Ticats head coach Jones still thinks Manziel could be ‘the best player to ever play’ in the CFL

If any existed beforehand, there’s no doubt now the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are Jeremiah Masoli’s team.

Hamilton made that emphatic statement Sunday night by dealing quarterback Johnny Manziel to the Montreal Alouettes as part of a five-player deal that also included two draft picks. The Ticats signed the former Heisman Trophy winner to a two-year deal amid much fanfare prior to training camp but after two exhibition appearances Manziel saw no regular-season action playing behind Masoli.

“I think it makes a statement to (Masoli) that he’s the guy,” said Ticats head coach June Jones, whose first move last year upon being named interim head coach was to promote Masoli to the starter’s role.

Masoli went 6-4 as Hamilton’s starter last year and had registered a record-tying nine straight 300-yard performances before last week’s 31-20 home loss to Saskatchewan. Masoli completed 20-of-28 passes for just 184 yards and an interception, prompting chants from the Tim Hortons Field faithful for Manziel.

With Manziel gone, Masoli can work on righting an offence that’s scored one TD in nine quarters without looking over his shoulder. Masoli, for one, was surprised by Sunday’s trade.

“I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “That’s the business we’re in, that’s how it works.

“I definitely feel that vote of confidence and respect and it makes me feel good for sure. But at the same time we’re just focused on this, we’ve got to get the ball back rolling here on offence.”

Last December, Jones raised eyebrows when he said he felt Manziel could be the best player ever to come to the CFL. He didn’t back away from that assertion at all following practice Monday.

“I still think that,” Jones said. “I think he needs to get on the field to get himself back to playing football.

“I don’t think we were helping him, watching.”

Jones and the Ticats won’t have to wait long to see Manziel again. Hamilton visits Montreal on Aug. 3.

“I think he’ll play, probably his first start will be against us,” Jones said. “And he’ll make a bunch of plays, that’s what he does.

“We’ve got to be better than him.”

Manziel is arguably the highest-profile NFL player to come to the CFL since 2006 when Ricky Williams joined the Toronto Argonauts. And with 2.22 million Twitter followers, Manziel has no shortage of people interested in every move he makes, on and off the field.

Manziel attracted much attention from south of the border during training camp but each day not only willingly spoke to reporters but answered each and every question.

Masoli said Manziel was well liked in Hamilton’s locker room and was a solid teammate.

“I know guys liked him, we all liked him, we thought he was a good guy for sure,” Masoli said. “I appreciated him when he was here, he was definitely supportive of me and helped me out.

“I know there’s a lot of attention (surrounding Manziel) for sure but I thought it was positive for the most part . . . it wasn’t really a distraction for us like that like it could be on teams that are a little less mature.”

Sunday’s trade capped a 16-month process between the Hamilton and Montreal. Ticats’ GM Eric Tillman said initial trade talks began between the two in March 2017 and last fall the Steeltown club gave the Alouettes permission to work Manziel out.

Tillman said Masoli’s firm hold on the No. 1 job and third-stringer Dane Evans’ quick maturation were two factors in pulling the trigger on the trade now.

“Could we have waited? Yeah . . . but frankly our leverage was much higher now,” he said. “If you get to December and people know that Johnny has one year left on his contract and we’re probably not going to keep both then you’re not dealing from a position of strength.”

Tillman was emphatic Manziel’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, never demanded a trade.

“Not at all,” he said. “Johnny loved it here and I talked to Erik (on Sunday night) and he was very gracious.”

Tillman added Hamilton fielded other calls for Manziel, but Montreal’s was the first hard offer he received.

“It took multiple forms as they always do particularly of this magnitude,” he said. “We just felt like this was the right move for us.”

Must Read