Johnny Manziel’s agent was right. The Montreal Alouettes were very wrong.
Erik Burkhardt has been around the CFL for a couple months and he knew better than members of the Alouettes organization who have spent years in the three-down league and have literally decades of experience: Manziel should not have started so soon.
Burkhardt has never had a CFL client but even he felt it was ‘insane’ to start Manziel 10 days and four practices into his tenure with Montreal, nowhere near enough time to learn the offence, build a rapport and gain a feel for new teammates playing styles. He went ’round and round’ in discussions with general manager Kavis Reed and the Als front office about giving his celebrity quarterback more than a crash course before stepping onto the field as a starter in the CFL.
Manziel had never thrown four interceptions in a competitive football game in his life until being rushed to debut north of the border. Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman recruited Manziel to Texas A&M University and redshirted the dual-threat signal caller for an entire season even though his coaching job was on the line. That proved to be prescient and what was best for Manziel as he went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012 and light up the toughest conference – the SEC – in NCAA football for two years.
The Cleveland Browns traded up in the 2014 NFL Draft to select Manziel and even though there was a lot of fanfare, the Browns were patient. He didn’t start a game until Week 15 which came in mid-December. Manziel was a participant in all of Cleveland’s mini-camps, organized training activities, training camp and watched from the sidelines for nearly an entire season before being put in a starting role.
Burkhardt was adamant but clearly the Alouettes were too and Manziel threw four interceptions in a disastrous first CFL start. Manziel made no excuses prior to or after the game: he went along with what the team decided and that should be commended. Burkhardt is always going to look out for his clients best interests and in the current situation where Manziel’s image is vitally important for potentially any chance of getting another NFL shot, his agent had to vocalize the concerns about an expressed timeline.
During Manziel’s time with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the franchise worked for nearly a year to bring the celebrity quarterback to the CFL and he was brought along based on his progress. Manziel participated in individual quarterback drills at the first training camp practice held by the Ticats. Head coach June Jones said he was not going to rush Manziel despite feeling he had the ability to be the greatest player ever to play in the CFL.
Important development time was given to Manziel at the NCAA, NFL and, initially, at the CFL level. But because the Alouettes are desperate and jobs are on the line he was pushed into action far too soon in a brand new league. Ultimately, it wasn’t Johnny Football who disrespected the CFL, it was the Montreal decision-makers.