Quantity does not equal quality – a fact that might be lost on Alouettes general manager Kavis Reed.
Montreal has seven quarterbacks under contract – including the polarizing Johnny Manziel who Reed acquired last season from Hamilton.
When the deal was made, Reed banked that Manziel would be the long sought-after solution to the Alouettes quarterback woes that date back to the concussion that ended Anthony Calvillo’s Hall of Fame career. Since then a carousel of quarterbacks have come again – none of whom came close to filling the role.
There was plenty of hype when Johnny Football arrived on the scene in La Belle Province but it didn’t translate to wins or even a significant bump in attendance. After throwing four interceptions in his first CFL start, Manziel’s play improved but remained decidedly inconsistent.
By the end of the season, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner had appeared in eight games throwing for over 1,200 yards with five touchdowns and seven interceptions. However, the Alouettes coaching staff made what was a puzzling decision to some down the stretch. Manziel only played in the first half of the Als last home game – and less than that in their season finale.
It’s hard not to read between the lines. If the organization truly believed Manziel is the quarterback of the future, it would have been prudent to play him as much as possible at the end of the season as he continued to get acclimated in the Canadian game. Instead, head coach Mike Sherman opted to give playing time to Antonio Pipkin who some suggest could be a better long-term solution. The 23-year-old won back to back games and passed for over 1,100 yards, appearing to be more popular and the better leader with his teammates.
Manziel is media savvy. He says all the right things when there’s a camera in his face. But there’s still some questions as to his commitment to learning the game off the field. And after being brought in as the saviour no one is prepared to name him as the starter heading into the season. At this point there is certainly no guarantee he will even be on the Alouettes roster when they kick off the regular season.
Johnny Football is due an off-season bonus of $75,000 on March 1, which could put the Alouettes in a bind. But Reed will likely be forced to eat the money to save face for all of the assets he gave up to bring Manziel to Montreal. Decisions made by outside pressure are never what’s best for any football organization.
The Alouettes do have depth at quarterback. Reed signed Vernon Adams Jr. and Jeff Mathews to contract extensions. Together they have a combined 23 games of experience, so it’s unlikely either can challenge for the number one role. The Als also remain bullish on Butler product Matthew Shiltz who has made just six appearances and has not really been given a chance to showcase his skills. Canadian QB, Hugo Richard is also under contract. The 24-year-old was signed to a two year deal after ending his university career with a Vanier Cup win in Laval.
Even with so much uncertainty at quarterback and major names available on the free agent market, Reed didn’t so much as make an offer to any of the franchise pivots – Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell or Trevor Harris.
In a quarterback driven league the Alouettes need no less than a legitimate starter if they hope to end their playoff drought and Montreal seems comfortable rolling the dice on a player that’s already on the roster. Quite the gamble.