Sean Pendergast

Can Johnny Manziel Return to the NFL?

Johnny Manziel seems to have turned the page, for now, from his party lifestyle.
Johnny Manziel seems to have turned the page, for now, from his party lifestyle. Screen shot from
Johnny Manziel seems to have turned the page, for now, from his party lifestyle. - SCREEN SHOT FROM TMZ.COM
Johnny Manziel seems to have turned the page, for now, from his party lifestyle.
Screen shot from
I'm fairly certain that few have generated more content related to the trials and tribulations of Johnny Manziel over the past four years than I have here on this website. Everything from Manziel's highest of Heisman highs to his rock-bottom lows has been covered in this space. And admittedly, along the way, when we've had Johnny droughts, the rare occasions when he's remained off the grid, I've openly lamented how much I miss the lay-up posts his actions provided.

So that's my preface, my admission that Johnny has provided me with topics for tens of thousands of words (and the resulting checks, closer to beer money than generational wealth, but still...), and so I say with 100 percent sincerity — I hope the latest revelation that Johnny is in the infancy stage of sobriety is something that becomes permanent.

In case you missed it, it started with a slew of tweets over the weekend in which Johnny a) addressed rumors that he was charging $50 for selfies at a couple of autograph sessions next week here in Houston (NOTE: The organizer IS reportedly charging $50 for a smartphone picture with Manziel.), and b) essentially admitted that he's been a colossal jerk over the last year or so, since flunking out of the NFL:

Then on Friday came further revelation, via Ed Werder of ESPN, that Manziel had bigger plans than just autograph shows and admissions that he sucked at life for the last few years.

In a message sent Friday to ESPN's Ed Werder, Manziel wrote, "I refuse to let my entire life of sports from the age of 4 be squandered by partying. I just got sick of it. One day I didn't like what I saw in the mirror and realized I could really help people in the position I'm in.

"I love sports, I love football and when you take something away from yourself you realize it the hard way. The happiness from doing it sober has been ASTRONOMICAL. Beyond my wildest imagination and once that continued other good things started happening in my life and it just clicked."
Over the weekend, more sobriety tweets...
...and one very long Instagram diatribe in which he is either thanking, or pleading with, or announcing his return to George Whitfield to work out for an NFL comeback...

Remember back in 2012 when they didn't know the kid? Who's this midget from Kerrville third on the depth chart in the spring that won the job a week into fall camp? This kid has no chance going into the SEC, they said. He's too short, he's not accurate enough, just a freelancer they said. I bet you'll never forget where you were the day we slayed the Dragon in Tuscaloosa in front of 100,000. You were the first person I called. Or when there was still this conspiracy that a freshman couldn't win the Heisman. Or even after that when we had to play OU in the Cotton Bowl after they smacked our ass the year before, we prevailed. Straight to Dime City for the summer to work on our craft. All the noise, all the hype we blocked it out and fine tuned the machine. Head down grindin. We fell short of the mission in '13, we got healthy and straight back to Dime City for another tune up before an even bigger stage. Head down steady grindin. Now the lights are really on us Whit, the worlds watching, waiting to see the kid. You come to me with this idea to wear pads to my pro day and I'm like "Nah, I'm straight on that cuzzin" you said "you're the rarest of the rare this ain't nothing but a thang, you play in 'em, go be different!" And we did our thang. Under six feet tall and drafted in the 1st round, STARTED FROM THE BOTTOM NOW WE HERE, screaming it out the window on draft night. Never forget it. Then it all changed and I lost my ways, the grind, the love, the hustle, my way of life in general. Thick and thin you stood by me and I'll never forget it. We thrive when they say "YOU CANT" it's all we've ever known. With the simplistic mindset and goals we have Whit, let's go. "Fix the man and the rest will come" you said. "Don't worry about a thing I got you cuzzin, give me 48 hours to assemble" was all I heard. A day later it's January 12 and I'm Dime City bound once again. Broken, Humbled, but for once in my life thankful for that day and 18 so far sober with a clear head on my shoulders. All I have is today and we'll take this thing a day at a time for as long as it takes. You made it happen and I'm ALL IN cuzzin, because I know you always have been. Let's go #JustWaitOnIt

A photo posted by Johnny Manziel (@jmanziel2) on

Okay, so this is all well and good. Johnny Manziel is, for now, in a much better place than when he seemed to be collecting tattoos and lawsuits throughout 2016. With the caveat that this feels and sounds very much like a "sugar high," and you hope he can keep it together at his first sign of sobriety not being as much fun as it is right now, this is a positive first step.

Now, I'm not going to lie. While most are just saying, "Hey, forget football, I just hope Johnny stays sober and lives a happy life," I say, "Screw that, I want to see him play football again!" To be clear, I also want him to stay sober and be happy, but dammit, I want to see the full Johnny redemption story, or at least an attempt at it! And THAT includes football!

So, relative to a Manziel comeback in football, here are the key questions:

Hey wait, isn't a suspension waiting to happen when he does come back?
Possibly. Manziel was hit with a suspension for the first four games of the 2016 season for violating the substance abuse policy, a suspension the league considers served. However, he could be facing a six-game suspension for violating the league's domestic abuse policy, as he was involved in a highly publicized incident with his then-girlfriend last January. Even though he reached a settlement with prosecutors in Texas in that case, the league still reserves the right to suspend Manziel based on its findings in the case, so Manziel does not come without potential encumbrances. The bigger question is...

So would any NFL team, in its right mind, give him a chance?
Honestly, I have a hard time envisioning Manziel in an NFL training camp this summer (or, really, any summer). If he were 6-foot-3 with a rocket arm and a decent body of football work, maybe an NFL front office could look past all the broken promises and burnt bridges. However, even a sober, responsible Manziel was always considered a gimmicky prospect, undersized with marginal arm strength and coming from a non-pro style system in college. Add in the drama that a QB competition that includes Manziel would bring, and for a bad team, it's probably not worth the trouble. For a good team with a good quarterback, it makes little sense to bring in the potential distraction of Manziel as a backup, especially with just a few months of sobriety under his belt. The NFL doesn't need Johnny Manziel. His road to football redemption will have to go another route...

So how does he start playing football again?
I've said from the time the Browns cut Manziel that his path back to football, if it were ever to be of interest to him (and it appears to be right now), would go through the Canadian Football League. The wider and longer field, the "three downs instead of four" rule, the more liberal allowance of pre-snap motion, those are all things that have helped quarterbacks with games similar to Manziel's — most prominently, Jeff Garcia and Doug Flutie — succeed north of the border before successful NFL stints. While some will say the CFL game has evolved and become less friendly to improvising, make-it-up-as-they-go QBs (like Manziel), my guess is the CFL would welcome a sober Manziel. His rights are reportedly owned by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

We shall see if Manziel gets back on a football field. For now, I'll stay tuned as he continues to recount his life story on his Instagram account...

Mood #

A photo posted by Johnny Manziel (@jmanziel2) on

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast