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Manziel needs the CFL step

C. Morgan Engel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not the opportunity Johnny Manziel wanted but it’s the experience he needs to prove to NFL decision makers that a second chance is warranted.

“Johnny Football” was once the Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M and a first-round pick in Cleveland before becoming the poster child for what so many believe is the entitled millennial generation, squandering a genetic lottery ticket worth millions in favor of addiction and a permanent P1 headline on TMZ as he partied from Miami to Austin to Vegas and then Hollywood before rinsing and repeating the destructive lifestyle all over again.

Manziel was so out of control that he was “fired” by his own agent on two different occasions, the first time in recorded history an employee dumped his employer for conduct detrimental to humanity.

Maturity is never assured in life although most of us find a way to leave childish things behind as the years pass and Manziel did finally recognize what he was doing to himself and his reputation. The flaunting of drugs and alcohol ceased and at 25 Manziel seems to at least be serious enough about his sobriety to stay off social media at two in the morning and the front page of the gossip blogs.

That’s a positive first step to making sure Manziel doesn’t end up a statistic but as far as the NFL is concerned, it’s a much smaller step toward the ultimate end game of a job as a backup somewhere in the league.

Manziel was hoping s short stint in the Spring League would ensure a phone call in an always QB-desperate environment, even if it was just as a “camp arm” on a bloated 90-man offseason roster.

Once the door was open Manziel could kick it in much like he did in College Station with his improvising and the very important ability to extend plays in the modern NFL.

This isn’t about Manziel being among the best 96-or-so signal callers in the world, however. It’s about proving that what he did to former Browns’ general manager Ray Farmer isn’t going to be repeated somewhere else.

Manziel didn’t burn a bridge with the Browns, he scorched the earth so he was always going to have to go to a minor league and until the AAF and XFL are up and running, the CFL is that entity.

Manziel will take the trek up to Hamilton, Ontario and try to get on the field for the Tiger-Cats after signing with the team earlier this month. Instead of competing with Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown, he’s going to have to prove to former long-time NFL and college coach June Jones that he’s better than former Oregon signal callers Jeremiah Masoli and Vernon Adams.

“I’ve wanted him since he was a sophomore in high school,” Jones, a former QB himself, told reporters after a Tiger-Cats’ practice. “I think I was the first to offer him a scholarship.”

If Manziel can beat out his competition and excel over the duration of his two-year deal in Hamilton, he will only be 27 and in a very good position to pull a Warren Moon or Doug Flutie and return from North of the Border to relevancy.

In theory, the Canadian game is a better fit for the undersized Manziel’s skill set with the wider and longer field opening up space for his athleticism and creating throwing lames to offset his lack of height. Meanwhile, the running start for one receiver before the snap places a premium on quick, accurate passing and less of a need for the Brett Favre-sized arm.

More so, Jones has been a proponent of spread offenses — the scheme Maziel excelled in with the Aggies — before most.

“The biggest thing that made me feel comfortable about coming up here was Jones,” Manziel said. “A lot of people I’ve trusted and talked to in NFL circles really like June and really like his ability to help quarterbacks.”

Trust is an interesting word for Manziel to bring up because that’s what many in the NFL simply do not have when it comes to him.

“I remember the story that Mike Zimmer asked him point blank if he was going to screw him [with his off-the-field behavior],” an NFL scout told “People knew the stories and he sure as s@#$ buried Ray.”

On the field will all be secondary to off of it when NFL teams look at Manziel and what’s going on in Canada.

Jones, who was once the head coach in Atlanta for three years and spent 12 years overall in the NFL as a coach, will be asked about Manziel’s work ethic and what kind of teammate he is to others before anyone thinks about the physical gifts and bringing back down south.

Manziel could even turn into a CFL All-Star and win a Grey Cup but if the whispers continue or if there is even one slip up when it comes to partying or missing work, the NFL is going to remain very wary of him.

The grading curve is going to be zero-tolerance so Manziel has to tackle this opportunity for what it really is: a set of circumstances that opens the door for him to prove he can be a professional.

And that’s the next small step.

Written by John McMullen

-John McMullen is a national NFL columnist for and the NFL Insider for ESPN South Jersey. You can reach him at or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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