February 3, 2018

O’Leary: With Manziel on hold, Ticats can now turn focus to FA


The clock struck midnight on Feb. 1, 2018 and with it, perhaps a chapter in what-might-have-been for the CFL went unwritten, the pen pulling slowly back from the page.

If you’re a football fan — more specifically if you’re a fan of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and/or Johnny Manziel — Wednesday had a New Year’s Eve feel to it. Or maybe Y2K. After every last hour, minute and second ran through the hourglass, there was an eye-shifting moment to survey your surroundings. Nothing had changed. Manziel’s agent-imposed deadline of Jan. 31 has come and gone and everything on Feb. 1 is the same as it was before that.

Many people scoffed at that deadline when it was imposed, since the Ticats hold Manziel’s rights for the rest of the year regardless of how Manziel’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, tries to force some action from the Ticats. But its passing may be telling. As of Thursday, CFL free agency is only 12 days away and the team still has a number of its key players headed toward the open market.


» Full list of pending Tiger-Cat free agents
» Ticats say no deal imminent with Manziel
» Austin knows that character will right the ‘Cats


Kent Austin et al have wrapped up five of their pending free agents: Jeremiah Masoli, Brandon Banks, Canadian DB Jonathan Langa and as of Friday afternoon, Canadian d-lineman Justin Capicciotti and American DB Demond Washington. They also traded for all-star d-lineman Charleston Hughes on Friday.

Their want list will be longer than that, with Luke Tasker, Ted Laurent and Larry Dean as their top names to retain. If they keep those three, if they pull players in from elsewhere across the league, it will of course cost money. Every contract signed, every brick laid toward building a team that’ll want to improve on the strong finish it had to last season, is money out of a contract offer to Manziel, who, let’s not forget was seeking Zach Collaros-like money to come to Hamilton in the first place.

“While the discussions with Johnny Manziel and his representative have been very cordial and informative, there is nothing imminent and nothing to report,” the Ticats said in a Wednesday statement. “We will continue to do our due diligence and will have no further public comment on the matter as we move forward.”

Pending a change of heart from Manziel in terms of his compensation, that arbitrary deadline passing could signal the passing of his best chance of playing in Hamilton. If that’s the case, it would quiet the noise that’s encroached upon the team since Manziel came into its periphery. It will also provide some clarity for those on the roster as this offseason moves along.

If Manziel drifts out of the picture, Masoli will lead the team into training camp as the No. 1 QB. The organization wouldn’t have to go into camp thinking about what extra potential distractions a player of Manziel’s stature coming in and out of the facilities daily could bring. They would enter into training camp under the relative same old, same old as the other eight teams in the CFL. After a 2017 that saw the team under an intense, cross-border spotlight, that’s not a bad thing.

Masoli has spent the last six seasons in the CFL, first looking to crack a roster then to work his way into the game plan before finally becoming a starter last year. His journey to being a starter seemed to be complete after a career-best year that saw him pull the Ticats out of an 0-8 start and almost into the playoff conversation. No QB put up better stats in the second half of the season last year. There’s every indication that he’ll continue to build on that in 2018. The further past that deadline we get, it’ll look more and more like Masoli will get the chance to do that.