There’s a growing consensus in league circles that Johnny Manziel played the CFL like a cheap ukulele.
Manziel was released by the Montreal Alouettes last week after he violated the terms of the agreement that made him eligible to play north of the border.
Though the conditions of the deal were never made public, our own Justin Dunk reported that Manziel missed a number of mandatory meetings with doctors and therapists. These absences made him ineligible to continue playing in the CFL, triggering his release from the Alouettes.
It’s entirely possible — in fact, it’s highly likely — that Manziel and his agent manufactured his release from the Alouettes. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie can say that Johnny didn’t manipulate the league into cutting him loose but the rest of us don’t need to toe the party line.
Johnny didn’t want to come back to Canada and his reps got him out of his CFL contract. Good for them.
But why should that be considered a black eye on the CFL?
Manziel, like most American players, came to Canada believing he would dominate north of the border. He thought he was going to win a starting job and register record-breaking numbers, likely winning a Most Outstanding Player award in the process.
That didn’t happen.
Manziel proved the same thing that many American college stars — Ricky Williams, Troy Smith, Trent Richardson, Eric Crouch — have proven several times before.
The CFL is a professional league comprised of excellent football players. You can’t just show up and dominate the league. It takes time, dedication, and hard work just to compete. Domination is exceedingly rare — even for the best of the best.
Manziel’s struggles legitimized the level of talent in the CFL and did so on an international stage. That’s a tremendous win for the league.
There’s also the huge number of eyeballs that Manziel drew to the CFL from the United States.
Manziel’s debut garnered the highest U.S. television ratings of all-time for a CFL game with more than 400,000 people tuning into ESPN. For a league looking to earn extra revenue on international TV deals, that’s a big win.
There’s also the amount of attention the CFL enjoyed on social media as a direct result of Manziel’s presence north of the border. Johnny has 2.15 million twitter followers — almost ten-times the number of followers on the league’s primary account. You can’t buy that type of coverage.
The CFL benefited tremendously from Manziel’s one-year tenure in the league, regardless of how he chose to leave.
What did Manziel gain from his year in Canada?
Manziel earned approximately $200,000 CAD as a CFL player in 2018, which is a solid payday by most standards.
That said, Manziel made more than $5 million USD as an NFL player and a significant amount of additional money in endorsement deals. His parents are also worth an estimated $50 million USD through their holdings in the Texas oil industry.
There’s also the opportunity that Manziel got to potentially earn his way back to the NFL. Had he succeeded in the CFL, it’s possible (however unlikely) that an NFL team would have considered signing him to a contract.
But that didn’t happen. And now it never will. Manziel’s four interception debut in Montreal sealed that fate. The NFL door is closed.
None of the criticism in this article is intended to diminish the off-field problems that continue to plague Manziel. Mental illness and addiction are issues that should be taken seriously. I would be remiss without recognizing that Johnny’s failure in the CFL was not solely attributed to a lack of talent.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Manziel’s tenure in the CFL was a disaster. In retrospect, it’s hard to see how Johnny ever would have benefited from playing in the CFL.
Credit to Manziel and his representation for forcing the release that he desired. The college star can now return to the United States where he appears primed to sign with an AAF team.
But let’s not pretend that Johnny manufacturing an out-clause in his CFL contract was the final masterstroke of a long, drawn-out game of chess.
The reality is that Manziel was an underwhelming CFL player who saw the writing on the wall, grabbed his football, and went home.
Manziel was on the losing end of an equation that saw the CFL repeatedly capitalize on his fame. I don’t blame him for quitting on the league.
But let’s not pretend that quitting makes him some type of diabolical genius.