The Hamilton Tiger-Cats own one of the CFL’s most coveted assets in the negotiation rights to Johnny Manziel.
They also face a massive conundrum now that Manziel has put a dollar figure and a timeline on those negotiations. As a result, Kent Austin & Co. should sell high and trade the polarizing quarterback to a desperate market like British Columbia before the free agency game of QB musical chairs is over.
Earlier this week, Manziel’s agent Erik Burkhardt went public with negotiations, asking for a “fair deal” that matched what Hamilton paid their previous QB, by Jan. 31. If the Hamilton fails to comply by that deadline Manziel says he will “turn our focus to several other professional options readily available to us.”
In other words, Manziel wants to be the highest paid player in the CFL by the end of the month.
What we have here is a game of chicken between the Tiger-Cats football operations and Manziel’s camp. The question is: who needs the other more? I’d argue Hamilton has the leverage because Manziel’s production is unknown and they have a proven QB commodity in-house as an alternative.
So are five reasons why Hamilton should stick to their guns with their final offer and trade his rights if he won’t agree to it.
1. There’s no evidence he’ll be good
Manziel doesn’t provide cost certainty in relation to potential on-field production. Remember, Manziel hasn’t played competitive football since Dec. 27, 2015. It is one thing to look good in a controlled, scripted workout wearing shorts and a T-shirt. It’s another thing entirely to perform at the highest level as a marked man learning a new playbook, new teammates, new opponents and new rules for the first time.
Manziel’s Heisman-worthy season in the NCAA was six years ago.
You know who weren’t legendary quarterbacks in a power five NCAA conference like Manziel? Bo Levi Mitchell, Ricky Ray, Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris. All of them spent time as CFL understudies. All learned their craft and respected the level of competition. All of them have cognitive skills that surpass their physical attributes.
There is a very clear road map to success in the Canadian Football League as a QB. The main ingredients are playing for experienced CFL coaching and learning as an understudy to a veteran. If Manziel were to start in Hamilton he’d have none of the above. Physical attributes alone don’t help you deal with five defensive backs, navigating throwing wide-outs from different hash marks with a bigger ball to wide receivers with unlimited motion.
If the game was just about arm strength and athleticism, Michael Bishop would be the greatest QB in CFL history, not Ricky Ray or Doug Flutie. If playing QB in Canada was solely about explosiveness, Anthony Calvillo would have never played a down. Calvillo is now a Hall-of-Famer and the type of mentor Manziel could benefit from.
In the NCAA, Manziel was explosive enough to become a first round draft pick after just two collegiate seasons. But in 14 NFL games, Manziel averaged 119 yards passing and threw seven touchdowns, seven interceptions and fumbled seven times. In that time, he lost three times as many games as he won as a starter. Manziel’s level of celebrity and college exploits are the only reason he’s being offered a CFL contract at all, never mind a high-paying one.
There is a long list of talented QBs who have had success in the South like former NFL starters Cleo Lemon and Mike McMahon and Heisman winners Eric Crouch, Vince Young and Troy Smith who all failed to move the needle in the three-down game.
2. There’s no evidence he’ll be better than Jeremiah Masoli
The biggest reason Hamilton should save themselves the headache is that they don’t need him. When Jeremiah Masoli was slinging it to the tune of 23 straight completions this season, nobody was thinking the Ti-Cats needed Johnny Manziel to be a contender again. After the Ti-Cats started the season 0-8 Masoli resurrected their season, leading them to a 6-4 record to finish the year. He was rewarded for that effort with a two-year contract. It doesn’t make financial sense to carry two quarterbacks making starter’s money in a capped league.
The Tiger-Cats don’t need Manziel to be successful in 2018. They should invest resources fortifying their offensive line in free agency and they need to spend their energy trying to re-sign Larry Dean, one of the league’s best linebackers.
3. Manziel is only a short-term solution
Even if Manziel is successful, Ticats head coach June Jones and vice-president of football operations Kent Austin have to ask themselves the question of how long Manziel will be willing to stay in the North. After a good season or two, he’d be looking to get back to the U.S. in the NFL or even the rumoured Vince McMahon led XFL, should it get off the ground. Who would be a better face of XFL 2.0 than “Johnny Football?”
Even in a perfect scenario, he’s not a long term solution in Hamilton.
4. There wouldn’t be a return on investment
There is no denying Manziel brings with him exposure and an audience unlike any player currently in the league.
Imagine his pals Drake and Justin Beiber watching him play from a suite wearing No. 2 jerseys. For a league that wants to capture a young audience, he has appeal. This is the crux of his agent’s argument as to why Manziel should be paid handsomely – for the impressions and influence he provides.
However, this value would be felt not by Hamilton exclusively, but by the league as a whole when Manziel-mania fosters higher TV ratings and added mentions for the CFL with their American partners ESPN and the NFL Network. The individual teams, however, make the bulk of their money at the gate. Unlike the MLS’ designated imports, Manziel’s salary wouldn’t be subsidized by the league as a whole. Sure, Manziel can sell tickets, but how many empty seats do you expect to see at Tim Horton’s Field for the home opener if he isn’t in uniform?
Hamilton doesn’t have a sales issue. They have one of the strongest fanbases in the league. If anything, they’ve had a PR issue. The nightmare that was the Art Briles flirtation hurt ticket sales more than their quarterback play. And a further misstep by Manziel, domestic abuse, drugs or otherwise, would provide serious further damage to a brand that can ill afford it. It doesn’t make sense for Hamilton to assume all the risk for only a portion of the benefits.
The football fans of Hamilton are resilient and loyal. They followed the team when they played in Guelph and put up with a delayed Tim Horton’s Field that lacked many basic amenities when it finally opened. They’ll put up with an 18-year championship drought. They’ll even put up with the fact the Grey Cup game hasn’t been in Hamilton for 22 years.
What they won’t tolerate is a millennial, entitled QB not performing and giving their city a bad name.
5. There is a trade market for him
Two other teams do need a quarterback, and could use some help selling tickets: B.C. and Montreal.
The best landing spot for Manziel would be British Columbia. Wally Buono would be the ideal mentor as he’s turned under sized QBs such as like Travis Lulay, Dave Dickenson and Doug Flutie to all-stars. The ideal situation for Hamilton would be to move his rights to a team in the West. If not, drive up the asking price and get Montreal on the phone.
Montreal needs to make a QB decision soon. Darian Durant is owed a $150,000 roster bonus on Jan. 15 and general manager Kavis Reed recently put former NFLer Josh Freeman on their negotiation list.
Newly appointed Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman already has a relationship with Manziel as he convinced him not to go to Oregon and compete with Marcus Mariota, but to head to Texas A&M. The Wettenhall family (who own the Alouettes) have brought in high-profile players in the past such as Chad Ochocinco and Michael Sam. At different points they were also interested in bringing both Tim Tebow and Jesse Palmer north, too. It’s worth noting both Sam and Ochocinco (and more recently Trent Richardson) sold jerseys initially, but neither played well or moved the needle at the gate.
Like many CFL fans, I hope Manziel comes north, played well and has a great career. It would be exciting to watch him play. If motivated and in the right situation, he could be a transcendent player.
But given his past and the past of players like him, I wouldn’t bet $500,000 on it.
And neither should the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.