There’s something about the relationship between Montreal Alouettes general manager Kavis Reed and Hamilton Tiger-Cats GM Eric Tillman. They worked together in Edmonton with the Eskimos and already got together earlier this year for a draft-day trade. This past Sunday, the two hooked up and swung a deal that has sent shockwaves throughout the CFL universe.
The Tiger-Cats sent backup quarterback Johnny Manziel along with linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice to the Montreal Alouettes. In exchange, the Alouettes send DL Jamaal Westerman, WR Chris Williams and Montreal’s first round picks in the 2020 and 2021 CFL Draft to Hamilton.
To say that this is a major move is a major understatement. After years of being on Hamilton’s negotiation list, Manziel decided to head up north to revive his football career. He saw limited action in training camp, even playing in Montreal and throwing for a touchdown in a pre-season win. But the play of Hamilton starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has kept Manziel on the sidelines, waiting his turn.
After the Tiger-Cats blew a 10 point lead this past Thursday versus the Saskatchewan Roughriders, many fans and Hamilton media folk started clamouring for Manziel to get a chance to play. Even though Masoli has played mostly strong football this season, people were growing impatient and wanted to see what this former Heisman Trophy winner could do.
Thus far, Montreal has sported a 1-4 record this season and has not been able to produce points on the scoreboard with any great consistency. Drew Willy and Jeff Mathews have had spurts of competent football as starting quarterback, but they have simply not done enough to inspire confidence. It’s clear that Montreal is hoping that Manziel can be that spark that is badly needed.
Montreal has also had their woes on the offensive line for many years, so the addition of Washington and Rice does provide short-term depth. Montreal did debut supplemental draft pick Tyler Johnstone this past Saturday as starting tackle, but he suffered a knee injury in the later part of the game. Add that to injuries to Philip Blake, Sean Jamieson and Philippe Gagnon and it’s clear that this football team can never have too many big guys on the offensive line.
On the other hand, Montreal is giving up a pair of off-season acquisitions that did contribute immediately during their short time with the Alouettes. Jamaal Westerman was finding his form and helped to lead the defensive line alongside John Bowman. Jamaal was able to find the quarterback and throw him to the ground on a number of occasions this season, much to the delight of Alouettes fans.
Before his injury versus the Ottawa RedBlacks three weeks ago, Chris Williams was rounding into form and becoming that deep threat that the Alouettes had been looking for. Drew Willy has had his issues connecting with receivers but he did find some magic with Williams, especially in the Alouettes’ lone win versus the Roughriders. In order for this trade to work, a bonafide playmaker had to go Hamilton’s way. Williams will be that player and should thrive with Masoli lobbing him some deep bombs.
Giving up first round draft picks is ALWAYS a dicey proposal. The Alouettes already forfeited their first round draft pick in next year’s draft with the selection of Johnstone in this year’s supplemental draft. They also traded their second round pick in 2019 to Hamilton as part of that aforementioned draft day deal that saw Ryan Bomben return to Montreal and both teams swap the 1-2 draft positions.
Hamilton now has THREE of Montreal’s potentially high draft picks as a result of this trade. In a league where National depth is so important, no one should like the idea of gift-wrapping a potential stud player and handing it over to a divisional rival. Now to play devil’s advocate, the past ten years have only produced two really outstanding players at the first overall position (Simeon Rottier and Henoc Muamba).
Development plays a major factor of course, but there is still a major risk. Suffice to say, the Alouettes are gambling hard by letting Hamilton have these two first round picks.
My overall thoughts on this potential blockbuster trade? I think if the deal was done with the players only, I think I’d be okay with it. But throw in those two first round picks and it becomes a MAJOR potential for disaster, only because Manziel is only guaranteed to be playing for the Alouettes until the end of the 2019 season.
Manziel has made no bones about the fact that he is eyeing a return to the National Football League and if he lights it up in the CFL, he will be looking for the next ticket back down south. So it’s very possible that Manziel will be long gone from the Alouettes and the Tiger-Cats will still be reaping the rewards of this trade. That alone makes this trade a huge risk with no guarantee.
Also, there’s going to be pressure to get Johnny Football on the field for the Alouettes as soon as possible. The Alouettes play next on Thursday and already the team is promoting this game as Manziel’s first. But how quickly can he learn the playbook? Can he develop that relationship with the receivers? Given how bland the offensive play-calling has been for the Alouettes in 2018, just how much slack is going to be afforded to Manziel and his potential learning curve?
He is still only 25 and in theory has a lot of football left to play. But just like he was in Cleveland, Manziel will be expected to return a team back to glory very quickly. His fans from his days at Texas A&M certainly believe in him and many of Montreal’s fickle football fans will surely tune in for the intrigue of seeing another former NFL star play in the 514. And of course, many are expecting Johnny to fail miserably and join the miles-long list of former NFL players that came to the CFL and washed out.
This move has naturally done nothing to improve the Alouettes’ image in the eyes of many CFL fans. The Montreal Alouettes have a terrible image and adding Manziel has only furthered that thought process due to Manziel’s image as a bad-boy who was more concerned with being a celebrity than a football player.
Since arriving in Hamilton, Manziel has been a model citizen by supporting his teammates and staying ready should Jeremiah Masoli start to falter as starting quarterback. He has stated on numerous occasions that he realizes that the CFL is his last chance to make it in football. Very few are expecting Manziel to avoid the temptations that the Montreal nightlife can offer a person of Manziel’s cachet.
Whether Montreal fans like it or not, Johnny Football is now part of the show here for the Alouettes. The team paid a heavy price for his services and I’ll go so far as to say that this will be the move that defines the general manager career of one Kavis Reed.
Now he will have to prove his worth for a new team and fan base. Buckle up, kids. This will either be brilliant or a colossal failure. There’s simply no in-between.
Bienvenue a Montreal, Johnny Football.
GO ALS GO!!!