Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Johnny Manziel Far from a Lock for CFL Success

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMay 23, 2018

Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel between drills at his alma mater during Texas A&M's football Pro Day in College Station, Texas, Tuesday, March 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Wyke)
Michael Wyke/Associated Press

Will Johnny Manziel meet expectations in the CFL? Will gambling ruin the NFL? Should Julio Jones hold out? Answers to those questions and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.

              

1. Warren Moon and Cris Carter "wouldn't be surprised if [Manziel] struggled"

Warren Moon is in two Halls of Fame: the Pro Football one in Canton, Ohio, and the Canadian Football one in Hamilton, Ontario. Moon can talk about both leagues extensively, but it's his knowledge of the CFL that's become more relevant for the moment. Because that's where Johnny Manziel is.

And based on what Moon says, if you believe Manziel will go to the CFL and wreck that league, well, hold on just a minute.

Asked what he thought the chances of Manziel succeeding were in the CFL, Moon responded, "I think the odds are 50-50, at best, to be honest."

Why?

"The league is a lot faster and harder-hitting than people think," Moon told me. 

Cris Carter played football at Ohio State, was the best route runner in NFL history and is in the Hall of Fame. And he has some perspective on the NFL, too. Carter's son, Duran Carter, plays wide receiver for the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Carter's thought on Manziel and the CFL?

"I wouldn't be surprised if he struggled," Carter wrote to me.

Manziel signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and it was a smart move. It gives Manziel a pseudo-NFL environment to prove himself. If he plays well, he can use the CFL as a springboard back to the NFL. Or, as Moon suggested, it's possible Manziel makes a career in the CFL.

What's certain is the CFL will be a huge challenge for Manziel, both on and off the field.

"It's going to be an ego-crusher for him, first of all," Moon said. "He was a star at Texas A&M, he was a first-round draft pick and now he's in the CFL. He's also going to Hamilton, and I don't mean anything against the city, but it's not one of the glamour cities in the league."

And on the field?

"The game is a lot more complex with more talented players than what he faced in college," Moon said. 

Carter broke the challenge facing Manziel down into three major points. 

"I wish it was one thing," he said.

His first point: "CFL is better than the SEC/college football."

If you don't watch the CFL regularly, you might not understand this. The CFL is a really good league. It's a notch below the NFL but is superior to even the best college football. The league has featured players like Moon, Doug Flutie, Raghib Ismail (one of the top 100 college football players of all time) and Cameron Wake, among many others.

In college, Manziel was fast. During his time with the Browns, he looked slow at times. The CFL isn't as fast of a league as the NFL, but it's only a notch below.

Could the wider CFL field (65 yards versus the NFL's 53) help Manziel? Yes, it could, but remember: CFL defenders are quick and are used to the field's dimensions. Manziel isn't. 

Carter's second point: "First down is more important."

You only get three downs to get 10 yards in the CFL, so you can't throw away downs. That means Manziel will have to get more accurate. He completed just 57.0 percent of his passes in his two years with the Browns.

He did have a first-down completion percentage of 67.8 in the NFL, so that's something to build on.

Carter's last point was perhaps the most important: "12 defenders."

Frank Victores/Associated Press

The CFL has 12 players on each side of the ball, which means more blitzers and more hits on the QB. If you think NFL quarterbacks get hit hard and often, watch a CFL game. Their quarterbacks get blasted.

Manziel is 6'0" and around 200 pounds. He's smallish by pro football standards. Will his body take that kind of punishment?

Flutie was a small player, too, and his body held up, so maybe that means Manziel will be OK.

"The main thing I would tell him is have fun," Moon said. "The CFL is fun."

Having fun has never been a problem for Manziel. Now, he just has to perform.

            

2. One last thing on Manziel

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 20: Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns throws a first quarter touchdown pass while playing the Tennessee Titans at FirstEnergy Stadium on September 20, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Moon had one of the strongest arms in the history of the NFL. He could throw a football through Voyager's ablative armored hull. Yet even for Moon, throwing the football in parts of Canada was difficult.

"I know he played in Cleveland, and it gets windy and cold there, obviously," Moon said, "but he will play in some cities in Canada where the wind is just incredible. The wind can really carry the football. It was one of the toughest things about playing football there. And the cold is a different level of cold in some parts of Canada. It really affects how you play the game."

          

3. Gambling and conspiracy theories

John Locher/Associated Press

Unless you've been buried under an asteroid, you know by now the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that states are allowed to legalize gambling on sports.

This will lead to myriad issues that the NFL and other leagues will face.

One that's significant but perhaps not obvious: an increase in the power of conspiracy theories.

We are, after all, a conspiratorial nation. We love a good conspiracy theory.

But what I'm hearing from people in the league is that there is a real fear that legalized gambling will lead to a conspiracy-theory universe that could affect real-life coaching decisions.

One NFL head coach gave me the following scenario: He benches a player on the day of a game for disciplinary reasons. But he keeps that reason secret, as many coaches and organizations would do. The outcry from such a move, the coach thinks, would be so loud and so full of conspiratorial chatter, it might actually even make a coach rethink the action.

This was already the case with gamblers. Now, with gambling on games expected to increase dramatically, the pressure will only skyrocket.

                     

4. A remarkable speech

The presumptive new owner of the Panthers, David Tepper, did something recently that I've rarely seen an NFL owner do. He showed public retrospection.

It's worth watching his commencement speech at Carnegie Mellon University:

What I find remarkable about it isn't even so much the story he conveys as it is the fact that he tells it at all. Most NFL owners are highly protective of their image and don't let too much humanity peek through their carefully crafted personas.

Not all NFL owners, but many I've known.

Tepper will obviously be different, and that's good news. The league needs different.

         

5. Will Julio Jones hold out?

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

If Julio Jones doesn't get a new deal, will he be at Falcons training camp?

The answer is: Probably he will, but we can't say for certain.

Here's the other question, and it's perhaps more pertinent: Does Jones have a right to be upset about his salary?

The answer is hell yes.

Jones' $14.3 million average salary remains one of the best bargains in all of sports. Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown might be the only better receiver in the NFL, but Jones is paid the eighth best. The only better bargain for a team is Odell Beckham Jr., and his salary jumps from $1.8 million to $8.5 million this year, the final under his rookie contract.

There's also the fact that Matt Ryan earns $30 million a year.

Let's do the math (carry the one, multiply, feed the computer). This means Ryan makes more than twice what Jones does.

Don't think that isn't part of this for Jones.

So would Jones hold out of training camp if no new deal is struck by then? We don't know.

But he'd have every right to.

                   

6. Willie Roaf is thriving

Tom E. Puskar/Associated Press

Maybe the best offensive lineman I ever saw was Willie Roaf. If you don't remember him, you need to take a moment and Google him.

Roaf was one of the first 300-pound-plus linemen who moved with great speed and precision. He was 6'5" and 320 pounds and could maul a player, or use his speed and wits to out-technique them. He was the complete player. Roaf made the Hall of Fame in 2012.

Roaf wasn't satisfied with what he accomplished in football, though, and always had an eye on the future. A lot of players struggle once their careers are done. Not Roaf. He saved his money and found business opportunities. One of them is a company he founded called Frame Your Game, which sells license plate frames that look like baseball caps and football helmets.

"I was always looking to when the game ended," he told me in a phone interview recently. "I always wanted to be prepared."

Smart words from a smart player.

               

7. The AAF continues to make waves

John Raoux/Associated Press

The Alliance of American Football may sound like something out of Star Wars, but the spring league set to start play in February of 2019 is off to one of the fastest (and smartest) starts of any football expansion league we've seen.

Not only has the league moved fast with announcing locations, but it has also made highly credible head coaching hires: Steve Spurrier in Orlando, Rick Neuheisel in Phoenix, Dennis Erickson in Salt Lake City, Mike Singletary in Memphis and Brad Childress in Atlanta (where Mike Vick is also the offensive coordinator). 

That is a pretty solid lineup of cities and coaches. 

It doesn't mean the league will succeed, but the more moves it makes, the more it seems the AAF might have a nice future.

              

8. What drives Aaron Rodgers?

The answer Aaron Rodgers gives when asked what drives him despite accomplishing so much is wonderful and typical Rodgers. It's worth a listen.

"It's sustained greatness, I think, is what drives me," Rodgers said recently at the Wisconsin High School Sports Awards. "It's to be the best and to be able to choose when I'm done playing.

"I think as you've seen here recently with Jordy [Nelson], but even you go back a few years to whether it's Julius Peppers or A.J. Hawk or John Kuhn or Brett Favre, the fairy tale ending of starting a career and ending it with the same organization rarely happens. So that's kind of my goal, is to be able to be indispensable to this organization into my 40s to where you've got to keep me around."

Rodgers is 34. He'll sign a huge multiyear contract extension soon, and he'll be worth every penny. Don't ever doubt him.

          

9. All smiles

I just wanted to highlight a photo of Tiger Woods, future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and longtime NFL player Reggie Bush at an event for Woods' charity.

It's just a cool picture. That's all.

Moving along, now.

                

10. An inspiration

If you want to see the positive impact NFL players can have on people, look no further than Philadelphia's Zach Ertz.

Jason Witten is retiring from football, but many years ago, he inspired a young Ertz to study the position. Ertz did, and now he is one of the best tight ends in football and one of the heirs to men like Witten.

It's a story we've seen before, and it never gets old.

   

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