In the wake of Johnny Manziel’s long-ranging tv interview earlier this week, during which he revealed he’s bipolar and attempting to return to the NFL, Sporting News football writers David Steele, Bill Bender and Alex Marvez were asked to give their insight into the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Keep in mind, the 25-year-old former Cleveland Browns quarterback hasn’t played since December 2015 but will participate in a new Spring League showcase this year.
Did Manziel do himself any favors with that TV interview?
Marvez: Manziel becomes a more sympathetic figure to the public by claiming he suffers from bipolar disorder. That could help him when it comes to fan reaction if any NFL team is willing to sign him. But as far as the franchises themselves, don’t blame them if there’s a huge amount of skepticism about whether Manziel is truly changed. He looked coaches and general managers in the eye before and lied about his commitment to football (and who knows what else). Who’s to say he wouldn’t do it again?
Does Manziel have any unresolved criminal, legal or NFL issues?
Steele: The four-game league suspension imposed in June 2016, for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, was completed in October 2016, and he was reinstated. In November 2017, authorities in Dallas announced that a 2016 domestic violence misdemeanor involving his former girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, had been dismissed. Manziel, they said, completed all the terms of a plea agreement from a year earlier, including taking anger-management courses. It’s still possible that the NFL could discipline him for the domestic-violence charge should he join an NFL team.
Who owns Manziel’s rights?
Steele: He’s an unrestricted free agent in the NFL. The Browns released him in March 2016, so he’s free to sign with anyone. In the Canadian Football League his rights are very notably held by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, who put him on their international-players’ “negotiation list” in 2017. CFL teams hold the rights to players they claim until they trade or release them.
The Tiger-Cats talked contract with him last month, but when Manziel signed with the new Spring League, they issued a statement to “wish [him] well.” Training camps in the CFL open May 20, a month after the Spring League ends.
What exactly is the Spring League?
Marvez: It’s a two-weekend showcase (March 28-April 15) in Austin, Texas, featuring “four teams comprised almost exclusively of players with NFL experience,” according to the event’s website. Manziel seems enthusiastic about the opportunity.
Back in Texas where it all started. I'll be joining @TheSpringLeague in Austin to get #ComebackSZN started! Can't wait to get back on the field and show NFL scouts what I can do! #cantwaitforspring pic.twitter.com/zMk5223HCc
— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) February 14, 2018
Does the Spring League mean no CFL for Manziel?
Marvez: Correct, which is a HUGE mistake on his part. Even if the money isn’t what Manziel wanted, nor the two-season commitment required had he signed per CFL rules, no NFL team will be willing to give him the volume of first-team reps that the Ti-Cats would have if he had accepted their offer.
In the NFL, those snaps will be going to other quarterbacks who currently carry more cache or are considered to have more upside. In all likelihood, Manziel would have to impress in the NFL as “Johnny Scout Team” — not to mention show he can stay sober — before being considered for a chance to start.
Will an NFL team ever bring Manziel back to camp?
Bender: He’ll get a tryout at some point, but after a two-year break it’s questionable whether he’ll ever get a chance to play outside of a preseason game. Manziel has a lot to prove just to get that opportunity.
Marvez: Let’s see if he even makes it to the Spring League first, followed by his performance there.
Does Manziel have any advocates on any coaching staffs?
Steele: The last time Manziel’s name surfaced in connection with an NFL team or coach was last March, during the offseason, with (of all people) Saints coach Sean Payton. NFL.com reported that Payton and Manziel had breakfast together during the week of Super Bowl 51 in Houston and discussed a backup role. The report was immediately ridiculed across the NFL world, and nothing came of it. In the 2016 offseason, before Manziel’s suspension but after his domestic-violence arrest, then-Broncos coach Gary Kubiak inquired about him. Kubiak is back with the Broncos this season as an advisor.
Marvez: The silence among those NFL coaches who have worked with Manziel is deafening.
Does Manziel’s skill set fit the NFL?
Marvez: A team could structure its offense around Manziel in the same fashion as other shorter quarterbacks, like Drew Brees and Russell Wilson. Manziel, though, would still have to develop much better pocket-passing skills and master throwing lanes behind larger offensive linemen to have a shot at making it. Remember, too, Manziel was so small that I’m told he was pushed to wear a helmet and pads during his Pro Day workout to try to camouflage his height.
Will Manziel ever play in the NFL again?
Marvez: Never say never in a league starved for quarterbacks. But he’s 25 and lost key developmental years in 2016 and 2017, not to mention all the off-field baggage that follows.
Bender: I’ll believe it when he makes a try out. We’ll always hear about the comeback attempts, but it’s an arc that so far resembles former Raiders quarterback Todd Marinovich, who had just eight career starts yet always created buzz when he attempted a comeback. Marinovich was attempting a comeback last season at age 48. Manziel also has just eight career starts. The pattern is all-too familiar.