Johnny Manziel isn’t famous in the football sense, he’s famous in the famous sense and so as news of his trade to Montreal filtered out to the wider, non-football audience on Monday it sparked a question: why would the Hamilton Tiger-Cats trade somebody so famous?
The short answer: because it made football sense.
The package the team received for Manziel included two former (and potentially future) all-stars and two first-round draft picks, all for a guy who had yet to take a regular season CFL snap. The Ticats are better today and potentially better in the long term and that’s hard to do in any trade. Unless Manziel becomes an elite-level CFL quarterback – and even if he does – this trade made all kinds of sense in the vacuum of the game.
For all the hype that surrounded his signing – we’ll get to that in a minute – Manziel is still very much a question mark both as a football player and as a person. While the Ticats organization and Manziel’s teammates were publicly effusive in their praise, there were rumbles that his commitment to the game wasn’t necessarily beyond reproach, that he had been late or missed meetings on more than one occasion.
Head coach June Jones essentially punted on that issue when asked about it.
“That kind of stuff I’m really not going to comment on. All that stuff is internal,” June Jones said. “All those things go into decision-making, though.”
So does the play of the others around him. Starter Jeremiah Masoli, who has led the team to a 2-3 start during a tough opening portion of the schedule, has cemented his status at the No. 1 guy while third-stringer Dane Evans – now the backup with Manziel gone – has progressed to the point where the team feels very comfortable with him in the role. And Evans, by the way, has the same number of regular season CFL snaps under his belt as Manziel does: zero.
Look at this way: the Ticats have had a good long look at Manziel since mid-May and if they really, truly believed he was the second coming of Doug Flutie or Danny McManus, it’s extremely unlikely they would have sent him to a division rival. The things that go on behind the scenes are at least as important as the sliver of knowledge that gets exposed to fans and media.
But Manziel’s arrival was accompanied by an extraordinary amount of hype, some generated by the Ticats themselves. In a piece of remarkable hyperbole, Jones said an interview in December that Manziel could be the “best player to ever play up here,” and there were other several other moments of tire-pumping from the organization as they tried to convince him to sign here.
It worked but the fans bought in, too, snapping up his jersey in significant numbers and getting excited about the most recent quarterback messiah set to lead them to the promised land. The Ticats bought themselves some goodwill by offering a $100 store credit to those that ponied up early for a No. 2 in team colours but there is no doubt a segment of the Black and Gold faithful feeling a little bit duped by the whole thing.
Again, that’s football. If there’s no room for sentimentality – and veteran players are regularly shown the door as soon as their usefulness dips below their price tag – then there’s no need to hang on to a player who might sell a few extra jerseys or a season ticket pack or two. Winning is the one and only goal, the players are assets in that pursuit: if Manziel has more value as a trade chip than as a part of the roster, then that’s the only call.
Should Manziel flourish in Montreal while the Ticats falter, there will be renewed head shaking from a segment fan base that’s seen a number of false quarterback idols paraded before them in recent times, without ever achieving Grey Cup access. It shouldn’t just be about Johnny but it will be because, if we’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that being in the Johnny Football universe means everything is about him. He is famous, after all.