Johnny Football isn’t intent on using the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as a springboard back to the NFL.
Johnny Manziel signed a two-year deal with the Ticats on Saturday, the day before the start of Hamilton’s training camp. The former Heisman Trophy winner made the announcement on Twitter following an offseason where he actively pursued an NFL contract.
“I don’t want to wait around anymore,” Manziel said during a news conference at Tim Hortons Field. “I want a chance to get on the field and get into the locker room and get a chance to play ball again.
“This isn’t just a pit stop for me. I’m not coming here to get what I need to go back down to the NFL. I’ve signed into this for the long haul, for two years. I’m here to make the most of it.”
Manziel’s decision was big news on both sides of the border, with a host of TV cameras part of a packed media centre at Tim Hortons Field. And Manziel’s announcement was picked up by numerous news organizations in the U.S.
Manziel, 25, starred at Texas A&M, capturing the ’12 Heisman Trophy as U.S. college football’s top player. The Tyler, Tex. native was selected in the first round, No. 22 overall, in the 2014 NFL draft by the Cleveland Browns but was released in March 2016 after posting a 2-6 record over two tumultuous campaigns.
This offseason, Manziel threw at both Texas A&M and University of San Diego pro days and participated in The Spring League _ a development circuit for players overlooked by the NFL.
Manziel was honest this offseason that his primary goal was to sign an NFL contract and he’d go to the CFL if that opportunity didn’t materialize. On Saturday, Manziel said he’s not looking that far down the road.
“I don’t know what two years down the road looks like for me,” Manziel said. “Maybe I come up here and I love it and I don’t want to go anywhere.
“We’ll play it by ear and take it day by day like I’ve been doing.”
The Ticats didn’t divulge details of Manziel’s contract but it reportedly includes a $122,000 base salary with a $10,000 sign bonus and $18,000 housing stipend. Manziel is also said to receive $10,000 bonuses for being active six, 10 and 14 games as well as $120,000 bonus if he plays in half of the club’s snaps.
There’s also reportedly a $75,000 off-season bonus due March 1. Manziel’s ’18 base salary would increase to $202,000 with the same incentives.
Hamilton (6-12) finished third in the East Division last year and missed the CFL playoffs. The Ticats were 0-8 with quarterback Zach Collaros before Kent Austin resigned as head coach and was replaced on an interim basis by June Jones.
One of Jones’s first moves was naming Jeremiah Masoli his starter. Masoli rewarded Jones’s faith by leading Hamilton to a 6-4 record.
Masoli signed a two-year extension with Hamilton in January reportedly worth over $700,000 and included a $125,000 signing bonus. Jones reiterated Saturday that Masoli remains the Ticats’ starter.
“He (Manziel) has the ability to play at any level he wants to play at,” Jones said. “He’s ready to get that challenge done and accomplish what he knows he can do.
“Let me tell you something right now, he (Manziel) has got his work ahead of him to beat out Jeremiah. Now I am a firm believer, even when I was in the NFL, I wanted three quarterbacks that had started and played in the NFL. You can’t have too many quarterbacks because you’re one play away.”
Manziel becomes the fifth quarterback on Hamilton’s roster, joining Masoli, CFL veterans Bryant Moniz and Vernon Adams Jr., and youngster Dane Evans. Despite his decorated football resume, Manziel said he could live with being a backup and has set moderate goals for himself.
“I want to play as anybody does,” he said. “At the end of the day . . . I know there’s talent in our quarterback room and I respect the guys we do have.
“I know there’s going to be learning curve and I’m going to have to take some time. I have realistic goals to come in, learn the offence, learn the game and hopefully my talent and making some throws and doing some things I feel I can do on the football field will show. Like coach Jones said, whoever gives this team the best opportunity to win, whatever case that might be, whatever day that may be throughout the season I think will come to fruition.”
Manziel also had public off-field issues. In April 2016 a former girlfriend accused him of assault, and the misdemeanour assault charge was dropped after Manziel attended an anger management course, a domestic violence victim panel and substance abuse program.
Manziel has also said he’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder that he takes medication for and has candidly discussed his alcohol use while he battled depression.
In December, the CFL said it began a thorough process to determine Manziel’s eligibility. That included an assessment by an independent expert on domestic violence, a review by legal counsel, and an in-person discussion with commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
The CFL was willing to approve a 2018 contract for Manziel provided one was negotiated and he continued to meet conditions set by the league. Those conditions were confidential but the league said Saturday that Manziel must continue to abide by them.
“Recently, the league was informed that Mr. Manziel and the Tiger-Cats were close to reaching an agreement,” it said in a statement. “Subsequent inquiry confirmed Mr. Manziel has been meeting the league’s conditions.
“The league then advised him and the Tiger-Cats it would approve and register a contract for Mr. Manziel, who has also been informed that he must continue to meet these conditions to maintain his eligibility.”
Manziel is arguably the highest-profile NFL player to come to the CFL since ’06 when Ricky Williams joined the Toronto Argonauts. And with 2.23 million followers on Twitter, Manziel has no shortage of people interested in every move he makes, on and off the field.
But Manziel said he’s in a much better place in his life now than he was when he first entered the NFL.
“I remember the day I got drafted,” he said. “I was probably a little hesitant on the team I was going to and where I was going.
“It was a big jump and a lot of uncertainty from the system I ran in college to what the NFL system was going to be when I walked into the building the first day. My situation here, I’ve completely accepted this team and where I’m at that this is my best opportunity to get a chance to go out on the field and be a part of a team.
“I’ve done a lot of things in my personal life. I’ve worked extremely hard in the physical and football aspects of my life. I feel like I’m in the best place that I’ve been mentally and physically in my life.”