Manziel’s career in the Canadian Football League turned out to be a one-and-done when the Montreal Alouettes released him.
This is one of those stories you wish had a happier ending. It was set up perfectly in the human interest category, a potential tale of personal and professional reclamation for a wayward former Heisman Trophy winner. You hoped this would be the first step in Johnny Manziel’s journey back to a calmer life and the NFL.
On Wednesday, we all found out it wasn’t to be. Manziel’s career in the Canadian Football League turned out to be a one-and-done when the Montreal Alouettes released him.
This does not seem to be a transaction motivated by performance, even though Manziel wasn’t exactly the reincarnation of other CFL/NFL crossover stars, Warren Moon and Doug Flutie. A more nefarious reason was provided.
The league said Manziel “contravened the agreement which made him eligible to play” in the CFL. What rules Manziel broke is not known, but one can only suspect it had something to do with the reason he’s no longer in the NFL. Manziel is apparently more devoted to a raucous off-the-field life than he is to a productive one on it.
The possibilities here are endless. In 2016, he had to take an anger management class and participate in the NFL’s substance abuse program after a domestic assault charge was filed against him in Dallas. He has since admitted he is bipolar and has a drinking problem.
What’s more, the release doesn’t just apply to his career in Montreal. The CFL has informed its eight other teams not to bother re-signing the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and that any effort to do so would not be sanctioned by the league.
One might assume the AAF and XFL, North America’s two incarnations of mini-me professional football, are interested in talking to Manziel. As they say, bad press is better than no press and his presence in someone’s training camp, like the AAF’s San Antonio Commanders (which would play off his college career at Texas A&M), might be a good place to start looking.
Manziel told Barstool Sports’ Comeback SZN podcast the AAF and/or XFL, which begins operation next year, looked pretty cool to him.
“It’s great for football, it’s great for the guys who need more opportunity, need more film and time to play,” Manziel said. “I don’t know exactly what my exact steps will be for the next years coming up, but at least there’s a lot of options.
“Me and E.B. (agent Erik Burkhardt) are fully committed to playing ball and trying to get into the best situation possible and that’s what it’s all about.”
In his goodbye farewell tweet to the CFL, Manziel was even more direct.
“I want to thank Coach (Mike) Sherman, my teammates, and the CFL fans. My time there reestablished my love for the game of football and the work that goes into it. I look forward to exploring new options within the United States.”
Or you could simply conclude Manziel is done as a football player after shooting himself in the foot a second time.
“We advised Montreal that Johnny had violated one of the conditions we had set for him to be in our league. And Montreal announced his release today,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in Vancouver. “We didn’t release the terms of those conditions then and we’re not going to do that now.
“We’re trying to do what we believe is in the best interests of the entire league. The conditions we set, we thought were the right ones. Those conditions have been violated and we feel it’s best, and Montreal feels its best, to let Johnny move on. And we think it’s best for our league that he do the same. And we wish him well.”
Supporting the contention it wasn’t poor play that caused his release, Montreal general manager Kavis Reed set the record straight.
“No, sir. Mr. Manziel’s performance on the field showed that he had a very good upside, but Mr. Manziel violated the terms and we all understood those terms and we have to be compliant with them,” Reed said.
When asked, Reed would not elaborate about what Manziel did to earn his release.
“We are disappointed by this turn of events. Johnny was provided a great deal of support by our organization, in collaboration with the CFL, but he has been unable to abide by the terms of his agreement,” Reed said in a statement. “We worked with the league and presented alternatives to Johnny, who was unwilling to proceed.”
After failing to stick with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns – he was a first-round pick in 2014 – Manziel floated adrift after the Browns released him in March 2016 after winning just two games as a starter in two seasons.
When the CFL signed him to a performance contract last May, it did so with a big “if” attached. In its statement about the release, the CFL categorized its specifications of behavior as “extensive and exacting” and were generated after an assessment from an independent expert on domestic violence.
Manziel signed with Hamilton in May 2018 but couldn’t beat out starter Jeremiah Masoli. That was a bit of a disappointment considering Hamilton coach June Jones had proclaimed Manziel could be “the best player to ever play up here. He can throw it and he can run it like nobody ever has been able to do.”
The Tiger Cats eventually dealt Manziel and offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice to Montreal on July 23 for receiver Chris Williams, defensive end Jamaal Westerman and two first-round draft picks (2020, ’21).
This seemed like a great idea since it reunited Manziel with Montreal head coach Mike Sherman, who recruited him to Texas A&M. He was 2-6 as a starter, completing 106-of-165 passes (64.2 percent) for 1,290 yards with five TDs and seven interceptions.
He also ran for 215 yards on 29 carries (7.41-yard average). Montreal (5-13) finished third in the East Division and missed the playoffs. Manziel was due a $75,000 bonus March 1 and scheduled to earn a $202,000 base salary this season.