O’Leary: With Manziel out, what are the Als’ next steps under centre?

Now what?

With the Johnny Manziel era definitively coming to an end in Montreal, the Alouettes are forced into a change at the most important spot on the field.

They can start with an examination of the five quarterbacks they still have on their roster: Vernon Adams Jr., Jeff Matthews, Antonio Pipkin and Matthew Shiltz all saw in-game action in 2018 and the team signed Laval QB and two-time Vanier Cup MVP Richard Hugo this winter.

Behind Manziel, Pipkin was the team’s second-leading passer last year, playing in six games with 1,120 yards on 78-131 passing for eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Matthews only got into three games last year, with just 396 yards to his name. Vernon Adams Jr. only threw passes in two games in 2018, going 16-33 for 220 yards, while seeing action in short yardage in parts of five games, with 99 yards and two touchdowns. Shiltz played primarily in short yardage last year, but in two games at QB made 19-30 passes for 194 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.


 

Adams, Pipkin and Shiltz showed glimpses in their limited time on the field last year and played in adverse circumstances. The Als allowed a league-worst 66 sacks last season, which meant that essentially whoever was behind centre was circling the field almost as much as the seagulls that love to hang out at Molson Stadium on game days. Beefing up the o-line (Tony Washington was extended through 2020 in December) will remain a priority just as much as ensuring they have an impactful QB in training camp this year.

While his departure is disappointing, Manziel’s release should free up some cap space, at least according to this report:

Putting that money into some of the top remaining free-agent o-linemen could help give whichever QB is under centre in May a chance to fully show what they can do.

The list isn’t as long as it was a couple of weeks ago, but there is still a good mix of players available, including Jon Gott, Josiah St. John, Randy Richards, Quinn Smith, Justin Sorensen, Chris Greaves, Cody Husband and a couple of former Alouettes in Landon Rice and Jovan Olafioye.

While Manziel’s departure will create a frenzy around the football community and the Als organization, it’s not an apocalyptic loss in terms of their roster.

The team made him their starter for the back half of the season but were still not fully committed to him in that role, extending Adams, Pipkin and Matthews in late October. They closed out their season against Hamilton on Nov. 3, starting Manziel but pulling him after he made 4-5 passes to take a look at Pipkin and Shiltz the rest of the way. The Als can continue that evaluation through this winter, while weighing their options this week and beyond through free agency.

Manziel’s departure isn’t what the Als were hoping for when they traded for him, but they do have options as they look to the future.