It's official, Johnny Manziel is now part of the Alliance of American Football. When the league first kicked off back in February there were rumors that the former Texas A&M standout, who was still technically employed by the Canadian Football League, was interested in returning stateside to join the startup league.
Manziel's personal, off-field, and legal issues are well documented, hence the reason why he was released from the Cleveland Browns in early 2016. After playing two games in The Spring League the CFL gave him a second chance in 2018, first with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, then with the Montreal Alouettes. The problems of his past required him to adhere to specific conditions of employment while in the CFL.
The Alouettes released him in late February, reports said that he failed to meet said conditions. This made him a free agent and although he was banned from signing with another CFL team, he was free to join the AAF or any other league that had interest. During last weekend's game between the Orlando Apollos and Arizona Hotshots, it was announced during the broadcast that Manziel would join the AAF for the final weeks of the season. From there he entered the league's allocation process where the San Antonio Commanders would get the first chance to sign him due to having territorial rights because he played at Texas A&M. The Commanders would pass on him, and after entering the waiver process, the Memphis Express claimed him as the first team in line as the team with the worst record.
AAF CEO Charlie Ebersol told the league's website that, "We did a great deal of due diligence on Johnny coming out of the CFL. We felt very comfortable that it was a decision that would be in the best interest of both him and our league."
We can assume that this means that Manziel, the Express, and the AAF as a whole have come to an agreement in regards to his conduct and behavior. The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner was on the practice field with his new team on Monday, but whether or not he plays this Saturday against the Commanders remains to be seen. There will always be questions and doubt about giving Manziel another chance, but it's safe to assume that the Express are taking this chance for these four reasons.
1. The Express have had quarterback issues all season
Heading into the season much was made about the training camp quarterback battle between Christian Hackenberg and Zach Mettenberger. Like many players in the AAF, both joined the Express looking for a second chance after lackluster NFL careers. Hackenberg won the job and played the first two games, and the first half of the Week 3 loss at Orlando. His results were less than stellar as he only completed 51 percent of his passes for 277 yards, three interceptions, and no touchdowns, taking plenty of sacks in the process. In the second half of that game, Memphis head coach Mike Singletary benched Hackenberg and put in Mettenberg, who would be named the starter prior to Week 4.
Mettenberger was able to put up slightly better numbers (58 percent passing, 475 yards, 3 TDs, INT) and helped lead the Express to their only win of the season against the San Diego Fleet three weeks ago. But in last weekend's loss to the Salt Lake Stallions, Mettenberger suffered an ankle injury on his first pass attempt and never returned to the field. But it was Brandon Silvers and not Hackenberg who came on in relief, and the former Troy signal-caller completed 23-of-37 passes for 242 yards and the only Express touchdown of the game. Mettenberger was placed on injured reserve on Monday, which opened a roster spot for Manziel. Now it's just a matter of acclimating himself to the playbook, getting to know his new teammates and coaches, and of course, stay out of trouble.
2. Manziel is at least a physical upgrade at the position
While he may not have the arm strength of Hackenberg, the accuracy of Mettenberger, or even the youth of Silvers, Manziel does have one advantage over all three of them. His mobility and ability to make plays with his feet set him apart from the other three signal-callers. All year long, Express quarterbacks have mostly operated from the pocket. That will change due to Manziel's ability to extend plays, and it could help the AAF"s worst offense (239 ypg) improve.
3. He has shown flashes of brilliance in the past
While his career numbers don't exactly speak Hall of Fame, Manziel has made the most of his opportunities. Between the NFL, Spring League, and the CFL Manziel has thrown for 3,235 yards, rushed for an additional 474, and he's accounted for 16 total touchdowns. Now he has to produce for the Express.
4. He's now arguably the biggest name in the AAF
While the Alliance of American Football has been built on former NFL stars looking for a ticket back into the league, the AAF is still slighted by a conceived lack of star power. That all changes with Manziel now wearing the Memphis Express uniform. Whether it was good press or bad, Manziel has gotten tons of media exposure throughout his career. And you can bet that the Express press box will get a little more crowded over these next few weeks.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.