One year later: the Johnny Manziel trade

Photo Scott Grant /
Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/

Exactly one year ago the most highly publicized trade in CFL history went down: Johnny Manziel sent from Hamilton to Montreal.

365 days later Manziel is out of the three-down league and the men who coveted the celebrity quarterback are looking for work.

Mike Sherman had recruited Manziel to Texas A&M University and the relationship built between the two made the former NFL head coach intrigued by what the dual-threat quarterback could do on the bigger CFL field. It was Sherman who pushed for Manziel, but neither of them made it to a second season in Montreal.

Manziel was acquired along with offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice by the Alouettes in a blockbuster deal for two standout players – Canadian defensive end Jamaal Westerman and receiver Chris Williams – plus two first-round draft picks. Kavis Reed sent a massive package to the Ticats for the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner in hopes the QB could generate a buzz and turn the franchise around in La Belle Province.

None of the possible positive scenarios happened. Manziel posted a 2-6 win-loss record while throwing more interceptions than touchdowns as Montreal missed the playoffs. The league forced the Alouettes to release Manziel and banished him from the CFL after violating the terms of the agreement stipulated by commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

That’s the same man who fired Reed from the Als general manager position months later. Part of the decision stemmed from a public disagreement over the decision to ban Manziel. Reed said if it was up to him he would have kept Manziel on the roster, but Ambrosie forced the hand and both men are jobless when it comes to CFL employment.

Collateral damage from the results of the ill-fated transaction. Manziel was a mess in Montreal after being rushed into the starting role. While the Alouettes are left without first-round picks in 2020 and 2021 following the most lopsided swap in CFL history. The Manziel era was full of hype but that’s all it ever amounted to be.

According to sources, when Manziel was negotiating his contract with the Hamilton Ticats he wanted the ability to take a shot at the NFL after one CFL season. The league did not have an option year window in place at the time – it was re-added in August 2018 – and would not allow the stipulation into his contract.

Even before Manziel stepped foot on a Canadian field his focus was elsewhere – eyes focused on the bright lights of the NFL. There was a feeling the NCAA star believed he could easily dominate the CFL and return to the NFL even though Manziel had fizzled out as a first-round pick with the Cleveland Browns. Manziel didn’t truly respect what it was going to take to play at a high level in Canada and because of it he was punted out of the league.

That was the same mistake Manziel made in the NFL and he never learned from it. Montreal didn’t do enough background research with regards to how Manziel was approaching his craft in Hamilton which cost the Alouettes. The result for Manziel: a college sensation turned into a pro journeyman unemployed quarterback.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.