The comeback of Johnny Manziel is officially in full force. On Saturday April 7th, Johnny Manziel took the field for the first time in pads since he last played in the NFL. Making his debut for the South Team of the Spring League, a developmental football league launched in 2017, he went 9-of-15 for 83 yards and a touchdown in an 11-7 loss.
Since being released by the Cleveland Browns in January 2016, Manziel has had an array of controversies follow him from not being able to stay sober to pleading guilty to physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend. To say the least, it has not been a fun two years for the former Texas Aggies star, known by the folk-legend-esque nickname, Johnny Football.
As many of his followers can attest to, Manziel has had nothing short of a roller coaster career. The narrative around Manziel went from comparable to that of “The Natural”, despite his scenario being football, to one of tremendous failure. In 2012, his freshman season, Manziel already looked like the future of the NFL. He became the first freshman quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy, Manning Award, and the Davey O’Brien all in the same year. The 2012 college football season was the season that Manziel became known to the college football world as a “household name.” However, as many of you know, this stretch of glory did not last very long for Manziel.
In 2013, things began to spiral out for Manziel who still managed to put up a great season for Texas A&M. The season started with a controversy surrounding him as a person of interest in a memorabilia scandal. The scandal said that Manziel received “payments of around $7,500 in exchange for thousands of autographs.” He allegedly told the individual paying him that he intended on spending the money on “new rims for his car.” Additionally, NCAA Bylaw 184.108.40.206 prohibits student-athletes from accepting money for promotion or sale of a product or service”. Ultimately, the NCAA could not find sufficient evidence that warranted a substantial disciplining and Manziel was ordered to sit the first half of the 2013 Texas A&M opener against Rice.
The 2013 season was a very good season statistical season for Manziel as he threw for a passer rating of 172.9, up from a 155.3 rating the previous season. His production in the running game ticketed off greatly. It is worth noting that the 2013 season was when controversies started to follow Manziel.
In January 2014, Manziel announced that he would forgo his senior season at Texas A&M and declared for the 2014 NFL Draft. The Cleveland Browns took Manziel with the 22nd pick of the draft, making him the second quarterback drafted behind Blake Bortles.
As soon as Manziel was drafted by the Browns, he was doomed for failure. It was widely speculated that drafting him was a move made by ownership, against the will of most coaches besides 2014 head coach Mike Pettine. Manziel has been publicly blamed by the likes of Joe Thomas as the reason Pettine failed in Cleveland.
The embattled star, was the team’s leading jersey seller that offseason as well as being responsible for the emergence of over 15,000 new season ticket holders. As soon as it became evident “Johnny Football” could become the savior, it became evident he was not a fit for the Browns organization, at least from a coaching stance. Manziel had never had a playbook before he entered the NFL. Instead, he relied on Texas A&M weekly-game plans that he still barely studied. This resulted in Manziel having a hard time learning play calls in Cleveland under offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
In his rookie season, Manziel appeared in five games, completing 18-of-35 passes for 175 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. That did not favor Manziel from a situational perspective as he was filling in for an injured Brian Hoyer.
Following a rough 2014 rookie season, on February 2, 2015, Manziel entered substance abuse treatment for the first time to address an undisclosed issue that was publicly assumed to be substance related in nature. It became evident at this point that his partying days at Texas A&M followed him into what should’ve be a professional lifestyle at that point for Manziel.
The 2015 season was a continuation for Manziel, only in 2015 he was filling in sporadically for Josh McCown and not Hoyer. On Nov. 24th of that year, a week after being named the starter for the rest of the season, a video surfaced on the Internet of the quarterback partying. According to Pettine, he lied about the video and was therefore demoted. Following the Browns 37-3 loss to the Bengals, Manziel was, again, named the starter and started in a win against the 49ers, 24-10 to snap a 7-game skid.
Things got worse on January 2nd as Manziel was spotted at a Casino in Las Vegas. When he did not show up to the team facility the following day, the reports were confirmed. This infuriated the Browns organization beyond the point of forgiveness and Manziel was released by the team a little over a week later.
This is what the world knows of Manziel, an individual with a world of potential met by his roller coaster of varying emotions and actions.
Shortly after being released, the Dallas Police Department were looking into Manziel as his girlfriend claimed he committed domestic violence against her while driving in 2015. He was fired by his first agent, Erik Burkhardt, and then his second, Drew Rosenhaus. On the same day that Rosenhaus fired Manziel, Nike announced it had ended its endorsement deal with him according to Darren Rovell.
Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get worse for Manziel, he failed a drug test administered by the NFL on June 30th, 2016. On December 2nd 2016, he plead guilty and was given a year of probation regarding the domestic violence case.
Fast forward to the end of his probationary period and Manziel seems like a refreshed version of his old self. After announcing he has bipolar disorder, he declared he would attempt to make a comeback for the 2018 NFL season. The process culminated with Manziel announcing he will be playing for the South Team in the Spring League. Despite the implications of the announcement, Manziel has done more than this to show his eagerness to get back on an NFL roster.
Manziel first announced that he would be willing to take no guaranteed money, or a practice squad spot to play on an NFL team given his past and financial background.
According to Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network: “He’s had conversations with multiple NFL head coaches, teams have been informed that Manziel will take zero dollars guaranteed, minimum salary if need be, and, he’s still eligible for the practice squad. He would be open to signing a practice squad contract, staying on a team’s practice squad, and proving that he’s in the right mindset this entire NFL season.”
At this point, what teams really want to see is if Manziel can still walk-the-walk. He has shown some glimpses of his ability in two Pro Days in 2018. According to ESPN, 13 different teams sent scouts to watch Manziel over the course of those two workouts.
An unnamed-scout told Yahoo Sports about Manziel’s performance: “As long as he wasn’t out of shape, I thought he’d probably throw well and he did. … He’s got talent. He’s always had talent. It’s just a lot of [stuff] there getting in his way. But just on talent, he’s better than a lot of quarterbacks on [NFL] rosters and he’s better than a lot of guys that will get drafted [this month].”
For NFL teams the question about Manziel does not revolve around his ability to play football, as mentioned above, it revolves around his character. After a rough tenure in Cleveland, NFL teams are still left wondering whether Manziel can tune out the distractions from his personal life and succeed in the NFL, something that has yet to be seen.
From what his followers can tell, Manziel has changed a lot since he last played in the NFL. Since 2016, he has put his legal troubles behind him, he’s taken account for his actions and sought treatment for his bipolar disorder, he got married, and he was granted eligibility to play in the Canadian Football League, barring a failed comeback in 2018.
To his following, it may appear that Manziel has done a complete make-over of his life. However, to his doubters, this could be seen as yet another instance where he talked himself up, only to fail. It seems that Manziel has done what’s needed of him to show the NFL community that he is not only eligible to come back and play, but deserving too. It’s all left to Manziel to show the NFL that he can complete his comeback story or prove his doubters right.