(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Bill Polian interview, fast-forward to 24:40 of the attachment above)
Just when we thought we’d heard the last of quarterback Johnny Manziel, he’s back … this time in the Alliance of American Football League.
Manziel, who played in the CFL last year, was claimed this week by the last-place Memphis Express and, according to coach Mike Singletary, could play in Sunday’s game vs. Birmingham.
Having Manziel in the start-up Alliance, a developmental league for the NFL, makes sense. He’s already failed in trials at the NFL and CFL but is only 26.
The question, of course, is: Can the former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round draft pick make it back to the NFL? For an answer, we turned to Alliance co-founder and Hall-of-Fame general manager Bill Polian, the guy who drafted Peyton Manning.
“I think he can play in the NFL,” Polian said on the this week's Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “What he needs to do is get a handle on his life. That’s the bottom line.”
Manziel was the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 draft, but, despite some success with Cleveland, his career was cut short by inconsistent play and off-the-field controversies. He lasted two seasons with the Browns, stayed out of football for two years, then returned last season in the CFL (Hamilton and Montreal) where he was little more than mediocre.
His career parallels that of another of the Browns’ first-round busts, running back Trent Richardson. The third pick of the 2012 draft, Richardson leads the Alliance in touchdowns after fizzling in the NFL and playing one season in Canada.
“Our position,” Polian said of the Alliance, “is that we exist in order to give lots of players a second opportunity to prove themselves and ultimately make it in the National Football League. That’s why we put the so-called ‘NFL out’ in our contracts.
“If a player gets a bona fide chance to go to the NFL, God bless him .We can send him with our seven blessings, best wishes and hope that he has a long career. That’s what we’re here for.
"And if anybody needs a second chance it’s Johnny, that’s for sure. So we're happy to give it to him, and we’ll see how it works out.”
So, in all likelihood, will plenty of others. While he’s been away from American football for three years, Johnny Football still has a following. And, guaranteed, interest in him and the Alliance spikes the moment he steps into the huddle.
The rest is up to Manziel … and we’re not just talking about on the field.
“He has to make sure that he’s got his life in order,” said Polian. “He’s got to make sure he’s doing the right things in terms of getting the most out of his abilities.
"He needs to make sure he’s concentrating on the job at hand and not getting caught up in all the folderol and publicity that he’s generated throughout his career. If he does that, he’s got a chance to play in the NFL because he’s a naturally gifted passer, and he’s quite a gifted runner.
“He was Kyler Murray in a bigger body long before Kyler Murray. So he’s got talent. There's no two ways about that. The question is: Can he harness it and be in a position to make use of it?”