Johnny talk, despite his departure.
“It’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s exciting for the CFL, it’s exciting for all the players. The nation sees it here, the nation sees it down south. Even in Hawaii, they show it,” Jones said. “I don’t think the players will be over-hyped. I think they know the job they have to do. This is a game where we need to turn it up and play better. I think they understand that.”
But not everybody was as accommodating. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who has generally been more media-friendly this season, tersely shut down questions about facing his old teammate.
“I really have nothing to say about it,” Masoli said. “I’m not playing him. I’m playing their defence. What are you looking for here? We just trying to win, point-blank period. Doesn’t matter who we play.”
If Masoli has reached a certain level of fatigue regarding the Manziel mania, that’s certainly understandable. But there’s plenty at stake for him to, both in this matchup and in the trade in general as the Ticats essentially doubled down on their commitment to him as their starter.
There’s plenty of justification for that decision. Masoli is second in the CFL in passing yards and has thrown for 300 or more yards in 10 of his last 11 games. His work ethic is unquestionable and his teammates believe in him.
However, there’s also the six interceptions (tied for the league high) the 15 sacks taken, the 12-13 career record and the struggles in the fourth quarter. But those flaws, if that’s what they are, aren’t solely attributable to him.
He certainly has a more significant body of work than Manziel, who has yet to throw a pass in a CFL regular season game and takes over the starting job in Montreal despite having had just five practices with his new club. Starting him so quickly is “insane,” according to Manziel’s agent Erik Burkhardt.
“I think it’s a little premature. I think you’re only as good as your playcalling and your experience around you and I think everybody is trying to figure this thing out,” Burkhardt said on Manziel’s Comeback SZN podcast. “I’m a little bit uncomfortable and I think expectations need to be tempered a little bit.”
Meanwhile, Manziel is exuding plenty of confidence, despite his complete lack of experience in the CFL game.
“Everybody is saying ‘temper expectations,’ but I’m going to go out and let it rip,” Manziel said. “I’m going to go out and throw the [expletive] out of the ball, there is no doubt about that.”
While Burkhardt is hardly an objective observer on the matter, his encapsulation of what’s a stake in accurate enough: if his client goes out and strafes the Ticats, he’ll hardly be the only one questioning Hamilton’s decision to deal Manziel – premature as it may be.
“I want you to go beat their ass,” Burkhardt said. “We’re playing the team that traded him and it ain’t like they’re blowing the doors off, they’re 2-4. I think their quarterback has thrown more picks than touchdowns, so go put it on their ass.”
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