Johnny Manziel is returning to the football field.
After two seasons away, multiple arrests, and a stint in rehab, the man that Texas college football affectionally named “Johnny Football” has signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Manziel would be the first to tell you that he never expected to find himself here. While the CFL is quite strong and popular compared to just a few decades ago, it is safe to say the biggest CFL crowd he will ever draw will still pale in comparison to his Texas high-school days. For years, Johnny Football has been about the “Baller” lifestyle, a lifestyle that has routinely cost him dearly over the course of his snake-bitten career.
The off-the-field issues are seemingly too numerous to count. There was the infamous night out in Las Vegas when he should have been preparing for a game. The indictment of Manziel after an ex-girlfriend accused him of hitting her and threatening to kill her was another low point in his troubled career. Still, Manziel has always maintained through these issues that his playing career was not over.
There have been two full NFL seasons since Manziel was released by the Browns, and he was never truly close to signing with another team. Just as the endorsement partners and agents washed their hands of anything to do with him, pro scouts and teams reportedly never took him seriously. It was a tough pill for Manziel to swallow, and one that he never truly did. After becoming the first freshman ever to win the Heisman Trophy, he now found himself in Arena football league rumours.
That is why the CFL rumours that began to swirl at the end of last season should not have surprised anyone; and why Saturday’s signing of Johnny Manziel is one of the most logical things Manziel has ever done.
At the risk of offending the CFL, there are two types of players in the Canadian Football League. Players who are too small to ever make the NFL, and truly just love the game and want to be professional football players, and players who feel that they could be in the NFL and need a year or two of football to prove it. Johnny Manziel is one hundred percent in the latter group of players, and there is nothing wrong with that! He needs the CFL much more than they need him, and it is because of that need that he agreed to come north of the border.
What did Manziel guarantee by signing with the Tiger Cats?
Well, he guaranteed that he would be paid to play professional football for one. Those who would scoff at that notion should watch his introductory press conference, where he actually said that he was “just looking forward to being employed again.” Remember that the NFL does not fully guarantee his contracts, and Johnny Manziel played two seasons of a rookie contract before being cut from the league. Manziel does not have the luxury of living off a massive NFL contract for the rest of his life, he is 25 years old and needs to work again. The CFL pays more than the Arena football league, and though the AAF and XFL have promised on paper to pay players more than CFL teams, those leagues have not actually played a single game yet. The CFL is an established league that isn’t going anywhere and is the best choice financially for players who can’t play football in the NFL.
While finances no doubt played a huge part in the decision, the guaranteed media coverage is another reason why the CFL makes sense for Manziel. In an earlier article for thefanlife.com, I wrote that I believe the AAF and XFL will work, but until they actually dothey are an unproven commodity. Yes, logic would indicate that a four-down football league would better display your skills and talent to NFL scouts, but these leagues have not even filled their team-quotas yet, and the AAF has promised to start in less than a year. Manziel, and all NFL free agents this off season were faced with a choice. Sign two-year deals with CFL teams and forgo playing in the NFL an additional two seasons, or hope that the AAF begins when it is supposed to and play four-down football in a new league. Five years from now, if the AAF is going into its fifth season and the league has proven to be financially stable, this may be a harder decision. But at this moment, it’s a slam dunk. In the CFL you are playing in front of millions of Canadians. Every single game on the CFL schedule is nationally televised, and every single game is covered by NFL scouts. The league has a close partnership with the NFL in terms of referee training and many of the football operations and league office guys have some kind of NFL connection or experience. If Johnny Manziel lights up this league, word will spread. That isn’t guaranteed in the other leagues, where it still remains to be seen how they will be welcomed by the average football fan.
Make no mistake about it…this is Johnny Manziel’s last chance. There are only so many bridges you can burn, and if he flames out in Hamilton of all places it doesn’t seem likely that an NFL team will ever take him seriously again.
But if he can navigate the off-the-field issues and stay out of trouble…if he can do what Warren Moon and Doug Flutie were able to do…
We might see Johnny Football again.
And isn’t that what we all want?
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Alex Taylor is a graduate of McMaster University, with degrees in Anthropology and History, and a minor in classics. Alex currently attends Sheridan College, where he is working on a Journalism diploma.
Alex is also a novel writer, having written a manuscript, and he is currently working on another (fiction)
Alex Taylor writes more frequently on his website, TheFanLife.net
Alex has also written a published paper while attending McMaster University: an academic journal piece on the depictions of aging in the media.
And avid sports fan, Alex Taylor will be starting a podcast soon (titled thefanlife. It will be on Soundcloud).