Johnny Manziel is making a comeback. No, really.
Two years ago when the 2016 NFL new year began, the Cleveland Browns released Johnny Football after a tumultuous two-year run. Once on the free agent market, well, lemme just pull from this SB Nation piece from a year ago:
First, the rumors were whether or not he’d be indicted for domestic abuse after a high-profile altercation with his then-girlfriend (he was). Then, they were about if the league would suspend him for substance abuse issues (it did). In between, the question was whether his high-powered agent would drop him as Manziel partied his way up and down the West Coast (he did).
Once that was settled, pundits pondered whether a Mexican party mansion filled with drugs was the best place to spend his time (probably not). Finally, the big question became how much it would cost to get his autograph outside Super Bowl 51 ($99 for a signature, but only $50 for a selfie).
There are many things one can say about Mexican party mansions filled with drugs. One of those things is that it is probably not a good setting for someone who wants to jumpstart their career in the NFL who has a history of parties and drugs.
So it was that Johnny Football seemingly would fade into obscurity as a college football legend and an NFL prospect who had all the potential in the world who would get eaten by his own off-field drama.
Until late last year. Something happened. Earlier this month, Manziel spoke to Good Morning America to explain just what that something was:
There’s definitely a sincerity and maturity in his comments that we haven’t seen before. That he revealed that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder last year and has since started taking medication and abstained from drinking alcohol is revealing less about his personal life and more about his commitment to, well, getting well.
And I say all of that just as pretext to a bit of a one off comment from NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo at the 2018 NFL Scouting Combine on Manziel’s comeback:
After I’m done plugging @ThomaHawkNFD, I talk Johnny Manziel and how teams have been told he’s willing to take $0 guaranteed and even spend time on a practice squad to prove himself in the NFL again. pic.twitter.com/thWDWhzPd6— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) February 28, 2018
He is in touch with multiple NFL head coaches, and there have been conversations that...it’s a very real possibility that he could return to the NFL whether before or after his appearance in the Spring League.
And I will also tell you this. Teams have been informed that Manziel will take zero dollars guaranteed, minimum salary if need be, and, you may not know this, 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 is in the right mindset throughout this entire NFL season to get himself back in the right place with a lot of NFL evaluators.
Now look. I get that the last two years haven’t helped Manziel’s reputation. And he’s got nobody to blame but himself for as much.
But it’s Johnny Football. Heisman-winning, human highlight reel, first-round pick Johnny Football. For league minimum. On a practice squad. That’s about as high an upside as you could possibly find on any practice squad across the NFL.
Think about the move the Los Angeles Rams just made in their trade for Kansas City Chiefs CB Marcus Peters. KC went to every team in the NFL and said that they had a guy they didn’t want in their locker room anymore because his off-field issues had become too overwhelming despite his on-field talent. It’s the same kind of value situation for Manziel, albeit without the top tier on-field production that Peters has shown the last three seasons.
But if Manziel can commit to himself and his comeback in earnest through the Spring League over the next two months, he’s going to find a suitor in the NFL. The QB labor pool isn’t so strong that a talent like Manziel, if he’s a shred of his former Texas A&M self, won’t be worth a league minimum contract.
Look at the Rams’ QB depth chart. Sure, Jared Goff is locked in as the starter for, well, the future. How long? Who knows. At least for 2018 and right now, that’s all that matters. But beyond Goff...do Rams fans feel good about the depth? Is anyone sincerely interested in Sean Mannion as the backup to Goff? The Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles both had to rely on their backup quarterbacks, both former Rams, in 2017 and throughout the postseason. Both ended up making the NFC Championship. The Eagles won the Super Bowl. Do any Rams fans sincerely believe Mannion could guide the Rams through a playoff run? The answer is of course yes, there are always fans who believe the most insane things and this is life, but I digress... And let us not forget about third-string QB Brandon Allen. The Rams claimed Allen off of waivers in September. Though he didn’t log a snap this year, he still suffered a season-ending back injury in late December.
Manziel certainly offers higher upside than Allen. And for long-term value, I’m not sure he doesn’t offer more than Mannion immediately as well. Mannion is scheduled to become a free agent a year from now. At some point the Rams have to look at the backup QB position with some sincerity. I’d suggest that time is upon them, but I suppose I could understand why they might wait a year with Mannion under contract and the backup QB being an expensive position to fill in free agency and a difficult one to staff through the draft.
But that’s what’s so enticing about Manziel and this comeback. From a story standpoint, everyone loves a comeback story, someone knocked down that’s able to get back up. But from an NFL standpoint, this is an EXTREMELY high value addition if things work out. I’m not beating the drum for the Rams to sign Manziel. But I could see some teams doing so if the next two months go well.
And for NFL fans everywhere, but most of all for Johnny Manziel himself, it’s a comeback to root for.