By Nick Shook
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Like my colleague Jeremy Bergman wrote Thursday, #ComebackSZN is in full swing.
If you haven’t bought your Money Manziel apparel, there’s still time. There’s also time for the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to make a return to pro football.
Johnny Manziel took his latest step toward achieving exactly that on Thursday when he threw at the University of San Diego’s pro day. At least 13 teams were in attendance, including a representative from Manziel’s former employer, the Cleveland Browns. And as our own Bucky Brooks said of Manziel, most first-round quarterbacks get two or three shots to make it work, even if evidence mounts to prove otherwise.
Manziel has also said he’s willing to take any opportunity presented, even if it’s a practice-squad shot, opening some additional doors to situations that might not seem as such on the surface.
That made us wonder: Should Manziel, who struggled with a multitude of off-field issues and flamed out of the league in two short years, follow through on his promises of a comeback, where might he land? Let’s explore below.
(NOTE: We should also add we’re evaluating Manziel on where he was as a pro on his best day in Cleveland, since that’s the last evidence off of which we have to work. That includes the off-field situation, since it significantly affected his production in Cleveland.)
1) Buffalo Bills: We entered the offseason with a handful of teams demonstrating a clear need at the quarterback position, and all but one — Buffalo — found at least a short-term answer. With the Bills‘ current best option being AJ McCarron and second-best Nathan Peterman, this franchise is squarely in the market for another signal-caller. Much has been made about the Bills‘ ability to trade into the top five to grab a quarterback, but taking a flier on Manziel wouldn’t be a crazy idea. After all, it is where hestruck his famous coffin pose.
2) Seattle Seahawks: Pete Carroll has long excelled at allowing his players to be who they want to be without allowing them to get in trouble. With stable leadership and ownership — and a similar kind of quarterback (Russell Wilson) already firmly in place as the starter — this is a comfortable, low-pressure situation for everyone involved. Should Wilson go down, Manziel is available to plug right into the scheme. If that doesn’t happen, Manziel gets a chance to rediscover his love for the game while Seattle gets a talent for peanuts.
3) Cincinnati Bengals: With Cleveland’s acquisition of Tyrod Taylor, its divisional foes could use a backup who can give them a good Taylor-like look in practice. Manziel fits that billing, and with Cincinnati losing dependable backup AJ McCarron to Buffalo, the Bengals could use a replacement at the position. It’s a two-fer for Cincinnati, and also could produce a surprise successor to Andy Dalton, should the Bengals grow tired with him. Bengals owner Mike Brown also has a penchant for giving guys a second chance (see: Adam Jones, Vontaze Burfict), greasing the skids for this pairing.
4) New England Patriots: Bill Belichick loves taking on former first-rounders who haven’t panned out (Barkevious Mingo and Jonathan Cooper, among many others). His Patriots just lost their go-to backup when they dealt Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco, Tom Brady isn’t getting any younger and if anyone can get a troubled individual to conform for the best interest of player and franchise, it’s Belichick. Manziel would also bring a mobile element not seen except for Garoppolo’s few appearances. He’ll also, again, be had for very little money, making it a wise business move for the Patriots.
5) Los Angeles Chargers: Philip Rivers is nearing the end of his career (despite showing little signs of slowing) and the Chargers are set up to win now and for the next few years. Manziel would be well-suited to join Los Angeles and spend some time learning from a seasoned veteran before taking the keys, competing with Cardale Jones in the meantime for the backup position. With Rivers entrenched as the starter, Manziel’s arrival wouldn’t spark much drama in the building and could produce the best situation for him to learn how to be a pro now that he’s a changed man, as he claims to be. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt also has experience taking retreads (Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner, for example) and getting the most out of them, though Manziel would be a much different type of retread.
6) New Orleans Saints: Manziel’s comparison coming out of Texas A&M, at least in terms of (lack of) height, was Drew Brees. He just re-upped with the Saints for two seasons and is undoubtedly entering the final turn of his career. Much like the Chargers scenario, this is another good situation for the quarterback to learn under one of the game’s greats in an offense that could be incredibly dynamic with a young group of skilled players led by Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas. Manziel engineering that attack in 2020 could be explosive. The question: Could he play in New Orleans and stay out of trouble?
7) Arizona Cardinals: Arizona signed Sam Bradford, but it’s a one-year deal. Bradford’s knee is “degenerative,” according to his former coach, Mike Zimmer. Seems as though this situation is far from solved. It’ll be interesting to see what offense coordinator Mike McCoy implements in Arizona in 2018, because he has a history of adjusting his scheme to his personnel. With Bradford, that’s more of a pocket-passing, West Coast attack, with which McCoy has the most history. He’s also shown he can run zone-read concepts with more mobile quarterbacks (think: Tim Tebow in Denver). In terms of fit, this one might be the best once one looks beyond Bradford.
The downside: Steve Wilks is a first-year and first-time head coach. Most new coaches aren’t going to be open to taking on a foundation-shaking addition like Manziel. This looks better a year from now.
8) Washington Redskins: Alex Smith is the guy in Washington, but Dan Snyder isn’t afraid of making headlines with his team. Furthermore, Manziel could be an ideal successor to Smith a few years from now. Both have similar styles of play, with Manziel being slightly more mobile. He’d fit into Jay Gruden’s offense seamlessly and in the same vein as Smith, with the added benefit of learning behind Smith for at least a couple of years.
Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.