So what if it’s the CFL, Johnny Manziel is playing actual football again

Columnist
Yahoo Sports

Start with this when it comes to Johnny Manziel and his attempted return from self-induced football career disaster – the former Heisman Trophy winner has said all he wants is a chance to play, and faced with no NFL opportunities, he’s grabbing one.

In Canada, no less.

Manziel, 25, announced Saturday morning that he has signed a two-year contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League. Conceivably, he could suit up for a preseason game against Toronto as soon as June 1.

Johnny Manziel announced that he struck a deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. (AP)
Johnny Manziel announced that he struck a deal with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL. (AP)

“A big announcement for my life,” Manziel said on social media. “Get back to playing ball. That’s what I missed doing.”

This should be seen as part of Manziel’s ascent rather than a fall from grace. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t compare to being the star at Texas A&M and a first-round pick and starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. Back then, Manziel was boasting he would “wreck this league.” Instead, substance abuse, depression and immaturity wrecked his career.

Manziel says he’s clean and sober though and just wants to play the game he loves. Now he’ll play it. He has taken an honest assessment of his situation and humbled himself to it. If this is what it takes, then this is what it takes.

Of late, Manziel has expressed that while returning to the NFL is, understandably, the ultimate goal, it isn’t the only goal. Just playing is. Just working is. Just being productive is. Just being healthy and happy is.

He can find that in Canada. He may find that particularly in Canada, at least football wise.

The rules of the CFL favor players such as Manziel, a shifty, creative athlete who excels in open space. The field is longer than the NFL’s (110 yards compared to 100, with a 20-yard end zone, opposed to 10). It is also wider, 65 yards compared to 53 1/3. That’s a lot of room to maneuver, even with 12 men on the field at once.

Most notably, the defense must line up 1 yard off the line of scrimmage and as many offensive players as a coach chooses can move pre-snap, including toward the line of scrimmage.

It makes for a full-throttle game, even if there are only three downs to achieve 10 yards.

Manziel wowed American fans with just this type of action while at Texas A&M. He’s a scrambler. He’s creative. He can improvise.

He is, in many ways, similar to other American quarterbacks who had to first find a fit in the CFL before the NFL believed in him – notably Warren Moon and Doug Flutie. If he eventually follows their path back to the States, then great.

This is Johnny Manziel’s future as a quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. (Yahoo Sports)
This is Johnny Manziel’s future as a quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. (Yahoo Sports)

This is a big get for the CFL, also. Manziel isn’t just a big name, he’s a potential game-changer. When the Tiger-Cats open their season this summer, a game with Manziel playing would be enticing viewing back in the U.S. Due to the exposure modern media provides, never before has the CFL had such an opportunity to connect with American audiences. Manziel also announced a partnership for a “comeback podcast” with Barstool Sports.

Hamilton isn’t off in the Canadian hinterlands. It’s a suburb of Toronto and about an hour drive from Buffalo and Western New York.

Mainly though, this is about Manziel, who after almost always making the wrong decisions has finally begun, it appears, to be making the right ones. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen the absurd social media posts or the reports of him drunk in Vegas nightclubs or, most troubling, any arrest for domestic violence.

His father once told ESPN the Magazine that he feared the day he’d hear his son was either arrested or dead. Of late, it’s been more about sobriety, honesty and work, especially the unglamorous kind.

Manziel has played in tryout leagues in Texas and helped the Aggies at pro days, serving as a live arm. He has been willing to sit and discuss anything with any team in the NFL. That hasn’t been enough to land anything tangible. Maybe no one dreams of playing in the CFL, maybe everyone sees it as a stepping stone or a final shot, but that doesn’t mean salvation can’t be found north of the border.

“Big day, for me,” Manziel said. “I’m no longer unemployed. I’m getting back to what I do and I am happy with it.”

It’s real football, with real teams and real stakes. It’s a fun league to watch.

Right now, it’s just what Johnny Manziel needs and best of all, Johnny Manziel himself recognizes it.

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