In many respects, Johnny Manziel and the XFL seem like the perfect match, the famous bad boy quarterback performing as the bear on a bicycle in the middle of Vince McMahon’s resurrected three-ring circus of a football league.
But while Manziel immediately expressed interested in the newly re-launched XFL on Thursday McMahon, a staunch conservative and supporter of U.S. president Donald Trump, may not want Johnny Football in his new league for ethical reasons.
McMahon held a press conference to officially announce the re-launch of the Xtreme Football League on Thursday, saying the league would return in 2020. The XFL will include eight teams, 40-man active rosters and a 10-week regular-season schedule. McMahon said the schedule could begin in late January or early February and no cities or TV partners were named.
If the schedule portion of the announcement holds true – and there are more questions than answers at this point – that would place the XFL between the end of the NFL season in early February and the start of the CFL season in mid-June in 2017. There is, however, talk of moving up the start of the Canadian season even further.
During the press conference, which was streamed online, Manziel tweeted out “#XFL2020 @VinceMcMahon” then followed it up with an Instagram post that included his #ComeBackSZN hashtag.
“Myself, Vince McMahon and Prez. That’s a brand I can really get behind right there,” Manziel tweeted, referring to a Barstool Sports personality.
The XFL, McMahon and Manziel were all trending on Twitter at one point on Thursday. Because of course they were.
Manziel, whose CFL rights are owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, has been in negotiations with the club but has not yet reached an agreement. His agent, Erik Burkhardt, issued a statement earlier this month broadly outlining their financial demands while also setting a Jan. 31 deadline to get a deal done.
While Manziel may see the XFL as a viable option, McMahon seemed to rule out the idea. In response to a question about Manziel and fellow quarterbacks Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick being invited to play in the league, McMahon said players with a history of “criminality” would be excluded from playing.
“When I said the quality of human being is very important and just as important as the quality of the player what I mean by that you want someone who does not have any criminality whatsoever associated with them,” McMahon said. “In the XFL, even if you have a DUI you will not play in the XFL. That would probably eliminate some of them, not all of them.
“If Tim Tebow wants to play, he could very well play.”
Manziel was charged in January 2016 after being accused of hitting and threatening former girlfriend Colleen Crowley. He reached, and subsequently completed, a dismissal agreement that required him to complete an anger management class, attend a domestic violence impact panel and participate in a substance-abuse program.
Still, under McMahon’s exceedingly broad definition, Manziel would be out – as would a significant portion of players who might be interested.
The original XFL in 2001 had eight teams, mostly in major U.S. markets but after a hot start, ratings plummeted and it lasted just one season. Gimmicks like nicknames on the jerseys – former CFLer Rod Smart’s “He Hate Me” was the most famous – plenty of wrestling crossover and terrible football quickly doomed the league.
McMahon said Thursday he’s learned from those mistakes – there will be no WWE involvement, though he remains chairman – and said the long lead-up from announcement to kickoff was in part designed to fix previous mistakes, particular the quality of the play. But he also tossed out the idea of a two-hour game and eliminating halftime.
If getting back to the NFL is Manziel’s ultimate goal, then the CFL remains his best option – particularly given the timelines. But if Manziel’s main interests lie in further developing his celebrity presence and marketing opportunities, then the XFL makes perfect sense.
“Johnny Famous” has a nice ring to it. But it’s not about football.
— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) January 25, 2018
– with files from AP