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Taking His Shot: With CFLs Hamilton, Manziel Makes Play For NFL

Disgraced former Browns quarterback gets a second chance to reclaim his career in the Canadian Football League

Johnny Manziel

Disgraced former Browns quarterback gets a second chance to reclaim his career in the Canadian Football League

Few quarterbacks, not even Joe Namath, ever knocked on the NFL’s door with more chutzpah than Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M.

Undersized in stature, but teeming with bravado, Manziel dashed around college gridirons and out of tackles with a gift for mayhem that lifted fans out of their seats. In 26 collegiate games, Manziel threw 63 touchdown passes and rushed for 30 more.

Man, was he fun to watch.

Johnny Manziel

Derek Leung / Getty

But from the start, he always seemed to be carrying a pile of garbage around.

For example, Manziel’s eligibility for the 2013 collegiate season was threatened after a report by ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” that he’d been compensated for signing autographs  In August, the NCAA and Texas A&M suspended him for violating a technicality for the first half of the team’s opener against Rice, even after acknowledging he did not receive any money.

And in 2014, after sinking on the NFL draft board because pro scouts doubted his character and how transferable his skill-set would be, the Cleveland Browns, perhaps the worst judge of quarterback talent in the league since they drafted Bernie Kosar in 1985, took a chance on him with the 22nd pick.

Of course, it didn’t take long before Manziel’s personality traits not only betrayed the Browns, but unceremoniously bounced him from the league.

Manziel was socially self-destructive, drinking too much, indulging in drugs too often. He got into bar fights, was accused of battering a former girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, in a Dallas hotel room. This resulted in two visits to rehabilitation facilities.

And apparently this was all learned behavior. On a recent Barstool Sports podcast, Manziel admitted that while on pre-draft visit to the Patriots in 2014, he and Rob Gronkowski partied it up, resulting a messed-up hotel room.

After playing in 14 games for the Browns during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, completing 57 percent of his throws for seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, the Browns – America, for the most part – lost their patience. Cleveland cut Manziel.

But it did not end his career. If you look up north these days, you will see Manziel wearing the uniform of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger Cats. In May, the team signed Manziel to a two-year contract, an olive branch, if you will.

The Tiger Cats are coached by June Jones, an acknowledged QB whisperer. And together, he and Manziel, 25, have been working to rekindle a career.

Jones immediately admitted that there was no chance Manziel would start. The Tiger Cats have one of the CFL’s top quarterbacks, Jeremiah Masoli. Jones told the media that Manziel would be put on a two-year plan that should ultimately take him back to the NFL.

Derek Leung / Getty

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised the last three weeks what a good teammate he is, how smart he is, how he sees the game,” Jones told ESPN.com. “He should be playing in the National Football League and I believe he will when he gets through with us.”

The CFL has historically featured wannabe NFL quarterbacks, among them Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Joe Theismann, Vince Ferragamo and Joe Kapp.

In fact, the league’s 2017 Most Outstanding Player, Edmonton Eskimos quarterback Mike Reilly, was not drafted in 2009 after his career at Central Washington and was dropped by four NFL teams in less than two years before he came to the CFL.

And even then, he had to wait two years before getting a chance to run his own team in 2013.  Even Misoli waited three seasons to start after signing in 2013 with the CFL out to Mississippi.

During training camp, Manziel was somewhat impressive. He was 12-of-20 for 88 yards and a touchdown in the final preseason game against Hamilton. But he did not appear in the Tiger Cats opener last week against Calgary, a 28-14 loss during which Masoli completed 25-of-36 for 344 yards.

Now he has to be his best behavior he wants a second chance at this dream. No more scrambling around outside his pocket.

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