And just like that, he gone.
In yet another example of the juice not being worth the squeeze, the Johnny Manziel era in the Canadian Football League has come to an abrupt end. The league demanded that the Montreal Alouettes terminate his contract and alerted the other eight teams that any attempt to sign the former NFL first round pick would not be honoured.
The reasons for this are still unclear, but many reports are suggesting that Manziel failed to meet certain requirements mandated by the league to continue his playing career. Thus, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie ordered that Manziel’s contract with the Alouettes be terminated. Alouettes general manager Kavis Reed stated during a recent press conference that the team had been preparing for Manziel to be the starting quarterback for the 2019 season and that this particular move was the league’s decision.
The timing of this termination is very suspect, as Manziel has talked about the possibility of joining one of these upstart spring leagues in order to better prepare for a hopeful return to the National Football League. As long as he was under contract to the Alouettes he would not be able to play in any other football league, even if these new spring leagues would be closer to the NFL-style of play that he was accustomed to.
So now the belief is that Manziel purposely breached the employment terms that were set forth by the league when he first signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in order to have his contract voided. Thus freeing him to potentially join the Alliance of American Football and play for one of the eight league-owned teams (Players are employed by the league and are designated to teams based on certain criteria).
Once again, the Alouettes look like blithering idiots in the eyes of those who follow the CFL.
They traded for Manziel last July, surrendering a wealth of talent and draft picks in order to have him come in and underwhelm the rapidly declining fan base in Montreal. For all of the hype brought on by the league and the talking heads in the media that hung off Manziel’s jock, the former Texas A&M QB did made headlines in the CFL but for all the wrong reasons.
The Alouettes hurried him into a uniform, promising fans that he’d make his debut with the team the same week. Head Coach Mike Sherman had Manziel stand on the sidelines while fair-weather fans constantly called for him to take the field, undermining the talent on the field. Despite not knowing the Alouettes’ playbook, Manziel was gifted his first CFL start the following week against his former team, who got to see him in training camp and instantly took advantage of his CFL shortcomings.
Between that disastrous start, the concussion issues that led to him being replaced by rookie quarterback Antonio Pipkin and other instances of him flexing his celebrity status for personal gain, Manziel alienated a lot of hardcore CFL fans and split the Alouettes fan base down the middle. A divide between those wanting the team to win no matter what and those wanting Manziel’s privileged behind tossed out the door.
The final stats on Manziel’s brief CFL career definitely don’t scream marquee quarterback in ANY league; 2 wins, 6 losses, 5 passing touchdowns, 7 interceptions and 1290 passing yards. Manziel claimed to have enjoyed his time in Montreal and got along well with teammates. He also made no bones about the fact that he was using the CFL as a stepping stone to get back to the NFL, which is fair. Hundreds, if not thousands of football players have gone to the CFL for that reason alone.
But this league is a different beast altogether and having an amazing NCAA career is NO barometer for success in Canada. Being a first round NFL draft pick doesn’t mean you will automatically “tear up” the CFL. Like anything else in life, if you put in the work you will see the results. The most successful players currently in the CFL were not NCAA studs nor highly scouted draft picks.
But they all put in the work to be great and many of them are now making a very nice salary for their elite play. During this off-season, I personally haven’t seen any indication that Manziel was preparing for anyone’s upcoming football season, much less the Montreal Alouettes’. Despite his making a decent salary here, it really felt like he was doing very little to earn a single dime of it.
Manziel came up to Montreal during Super Bowl weekend from his native Texas for an interview with a local TV station. He then disappeared for the rest of the Alouettes’ scheduled activities, including the launch of their new identity/uniforms. Surely if he was serious about being a member of this team, he would have at least been front and center for this landmark event.
But instead he had “the flu”. Manziel also had “the flu” when it came to a week of practice when Antonio Pipkin was the starting QB yet he was able to record his weekly podcast. Manziel knew how to promote himself, but going solely on his word, you’d never know which CFL team he was a member of.
Simply put, if you truly believed that Johnny Manziel was even just a little bit interested in being a part of the Canadian Football League, then I have some prime oceanfront property in Saskatchewan to sell you.
Now comes an opinion that will no doubt be met with a LOT of derision and ridicule: In all reality, the Hamilton-Montreal trade should be voided. But we know logistically this cannot and will not happen. Since the CFL forced this dismissal, they should compensate the Alouettes for their role in this.
As I remain convinced that the league essentially forced this trade in order to give Manziel a chance to play (which he never would so long as Hamilton QB Jeremiah Masoli was able-bodied) and get eyeballs from America watching CFL games on ESPN2, the league must share some of the blame for this current situation.
As a result of this trade, the Tiger-Cats own the Alouettes’ first round picks in the 2020 and 2021 CFL draft. Manziel was not given the opportunity to complete his contractual obligations, so why can’t these picks be returned to Montreal? Or even given compensory picks?
This trade was yet another shining example that people want to use to highlight the implied ineptitude of Kavis Reed as a general manager. But let’s say the league went to the Alouettes’ ownership and sold them on the idea of trading for Manziel with the promise of increased revenue due to tickets and jerseys sold. As a team desperate for a return to relevance and a winning quarterback again, why wouldn’t ownership consider this and essentially force their GM to make this deal?
As Reed stated in his presser, this transaction was a calculated risk that did not work out. So why continue to punish the Alouettes for the league’s poor judgment in allowing Manziel to attempt to fleece this league of money and opportunity for his own benefit?
The CFL wins by ridding themselves of an investment that didn’t work. Manziel comes out smelling like a rose by going to another league who will surely bend over backwards and try to make him relevant in American football again. Why should the Alouettes continue to look like idiots as a result of this dog and pony show?
I realize a lot of this is all for naught and that I should just shut my fool mouth. But if a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, then I fail to see how letting the Montreal Alouettes flounder like this makes the CFL better as a whole.
Just my opinion, take it or leave it.
Are the Alouettes really doomed though with the release of their latest marketing gimmick gone awry? Hardly.
At the launch for the Alouettes’ new look, three of the team’s current quarterbacks were present and very accessible to those invited. Those three quarterbacks were Pipkin, Vernon Adams Jr. and Matthew Shiltz. I said at the time to anyone who’d listen that when training camp gets underway this May, that it would be these three men fighting for the starting QB spot. The release of Manziel from his contract just solidified that point, as far as I am concerned.
All three have CFL experience, with Adams being the more prolific. Alouettes fans tend to forget that he won his first three games as a CFL starter in 2016. His career path hasn’t been the best but he has also never been given the chance to shine anywhere since late 2016. Adams was brought back to the Alouettes in 2018 and his lone start was overshadowed by the arrival of Manziel to Montreal, the second time that season Vernon was supplanted by him (both were briefly teammates in Hamilton during training camp).
Pipkin and Shiltz were on the Alouettes’ roster in late 2017, both even playing in the team’s final regular season game. They arrived at 2018’s training camp ready to compete but the team instead focused on veteran Drew Willy and his inability to generate offense. Pipkin was released during camp but injuries to other QBs forced the Alouettes to re-add him to the roster.
Good thing, because he already knew the playbook and he stayed ready for that phone call. When Manziel went down with his concussion injury, Pipkin stepped in and was responsible for 2 of Montreal’s three wins at the Labour Day checkpoint of the season. But the Manziel shadow loomed overhead and all it took was one bad game from Pipkin to be shelved in favour of the winless yet still marketable Johnny Football.
Shiltz has had limited looks in his brief CFL career, but has the ability to develop into a talent in the right environment. His mobility is not quite on the same scale as Adams or Pipkin’s, but Shiltz can still make plays happen. He, Jeff Mathews and former Laval Rouge et Or QB Hugo Richard have the chance now to get serious reps at training camp. Without having to worry about taking a back seat to anyone, these young men just may end up surprising everyone when the 2019 season gets underway.
Suffice to say that the deletion of Johnny Manziel from the Alouettes’ lineup will have no major effect on this team. If anything, this opens things up for the aforementioned quarterbacks, who are all in their early to mid-twenties and have plenty of football left in their bodies. They may even be excited at the idea of everyone dismissing theirs and the Alouettes’ chances at success this season.
After all, what greater reward is there than to shut the mouths of everyone who expects nothing but failure from you and your team? It may sound crazy, but I actually think that the Alouettes’ QB situation has now improved with the termination of Manziel’s CFL contract. Alouettes OC Khari Jones doesn’t have to cater to Manziel’s “abilities” and can instead create a playbook that will allow these other similarly styled QBs to step into this offense and make it their own.
Many Alouettes fans surely would have liked the team to go after a proven veteran quarterback like a Mike Reilly or Trevor Harris when free agency got underway. But I do think the young men that are already in place will be more than ready to assume the leadership of this team and keep it for years to come.
This team has been looking for its next Anthony Calvillo for the past 5 years; it’s very possible that one of these potential studs are him and just need a bit of faith from this organization. I personally believe a lot more in these young men versus whatever flash-in-the-pan NFL has-been (or never-was) that would happen to float along.
If the starstruck Alouettes ownership wants to keep bolstering their roster with infamous former NFL names, they will forever be cursed with bits of instant short-term success followed by long-term failure. I hope the Alouettes realize this the next time a much ballyhooed “superstar” decides he wants the grace the CFL with his presence.
Every successful Grey Cup team over the past decade has developed their starting quarterback organically. Yes, even the 2009 & 2010 Grey Cup champions! It’s probably a crazy concept for those who are new to the Alouettes, but I promise that it’s a recipe for success.
The Montreal Alouettes are all-in on their new identity and look; let’s hope developing a winning team and the next great CFL quarterback becomes a part of that manifesto.