Johnny Manziel’s professional career was always going to go one of two ways: Either he’d find a way to be the same sort of unlikely world-beater of a quarterback in the NFL that he’d been during his stunning years at Texas A&M, or he’d flame out hard, crushed by the kind of bad choices that made people love him when he was a college kid pulling off the impossible every week. Manziel ended up with the latter—but now he’s looking for a second chance.
After sliding in the 2014 NFL Draft (Jerry Jones reportedly had to be physically restrained from taking him with the 16th pick in the first round), the 22-year-old from Tyler went to the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd pick, vowing to quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains that they would “wreck the league” together. It didn’t work out that way. Manziel played in only a handful of games as a rookie, and struggled mightily when he did. He completed barely more than 50 percent of his passes, threw two interceptions, and no touchdowns. His second season, in 2015, wasn’t a noticeable improvement—he played like a struggling reliever who could still improvise plays on the fly, but not like the sort of methodical quarterback who succeeds in the NFL. The Browns committed to his development as a starter in mid-November of that year, but after a video of him drinking in Texas surfaced, he was benched again, then eventually returned to the lineup as a hapless coaching staff looked for a way to salvage their jobs. Manziel did not provide that spark, and after the 2015 season, the Browns cut him and fired both Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine, the general manager and head coach that brought him to Cleveland.
In addition to his on-field struggles, Manziel also got in more serious trouble. His off-field antics had often been treated as a gag, subject to social media snark around “Johnny Football” as a booze-fueled party animal, but in October 2015, he made TMZ because of domestic violence accusations involving his then-girlfriend. The following year, as more details came out, Manziel was indicted in Dallas, and dropped by his agent. After that, his career all but ended. He hasn’t had so much as a workout with an NFL team since.
But Manziel is only 25 years old. That means that he’s got a lot of life left ahead of him—and, he hopes, perhaps some football left, too. On Monday morning, Johnny Football took to Good Morning America to explain himself, re-introduce himself to the world as a sober adult who’d done some soul-searching, and ask for a second chance.
The appearance on GMA was a classic first stop on a redemption tour, as Manziel reflected on his mistakes, lamented the opportunities he’d blown, explained the root causes of his behavior (he revealed that he’s been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and takes medication for it), and vowed that he’s changed—notably, that he’s been sober for over a year.
It’s easy for those of us watching at home to take some schadenfreude—induced satisfaction in the downfall of a young man who got famous and got arrogant so young (he was nineteen years old when he won the Heisman, the only freshman to ever do so). From a distance, it looks like he had everything handed to him, and he blew it. Inside Manziel’s own life, of course, the circumstances look different.
But the easy narrative of the redemption tour makes it hard to take Manziel at face value, especially compared to the hard work of proving himself on (and off) the field. On Good Morning America, he declined to comment on the domestic violence accusations against him, according to a brief post-interview segment with the show’s hosts—and while he spoke about his desire to get back into the NFL, he hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunity to return to football in the Canadian Football League. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL offered him a contract in January, which Manziel has yet to accept, despite his declaration of a January deadline. Meanwhile, instead of signing with a team and proving his worth on the field, he started a clothing line: “ComebackSZN,” selling apparel in Aggie maroon with phrases like “Money Manziel” on it (which he wore throughout his redemption-tour TV appearance).
ComebackSZN is not about regaining what you lost. It’s about harnessing adversity as a tool to become greater than you were before. It’s about falling from the top to then find yourself to climb even higher. Without you guys support I’d never be where I’m at today..THANK YOU
— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) February 3, 2018
It’s been reported that the contract terms are the issue (although Manziel appeared to dispute that in a tweet), but whatever the reason, his desire “to get back on a football field, to what brought me so much joy in my life” hasn’t extended to taking a CFL deal. His agent said in January that he wants Manziel to get a deal similar to that offered to other Tiger-Cats quarterbacks, but those quarterbacks weren’t the sort of redemption projects playing out their final chances the way that Manziel was—and they didn’t come with the same risks. If Manziel plays in Hamilton the way that he played for the Browns, he’s not worth a top contract, and if he plays for the Tiger-Cats like he did during his A&M glory days, he’s probably a short-term rental before he does return to the NFL.
All of which makes it hard to foresee what Johnny Manziel’s future actually looks like. He’s holding out on the CFL, making pleas to America via morning shows for a second chance, and selling t-shirts emblazoned with his college nickname to still-loyal Aggies. Going on television to explain that he’s learned humility after the “sense of entitlement” he had before is a start—even if he won’t talk about the most troubling accusation in his past. But if Manziel wants to prove his commitment as a player, he may have to start by humbling himself and demonstrating on a minimum deal in the CFL that he’s worth that high-profile second chance.