Johnny Manziel’s name has left quite the illustrious legacy, to say the least. Mostly for extreme frat boy partying and legal troubles but career highlights also include flipping off opposing teams and catching a pass on a high school level trick play that somehow kinda worked. So naturally, the Manziel comeback has been a hot topic for seemingly since he got the knife from the Cleveland Browns in March of 2016 and the conversation only ramped up to an eleven once he announced he will be participating the upcoming Spring League.
For those playing at home, the Spring League is a two-weekend showcase featuring four squads made up of former NFL vets trying to get one last shot at their glory days and the occasional Last Chance U star. For obvious reasons, most teams don’t generally look to the Spring League has an opportunity to nab the next face of their franchise but Manziel’s appearance does make this year a little more compelling.
For starters, Manziel hasn’t played a snap since December 27th, 2015. Since then, he’s gone through rehab, a domestic violence scandal, and more partying reports and “I will change”s than money signs on the field. We barely know if he can even throw a football with accuracy anymore so his performance, whether solid or a dumpster fire, will be a mildly interesting storyline to follow.
At this point, it seems unlikely he won’t be able to land at least a tryout on a quarterback-needy team. This is not to say his spot in the league is guaranteed but with the quarterback market being microscopically small, a team is bound to take a swing on him in training camp. A full-time career, however, will not be such an easy feat.
Because Manziel is vying for a roster spot in the NFL and not, say, the CFL (more on that later), that unfortunately points to a very, very high mountain for him to climb. Anyone who has been out of professional play for two years already raises an ungodly amount of red flags, especially for a player with the number of character worries and off-field issues such as Manziel. And he may not even be able to make up for the risks in the talent department.
Now he showed flashes of a brilliant playmaker with a couple of eye-widening plays here and there, with sack evasion skills and a solid rushing ability, sparkling athletic bursts from time to time. Really, his on-field mistakes can be chalked up to being a rookie quarterback trapped in the graveyard of quarterbacks. In all reality, his 1-1 interception to touchdown rate is on par with Bears gem Mitchell Trubisky and worlds ahead of the current Browns victim DeShone Kizer.
His career did not end because of the lack of ability, it ended because of his own stupidity. Talent can only do so much for a player when said player can be seen out partying like a rich high schooler every weekend. Mistakes happen and college kids are going to act like college kids sometimes. If he were able to leave this lifestyle in college where it should have stayed, he might have been the best quarterback the Browns have had in years. But because the character issues translated to the big leagues, he sunk his own career.
This automatically puts him at a massive disadvantage when it comes to getting a job. Not only is he going to have to fully prove himself on multiple occasions, teams will hold him on a leash nanometers long. One more night out with the boys could be more than enough for teams to call it quits on him and that’s a lot to ask for teams to put up with, especially if he lost the talent he may or may not initially had to offer.
Because Manziel was never a dependable option at quarterback and most likely never will be, teams may completely shut him off because of the risk that comes with him. If there’s a hole in the backup quarterback spot and teams can sign a reliable veteran or Manziel for roughly the same price, that job is going to the vet every single time. So obviously, a lot rests on his performance in the Spring League.
One bad game at Spring League and he is going to be given up on. At this point, the league has given him so many chances that he needs to look like a Hall of Famer to land a practice squad spot. The room for failure couldn’t get smaller for him, both on and off the field. His past mistakes have caught up with him and no matter how talented he looks, it may prevent him from getting a job.
If he can impress in Spring League and show the league he has learned from his mistakes, truly and evidently, then somebody might just take the gigantic hefty risk that comes with him. However, because of the baggage he comes with, teams might avoid him altogether no matter how much growth as a player he shows as the growth as a person matters more. If all the stars align and then a little more, somebody may grant him a shot at the practice squad but any more than that is a risk almost not worth taking.
And honestly, Manziel’s best bet would have been the CFL. He already had a contract on the table with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats but he passed it up for a wobbly comeback to the NFL. At least up north, he would have a job, a paycheck and a stable football career. In the CFL, he would have been able to more substantially work his way back to the NFL. He could prove himself talented and trustworthy and say he does fail at the NFL, he still has a pro football career to fall back on.
Not to mention, he might have been really successful in the CFL. If he could stay clean, then his skill set fits surprisingly well with the Canadian game. His all over the place, adaptable, east to west instead of north to south style doesn’t work with the NFL’s high talent concentration that can sack him when he tries to run in circles but because the CFL focuses on fast pace and has a far less talented player pool, he could have easily landed a starting spot based on skill alone.
Here’s hoping Manziel has learned his lesson and can make something out of his life, whether football-based or not.