It’s tough to be nicknamed “Johnny Football” when you’re relegated to backup duties and never see the field — then again, “Johnny Bench” is pretty much already taken — so Sunday’s trade to the Montreal Alouettes could be just what the doctor ordered for Johnny Manziel. On a cellar-dwelling Canadian Football League team with an unsettled quarterback situation, Manziel is now in good position to play in a meaningful football game for the first time since December 2015.
That was with the Cleveland Browns, who drafted Manziel with a first-round pick in 2014 but who cut him in March 2016, after which the former Heisman Trophy winner drifted away from the sport while partying and making headlines for allegations of domestic abuse and property damage. Manziel eventually began training for a return to football, and after generating little interest from the NFL, he signed in May with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who traded him to Montreal.
In Ontario, Manziel never saw the field in any of the team’s five regular season games, as starter Jeremiah Masoli has not only played well, he tied a CFL record earlier this year with his ninth straight 300-yard passing performance. The Alouettes, meanwhile, have been giving playing time to Drew Willy, Jeff Mathews and Matt Shiltz while getting off to a 1-4 start.
Going back to last season, Montreal has lost 15 of its past 16 games, so it could use any kind of jolt, let alone the star power Manziel still commands. He also could have an ally in Alouettes Coach Mike Sherman, who was running Texas A&M’s program during Manziel’s redshirt freshman year at the school.
In joining the CFL, Manziel, 25, made a two-year commitment to the league, but he has made it clear his ultimate goal is to get back into the NFL. Already an uphill battle, that task will be all the more difficult to accomplish if he can’t prove himself first capable of winning a starting job in Canada and doing well with it.
“It’s going to be a learning curve,” Manziel said in May after agreeing to join the Tiger-Cats. “I think it’ll be fun. It’s definitely not the NFL, but there have been guys who’ve gone up there and have come back.
“A lot more [at] the quarterback position that have done it back in the day than they have done it more recently, but still there’s been guys who’ve recently come back and forth all the time.”
In two preseason games with Hamilton, Manziel completed 21 of 31 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ran the ball six times for 29 yards and no scores.
“He’s still a little bit rusty but he’s a competitor,” Hamilton Coach June Jones said of Manziel after the second preseason game. “He knows what’s going on. He’s seeing what’s going on.”
Sunday’s trade also saw the Alouettes acquire a pair of offensive linemen, Tony Washington and Landon Rice, in exchange for defensive end Jamaal Westerman, wide receiver Chris Williams and first-round draft selections in 2020 and 2021. Montreal added another quarterback last month, former Oregon star Vernon Adams Jr., who is in his second go-round with the team.
Analyst David William Naylor, who covers the CFL for TSN, said on Twitter that he was “led to believe that neither [Manziel] nor his agent,” Erik Burkhardt, “forced this trade.” Burkhardt tweeted his appreciation to the Tiger-Cats for “doing the right thing” and thanked them for giving his client an opportunity.
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