MONTREAL — Twelve hours, roughly, after waking up, boarding a plane and then, a short while later, practising for the first time as a Montreal Alouette, Johnny Manziel‘s first press conference with his new team seemed like a mere formality.
The Als’ new quarterback had just been traded, becoming the centrepiece of a five-player deal, along with two first-round picks, that moved him from Hamilton to Montreal not more than a couple months after putting pen to paper on his first Canadian Football League contract.
Yet not lost in the deja-vu — the scenario, the face, the questions and answers that all felt eerily far too familiar — was a sense of urgency.
For as badly as the Montreal Alouettes need this to work, so too does Johnny Manziel.
“One of the first things I said to him when he walked into my office was ‘this has to work, and it will work’,” recalled Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman. “And he agreed.”
On Sunday night, just before 8 p.m. ET, Manziel was traded to Montreal along with offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice. Going the other way: Jamaal Westerman, Chris Williams and two first round picks in 2020 and 2021.
Both the Alouettes and Manziel understand the risks and what’s at stake, yet the two seem like a snug fit at exactly the right time.
“First and foremost, I want to thank the Hamilton Tiger-Cats,” said Manziel, seated in front of media alongside his new coach in Sherman and the general manager who acquired him in Kavis Reed. “Everybody from top to bottom, from Scott Mitchell to Eric Tillman to Coach [June] Jones, we went through a long process in getting to Hamilton. I was treated with nothing but respect and I’m very grateful for my time there.”
In Hamilton, Manziel was brought along slowly, learning the ins and outs of the CFL game without pressure while starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli controlled the reins of the first-team offence. Not only that, his teammates welcomed him with open arms — despite what anyone said about his checkered past.
“Every day I walked into that locker-room I felt like I was treated as an equal,” said Manziel, “as a brother on that team, and I appreciate them because there were a lot of things that were said about me and to come in and put that aside was all I had dreamed about for two years being out of the game.
“I appreciate my time in Hamilton and have no ill will or anything negative to say about my time there, it was nothing but fun.”
But in Montreal, Manziel gets an opportunity. The Alouettes engineered one of the biggest blockbuster trades in CFL history, becoming the first team on record to give up two first round picks in one deal, adding to the table two proven commodities and potential game-changers in the process.
It’s the type of swap that can be franchise-altering, the magnitude of which is not lost on the Alouettes’ new No. 2.
“This organization has put a lot on the line to get me here,” said Manziel. “There are expectations behind that and I expect to come in and act like a professional and give this the best chance possible for me to become a good football player. That’s what I want to do.”
Some have speculated whether Manziel could debut or potentially even make his first CFL start as early as Thursday. Far-fetched as that may seem, Sherman wouldn’t rule anything out.
Either way, what’s clear is that Manziel will be the starter. The only thing to clear up is ‘when’.
“We didn’t bring him here to have him sit on the bench,” said Sherman. “A lot is dependent on his assimilation of the playbook. He’ll have to learn that first.
“From what he picked up in a short period of time on the field today, and we’re back tomorrow — and this is a short week as you know — we’ll just see how the week plays out. I don’t want to put added pressure on him and I want everybody else to play. We’ll just play it out over the course of the week.
“I’m anxious and excited to move forward and get him involved in our team.”
The Als play Thursday night when they host the Edmonton Eskimos to kick off Week 7.