Johnny Football misses football and at this point, the CFL may be the best way to fulfil that need.
Out of professional football for 16 months, quarterback Johnny Manziel has been looking for another playing opportunity – without success to date. Manziel said over the weekend a void has been created by the absence of football and that he’s missing the game.
“A ton. I think the thing I realized over the past year and the thing I realized from being away from it is really how much you miss it,” the Tyler, Texas native told Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.
“That’s all I’ve known for so long. It’s what I love to do. It’s hard. It’s hard sitting here going through OTA and going through summer time and then getting ready to go through fall camp and not being part of it. But at the same time, I’m really optimistic and hopeful that I’ll get another chance. That’s what I’m holding out for every day.”
Clearly the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner yearns to get on a pro team again but the NFL seems like a long shot at this point. Manziel’s already missed organized team activities and mini-camps, which puts him behind from a reps and playbook knowledge standpoint. The 90-man rosters are full and teams will be opening training camp come late July. Barring a rash of quarterback injuries, there’s a slim chance Manziel gets another NFL opportunity in 2017.
“I didn’t think he was that good at the NFL level. If he loves football he should hope to play in the CFL and stay there forever,” an NFL executive says.
While Manziel had his ups and downs on the field with the Browns, it was his off-field behaviour that has NFL clubs wary. Manziel has been at the centre of controversy, the most serious of which involved a domestic violence charge stemming from an altercation with his then-girlfriend. In December, Manziel struck a deal with prosecutors that would see the charges dropped if he met certain conditions over the period of a year.
“I’d doubt he would get a shot this year,” an NFL source said.
If that’s the case, the CFL might be the best of Manziel’s severely limited choices.
“He could benefit from coming to the CFL, get his head right and just focus on playing ball. The CFL might be his best shot to play. It would be a learning experience for him to grow up and be the leader he needs to be,” another NFL talent evaluator said. “It might be his only option left.”
Manziel’s CFL rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who placed him on their exclusive negotiation list in September of 2012. That means the Tabbies hold the cards in terms of where Manziel could play if he ever decides to come north of the border.
“The question is do we have a need? Would it be here? Would it be elsewhere? That’s yet to be determined. We just know that Johnny has value,” Ticats general manager Eric Tillman said in March. “The off the field stuff has certainly been well documented. It’s one we’re monitoring [Manziel’s situation]. We have no idea what the time frame is.”
Of course, Manziel has already generated headlines in Canada. 3DownNation reported in February that Manziel was worked out by the Saskatchewan Roughriders, in contravention of league rules. The team denied it but Riders’ vice-president of football operations and head coach Chris Jones was fined $5,000 by the CFL for meeting with Manziel’s publicist.
Many believe the Canadian game is suited to Manziel’s skill set.
“Johnny is a guy that has extraordinary gifts. A terrific athlete, a guy that can dunk a basketball flat-footed – has huge hands. The guy’s just Houdini with the football, just an innate ability to escape and make throws. Up here he could make throws and utilize every inch of the width of our field,” Tillman said. “He’s going to be a dynamic player in Canada if he comes. We think he’s a guy that’s just electric. He could be one of the most exciting players in the Canadian Football League since Doug Flutie.”
Argos general manager Jim Popp has experience with bringing big name quarterbacks to the CFL. Troy Smith suited up for the Alouettes during his tenure there, the last Heisman Trophy winner to play in the CFL. Former Denver Broncos pivot Tim Tebow was on Montreal’s neg list for an extended period, only to be removed once Popp parted ways with the team after last season. Popp could see Manziel coming to Canada and playing the three-down game.
“If it’s going to happen, and if he wants to be in the CFL, it doesn’t matter who has his rights, he’ll be up here,” Popp said. “If he’s not up here it’s because – it can be talked about all people want and be a buzz, but if he wants to be in the CFL he will make that happen no matter who has his rights.”
Popp signed Smith in August 2013, a year and nearly two months removed from his last NFL stint. Like Manziel, Smith was waiting for a four-down chance that never came.
Smith and Manziel are both Heisman Trophy winners, both stand the same height (five-foot-11), each had eight NFL starts with similar statistics. Smith lasted just over a year with the Alouettes before being released and is now out of football.
Personnel men feel if Manziel, still just 24, can show a dedication to football and play well in the CFL, it could lead to him earning another shot in the NFL. At some point, unless an off-chance NFL contract comes, we’ll find out if Manziel truly misses football and whether that desire brings him to Canada.