Johnny Manziel

AFC North Notes: Browns, Manziel, LaFell

Johnny Manziel is back. Sort of. On Friday night, the former Browns quarterback will make his first CFL start with his new club, the Montreal Alouettes.

I feel fortunate enough this week to be going against a team, a defense that I’ve seen more than any other defense since I’ve been in the CFL,” Manziel told reporters as he prepares to face his former team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (via TSN). “I feel like I really know this personnel very well, I feel like I know this team in and out because I was a part of it.”

Manziel, of course, is hoping to impress on the elongated CFL field and return to the NFL. It remains to be seen whether he’ll get another chance south of the border, but NFL evaluators will certainly be keeping a watchful eye on his performance.

Here’s a look at the AFC North:

  • Brandon LaFell‘s agent says that his client asked to be released from the Bengals, but a team source says that the decision was not made based on LaFell’s desire to play elsewhere, Katherine Terrell of ESPN.com tweets. It sounds like the source had not heard of any such request by LaFell, but even if the wide receiver asked to be let go, it’s doubtful such a request would have been granted anyway. The source told Terrell that the move was made to give the club’s young receivers more reps.
  • The Browns are trying All-Pro guard Joel Bitonio at left tackle, as Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com writes. Recently, Browns offensive line coach Bob Wylie said playing Bitonio at left tackle was the club’s “Plan Z.” Apparently, it only took a matter of days for the team to work its way through the alphabet. If the Browns opt to use Bitonio on the outside in September, it will probably result in Shon Coleman going to the bench with No. 33 overall pick Austin Corbett starting at left guard. Alternatively, one has to wonder if the Browns will explore external tackle options in order to keep Bitonio at his natural position.
  • No one will confuse Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson for a Mr. Universe contestant, but the Louisville product says that he is not planning on gaining a significant amount of weight.
  • The Steelers recently learned that guard Ramon Foster will not require surgery to fix his knee.

Extra Points: Gates, Chargers, Manziel, Richardson, AAF, Anthem

Chargers GM Tom Telesco acknowledged ongoing talks with TE Antonio Gates’ representation Thursday, but no deal” tweets Eric D. Williams of ESPN. Telesco also added that he believes Gates “can still be effective in the Chargers’ offense.” The Chargers looked set to move on earlier this offseason, but then Hunter Henry was lost for the season with a torn ACL. The team immediately expressed interest in bringing back Gates, but things have been slow moving ever since.

It’s unclear what is holding up contract talks, but it’s not a huge deal for a player who’s been around as long as Gates has to miss some of training camp. Perhaps he just wants to wait as long as possible and put little wear on his body before returning right before the regular season. Gates has said he has no intention of retiring, and it’s extremely unlikely he signs with any other team than the Chargers. A deal should get done at some point, and it would be a surprise if it isn’t announced soon. The future Hall of Fame inductee turned 38 in June.

Here’s more from around the football universe:

  • The Montreal Alouettes had been targeting Johnny Manziel for a while before they finally ended up trading for him, a source told Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk. The Alouettes had tried to acquire Manziel’s rights before he even signed with the CFL, but were rebuffed.
  • Former number three overall pick Trent Richardson will sign with the Birmingham team in the newly created AAF, according to Matt Zenitz of AL.com. Richardson flamed out with the Browns and then Colts, and will be looking to revive his football career in the upstart league.
  • The league and NFLPA have been talking and negotiating about the anthem policy since before the July 4th holiday, a source told Albert Breer of SI.com. Breer disagrees with the league’s course of action, arguing the new “policy was a poor way to try to move the focus back to football.”

Hamilton Trades Johnny Manziel To Montreal

Johnny Manziel will now be on a second Canadian Football League franchise in his first season up north. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats agreed to trade the former NFL first-rounder to the Montreal Alouettes, Duane Forde of TSN reports (on Twitter).

This is a five-player deal, per Forde (on Twitter), but one that will send the one-time Browns bust to a place where he figures to have a better chance of seeing playing time.

The coach who recruited Manziel to Texas A&M, Mike Sherman, serves as Montreal’s head coach. Though Sherman was not the Aggies’ coach during Manziel’s Heisman Trophy season in 2012, he was on board during the quarterback’s redshirt season in ’11.

The Alouettes have already tried three quarterbacks — Drew Willy, Jeff Mathews and Matt Shiltz — this season, and as PFT’s Michael David Smith points out, currently sport the CFL’s worst offense. The Tiger-Cats have used just one passer, Jeremiah Masoli, all season. Thirteen games remain on the Alouettes’ docket.

Manziel’s CFL contract runs through the 2019 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

CFL Reinstates “NFL Window”

Previously, Canadian Football League players had to sign a minimum two-year contract to join a team, and the league didn’t provide an out for those looking to jump to the NFL. Well, it sounds like the CFL has softened its stance, as TSN’s David William Naylor reports that the league has voted to reinstate their “NFL window.” The league had voted against this change earlier this year.

As Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com explains, this would allow “certain players to work out for NFL teams and sign contracts that would become effective at the end of a given CFL season.” That way, instead of being obligated to the CFL for two seasons, players would have the ability to sign with an NFL team after only one season in Canada.

However, as Florio points out, the rule would only apply to players who ink contracts after August 20th of this year. That means players like quarterback Johnny Manziel, who signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats back in May, won’t be able to join the NFL until their contracts expire. The rule change also wouldn’t apply to running back Dexter McCluster, who recently signed with the Toronto Argonauts. On the flip side, if a player signs after August 20th, they’d have the ability to return to the NFL next year.

Florio wonders if the CFL may have been pressured by the developing spring football leagues, which will presumably provide players with the ability to return to the NFL. Ultimately, Florio believes this change could eventually lead to the CFL allowing one-year contracts or a clear NFL-out clause. As Naylor observes, the rule also came about due to Toronto Argonauts running back James Wilder‘s threats to sit out the entire CFL season due to his inability to join an NFL team.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Notes: Titans, Dodd, Kearse, Manziel, Patriots,

It’s a crucial offseason for Titans linebacker Kevin Dodd. Despite being the first pick of the second round back in 2016, his early draft status doesn’t assure him of anything due to his lack of production his first two years in the league. Dodd is apparently skipping voluntary OTAs, and will find himself squarely on the roster bubble heading into the 2018 season writes Jim Wyatt of Titansonline.com, who says “he’s going to have to earn his spot on the team.”

With a brand new coaching staff that has no ties to him, it’s a puzzling move for Dodd to be skipping OTAs. He was a much hyped prospect coming out of college, but has appeared in just 18 games through two seasons, making only 12 total tackles.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel has repeatedly deflected when asked about Dodd, and as Wyatt points out, the Titans have a lot of bodies at outside linebacker. The team recently drafted Harold Landry in the second round, a sign that their patience with Dodd is wearing thin. If he doesn’t turn it around soon, Dodd might not be on the team that spent the 33rd overall pick on him just two years ago much longer.

Here’s more from around the AFC:

  • Jermaine Kearse is due a non-guaranteed $5MM salary this season, leading some to speculate he could be cut by the Jets. He’s currently no higher than fourth on their wide receiver depth chart and is quite expensive for a fourth option. But Darryl Slater of NJ.com thinks Kearse will make it through final cuts, saying “ultimately, I think Kearse sticks with the Jets in 2018.” As Slater points out, Quincy Enunwa and Terrelle Pryor are both working their way back from injuries, while Robby Anderson still might be suspended by the league, so the Jets may end up counting on Kearse far more than a typical fourth wide receiver.
  • Former Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel made his return to professional football yesterday, playing in a preseason game with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Manziel finished the night going 9-of-12 for 80 yards (Twitter link via Mike Rodak of ESPN). After recently signing with the Tiger-Cats, Manziel will have to spend at least the next two seasons in Canada as he attempts to make a return to the NFL.
  • Patriots rookie undrafted cornerback J.C. Jackson is receiving first-team reps at OTAs and seems to be in good position to make the team, according to Doug Kyed of NESN.com. Kyed notes that the Patriots have a history of discovering undrafted gems at cornerback, including Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. Jackson was seen as a day three prospect by evaluators based on talent, but went undrafted due to off-field concerns according to Kyed.

Extra Points: Anthem, Kaepernick, Manziel

The NFL’s new anthem policy has received a great deal of backlash, but another idea previously considered by owners also would have faced some opposition. Team owners considered a 15-yard penalty against teams that partake in anthem protests, but that move wouldn’t have necessarily gone over well with the league’s officials.

It would not be in my DNA to throw a flag on someone for their personal protest regardless of whether or not I agreed with them,” former ref Mike Pereira told Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated (Twitter link).

Meanwhile, players are up in arms about the policy that was enacted on Wednesday. Klemko hears (Twitter link) that players who weren’t planning demonstrations for next season are now discussing ways to skirt the new rules “just to spite the NFL.”

More from around the football world:

  • President Donald Trump weighed in on the NFL’s new anthem policy shortly after it was announced. “You have to stand proudly for the National Anthem. You shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe they shouldn’t be in the country…the NFL owners did the right thing,” Trump said (Twitter link via FOX News). It remains to be seen whether Trump will continue to stir the pot on an issue that threatens the league’s bottom line and its relationship with players.
  • The NFL used a polling firm to gauge public opinion on Colin Kaepernick “four months into” his 2017 free agency, Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports hears. The firm polled fans on other NFL-related topics – including domestic violence, gambling, player protests, and player safety – but Kaepernick was the only player singled out in the research for specific opinions. The development could have an impact on Kaepernick’s ongoing collusion case against the league.
  • Johnny Manziel is likely to serve as the backup quarterback for the CFL’s Tiger-Cats, coach June Jones says (via Mike Rodak of ESPN.com). Barring something unforeseen, Jones expects to use former Oregon and Mississippi QB Jeremiah Masoli as his starter throughout the year. If that plan holds up, it would be a fairly significant barrier to Manziel’s planned NFL comeback. Then again, Manziel likely won’t be in the NFL conversation anytime soon after signing a binding two-year deal with Hamilton.

Johnny Manziel: I Was “Close” To NFL Deal

Johnny Manziel is heading north of the border to suit up with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Before agreeing to play in Canada, Manziel believes that he was on the cusp of landing an NFL contract.

I think it was close,” Manziel said (via PFT). “I did reach out and talk to multiple teams and coaches I had met in my first couple years in the league.

Ultimately, Manziel says he did not want to squander his opportunity to get things going in the CFL given the time that has passed since his last professional snap. In theory, Manziel could have waited for something to materialize in the NFL, or for a non-binding short-term deal in the Alliance of American Football in 2019, but he did not want to sit on the sidelines any longer.

It was really the wait,” he said. “I didn’t want to get into something down the road where I’m waiting until August, waiting until training camps open, and then if something doesn’t transpire I’m getting here late.”

Manziel agreed to sign a two-year deal with the Ti-Cats – the minimum length of a deal in the CFL – and it contains no possible outs for the NFL, as stipulated by league rules. In theory, the Ti-Cats could grant a request for release between now and 2020, but they are under no obligation to do so.

For now, it looks like Manziel will not resurface in the NFL before the end of this decade.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Rams, Manziel, Eagles, Colts

The majority of the 2018 NFL Draft class is now signed, but that’s not the case in Los Angeles. The Rams have yet to sign a single pick.

Should fans be concerned? To put it simply, no.

This isn’t new to the team, as Michael David Smith of PFT writes, as it likes to address financial planning with its players before giving them a large signing bonus. Like in years past, the Rams rookies will all generally sign at once sometime in the next few weeks.

“One of the things that we think is important with that is bringing the rookies in as a group, having them live together as a group, and not having any real differentiation between the first-round pick and the undrafted rookie,” Demoff said. “They’re in the hotel together. They’re eating meals together. They’re doing things together. And then [by the time] they all scatter, we’ll sign their contracts. They’ll leave knowing the contract’s done, so they don’t have to worry about that headache when they go on vacation.”

So no need to panic Rams fans. This is par for the course.

Here’s more from around the NFL:

  • The Eagles signed running back Matt Jones earlier in the week. The Philly Voice’s Jimmy Kempski has the details at two years for $1.5MM, none of which are guaranteed (Twitter link). He joins a crowded backfield that includes Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles.
  • The Colts have had visits from Kenny Vaccaro, Tre Boston and Bashaud Breeland in recent days. Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star tweets, however, the meetings were merely informational and no signings are imminent.
  • And we’ll also make pitstop in the CFL, where Johnny Manziel is not guaranteed to start for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith writes. Smith quotes head coach June Jones, who praised current starter and former Oregon standout Jeremiah Masoli. “Let me tell you something right now, he’s got his work ahead of him to beat out Jeremiah,” Jones said of Manziel. “He’s got a lot to catch up on, but he’ll spend the time to get that done. I know he will because he’s already learned that lesson.” Though Masoli has the leg up, it won’t be long before Manziel is given the reins, given he can stay out of trouble.

Extra Points: Manziel, Thomas, Bolts, Browns

It does not appear the Johnny Manziel saga will return to the NFL until at least the end of the decade. Manziel’s two-year contract with the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats is a binding deal, and CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora tweets no escape clause for the purposes of venturing to the NFL exists in the league’s collective bargaining agreement. The CFL previously voted on a possible escape-hatch option, but the proposal was rejected. La Canfora adds Manziel’s professional football options will come exclusively in Canada for the next two years (Twitter link). The NFL may be a faraway bridge considering how the former Heisman Trophy winner fared in his two years with the Browns and the many months that went by without any team showing significant interest.

As for Manziel’s deal, La Canfora reports (on Twitter) the 25-year-old passer will earn a $122K base salary in 2018. An additional $10K signing bonus is included, as well as an $18K housing stipend. La Canfora adds $10K escalators will trigger if Manziel hits six-, 10- and 14-game benchmarks this season. He’ll receive a $120K bonus if he plays in half the snaps, per JLC, and a $75K offseason bonus is due on March 1, 2019. Manziel’s 2019 salary spikes to $202K, and the same incentives are present.

Shifting back to the NFL, here’s the latest:

  • In supporting his former Seahawks teammate, Richard Sherman revealed a bit about Earl Thomas‘ goals for what will be his third NFL contract. “I think Earl Thomas deserves the money he’s asking for,” Sherman told former teammate and current NFL Network analyst Michael Robinson on Saturday (via NFL.com). “I think he deserves to be compensated as the top safety in the league. Whether Seattle does that or not is up to them.” Financial figures haven’t really emerged regarding this potential standoff, but if the Seahawks are to pay top dollar for their three-time All-Pro defender, it will cost them more than $13MM per year. And that could be a bridge too far for a retooling team that’s dangled Thomas in trades. When Thomas agreed to his initial Seattle extension, his $10MM-per-year salary paced NFL safeties. Five are now ahead of him.
  • Hue Jackson has repeatedly said he would like Tyrod Taylor to start throughout this season. But cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot does not see the Browns opting to re-sign Taylor after this season. She expects Mayfield to make a serious charge for the starting role at some point this season. If it turns out Taylor is a catalyst that leads the Browns to a major turnaround, Cabot expects him to hit the market as a coveted commodity — and one the Browns will not be paying for — in 2019.
  • The Chargers drafted Kevin White‘s younger brother, Kyzir White, in the fourth round. And the Bolts will move Kyzir from safety to linebacker, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. Denzel Perryman has one of Los Angeles’ linebacker spots locked down, with Kyle Emanuel and former seventh-round pick Hayes Pullard tentatively slotted in the other spots. The Bolts also drafted USC’s Uchenna Nwosu in the second round. But it doesn’t appear White will factor into the Bolts’ safety picture behind Jahleel Addae and Derwin James at this time.
  • The Saints gave UDFA tight end Deon Yelder $90K guaranteed to sign, Joel Erickson of The Advocate notes. A former wide receiver recruit at Western Kentucky, Yelder spent time behind current Rams tight end Tyler Higbee and current Seahawks left tackle George Fant while with the Hilltoppers prior to receiving plenty of playing time last season. New Orleans has struggled to replace Jimmy Graham and recently cut Coby Fleener. Yelder will try to make a team that has 37-year-old Benjamin Watson and Josh Hill atop its depth chart.
  • In a lower-stakes matter, the Patriots have $215 committed to Malcolm Butler on this year’s payroll, per Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. Apparently, one day of workout cash last offseason didn’t get tallied until now.

QB Johnny Manziel Signs With CFL Team

Johnny Manziel has found a job… in the CFL. The embattled quarterback announced on Twitter (via Barstool Sports) that he will be signing with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.

Manziel will sign a two-year deal, and he’ll be barred from joining the NFL until his contract is up. As NESN.com’s Dog Kyed tweets, the Tiger-Cats could do the quarterback a favor and release him following the 2018 season. However, that’d be solely at the team’s discretion.

“Made the decision today to sign my contract with the CFL and further my football career after a long break,” Manziel said in a separate tweet. “Very grateful for everyone that’s been supporting me along the way. I believe this is the best opportunity for me moving forward and I’m eager for what the future holds.”

We had heard earlier this month that Manziel had been drawing interest from Hamilton, although reports indicated that the quarterback was wary of the two-year obligation. The 25-year-old was reportedly willing to accept a practice squad deal with no guaranteed money, but no NFL teams bit on the former first-rounder. Manziel had also been loosly connected to the upcoming XFL reboot and the Alliance of American Football.

Manziel will also be dipping his toes into the broadcast industry, as he announced a “partnership” with Barstool Sports. He’ll be hosting a podcast alongside Kayce Smith and his agent, Erik Burkhardt.

The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner and 2014 first-round pick struggled during his two years with the Browns. The Texas A&M product ultimately appeared in 14 games (eight starts) for Cleveland, completing 57-percent of his passes for 1,675 yards, seven touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also added another 259 rushing yards on 46 attempts. Manziel has faced a long list of controversies over the years, including a 2012 arrest while he was in college and a 2016 investigation into domestic violence allegations. He was later suspended for four games during the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The 2018 CFL season is set to kick off in June, so Manziel will have some work to do to get on the field for opening day. The Tiger-Cats are currently rostering another pair of quarterbacks with NFL connections. Dane Evans, a 2017 undrafted free agent out of Tulsa, spent last preseason with the Eagles. Jeremiah Masoli, who played college ball at Mississippi and Oregon, had a brief stint with the 49ers.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.