Day 6

Should the CFL give Johnny Manziel a second chance?

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are negotiating to sign former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel despite past drug problems and allegations of domestic abuse.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel, then with the Cleveland Browns, celebrates after a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 13, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Andrew Weber/Getty Images)

Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel hasn't even joined the CFL yet, but his agent said Monday he's giving the Hamilton Tiger-Cats until the end of the month to sign him with a "fair deal" before he looks elsewhere.

"Johnny wants to let Hamilton fans know where things stand and that he has been working hard in preparation for his comeback," Manziel's agent, Erik Burkhardt, said in a statement.

​Manziel, dubbed "Johnny Football" during his early-career heyday, hasn't played football since being released by the Cleveland Browns in 2015. He also violated the NFL's substance abuse policy and faced a charge of domestic abuse in 2016.

But a deal with the Tiger-Cats has appeared imminent since news surfaced that the former Heisman Trophy winner had worked out with the team in August.

I think he'd be the best player to ever play up here.- Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach June Jones on Johnny Manziel

The CFL said in December that it would approve a contract for Manziel if the Ticats made him an offer. The team announced this week they're negotiating to sign him for the upcoming CFL season.

Former Texas A&M and Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel makes a court appearance on May 5, 2016 in Dallas after a Dallas County grand jury indicted him on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. (Rodger Mallison/TNS via Getty Images)


'Circus will come to town'

Despite his past, the legend of "Johnny Football" might be too enticing for the Ticats to pass up. At just 20, Manziel led his team at Texas A&M University to some remarkable victories, winning college football's highest honour (the first freshman to do so) and becoming an overnight sensation in the process.

Ticats head coach June Jones certainly seems to think the CFL should give Manziel a second chance.

"I think he'd be the best player to ever play up here," Jones said in December. "He can throw it and he can run it like nobody ever has been able to do."

But not everyone thinks Manziel is up to the challenge of playing with the Ticats.

"To be successful at the pro level, it requires a level of commitment that I haven't seen from Manziel since, well, ever, frankly," says Drew Edwards, who covers the Ticats for the Hamilton Spectator.

"I also think if the Ticats sign Manziel, the circus will come to town," he adds. "We will have American [and] Canadian media outlets all over this team, and I don't think that's conducive to winning football games."


Turning things around

Quarterback Johnny Manziel, then with the Cleveland Browns, walks onto the field during a practice on Dec. 11, 2015 at the Cleveland Browns training facility in Berea, Ohio. (Nick Cammett/Getty Images)
ESPN reporter Emily Kaplan has followed Manziel's career over the years, documenting his downward spiral from star college quarterback to substance abuse in a 2016 feature for Sports Illustrated.

She tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury that it appears Manziel might finally be serious about turning his life around.

"I know that he may sound like a broken record, because he has said this several times and several times it has proven false," Kaplan says. "But for the last three years, he's really been off the grid. He hasn't really gotten into trouble. He hasn't been around an NFL team that's been monitoring him and we haven't seen or heard from him much, so for all we can expect, he has been training and recommitting himself to a new athletic career."

The problem with Johnny was there were so many people rooting for him, but at the same time, he had many people enabling him.- Sports reporter Emily Kaplan

Manziel might be looking for a comeback in the CFL, but that's largely because he became persona non grata in the NFL during his shortlived professional career.

"He crossed a tonne of lines," Kaplan says. "The problem with Johnny was there were so many people rooting for him, but at the same time, he had many people enabling him. While he was with the Browns, the team that drafted him in the first round, he wouldn't study the playbook, which is one of the most basic elements you need to do as an NFL player.

"He would come in hung over [and] the way the team would enable him was to just say, 'Hey, go sleep off that hangover.' And so those type of things really irked coaches because they kept giving him second and third chances and then they kept giving him fourth and fifth chances."

And yet, Manziel's showy plays made him popular with fans and teammates alike.

"He does spectacular things on the football field," Kaplan says. "He's really a magician with his feet. Sometimes it looks like he's going to get sacked or tackled for 20 yards and then [he] somehow makes a 50- or 60-yard play out of it.

"And he's so personable," she adds. "The one thing that I found so interesting when reporting on the story was every single person I talked to — and I talked to more than a dozen sources close to him — would detail these examples of how Johnny let them down and how disappointed they were with him. But they finished almost every interview uniformly — it was very bizarre — with this same phrase or a variation of it: 'But I still love that guy.' And it's just because he was so fun to be around and everyone wants to root for him."

Quarterback Johnny Manziel, then with the Cleveland Browns, rushes up field against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 27, 2015 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Miss. (Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)


Canadian comeback

Given the controversy that followed him, should the CFL be giving Manziel a second chance?

"It's a delicate situation," Kaplan says. "This team in particular has tried to give someone else a second chance and that was a coach at a university here in Texas that really covered up some pretty bad things when it came to sexual assault on campus. And there was a huge backlash to that. So they're definitely taking a chance when they bring in Johnny Manziel."

"If he really is committed, I think maybe it is the right move because I do believe that people deserve second chances," she adds. "At the same time, it's going to have to be a pretty short leash because he's already burned through a lot of people out here in the States."

Some have argued that if the Ticats did sign Manziel, it would be tantamount to enabling his previous conduct.

"It's difficult, because the things that he got in trouble with weren't within their realm of jurisdiction — it was in the NFL or in college football. So he does really have a clean slate there," Kaplan says. 

"I think the only way I would say the CFL is condoning that is if he does slip up and does something that's against the law or against their code of conduct and they let him stay on the team. Then they're absolutely condoning that behaviour."

Quarterback Johnny Manziel, then with the Cleveland Browns, warms up prior to a game against the San Francisco 49ers at FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 13, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Jason Miller/Getty Images)


'Dream has changed'

Manziel's troubles began long before his stint in the NFL during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, Kaplan notes.

"There really was a culture of enablement that dated back to high school. I think the moment it really fell apart, though, was when he got to the Browns. And he had some slip-ups when he was at Texas A&M, but more or less he was just a college kid getting into trouble," she says. 

Maybe it'll be a fairytale ending where the dream has changed and he [finds] success maybe on a different stage.- Emily Kaplan

"But when he was a professional and the first time the coaches found out that he wasn't studying the playbook and instead was going out and partying, that I think is the first time he really messed up."

If Manziel does end up signing with the Ticats and can revive the magic he brought to the field during his college days, will he stay in Canada, or use the opportunity as a springboard for a return to the NFL?

"I think the goal for Johnny is to play football right now. When I reported this story close to three years ago now, the goal was always to get back to the NFL. That was his dream. That was the end goal for him," Kaplan says.

"Now he's a little untouchable for NFL teams, so perhaps the CFL is a stepping stone. Or maybe it'll be a fairytale ending where the dream has changed and he found success maybe on a different platform or stage."



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