After CFL ban and AAF collapse, Johnny Manziel admits his football career is 'in the past, probably'

Jack Baer
·4 min read

After a career that has garnered widespread attention and spanned three different pro football leagues, Johnny Manziel sounds like he’s accepted his playing days are over.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and first-round NFL draft pick told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal’s Don Williams that he “probably” won’t be playing football professionally again:

Ask Manziel where he considers his football career at this point, and you get a refreshingly candid answer.

“In the past, probably, is the way I’d characterize it,” Manziel said, leaning forward and without a moment’s hesitation. “I’ve finally got to a point where I’m trying to achieve happiness in life, not happiness on the football field.

“I know a lot of people probably want me to come back and play and give it another chance, but I don’t know, as far as being a person and figuring out life as a young adult — trying to make it and figure it out — if I’ve ever been in a better place than I’m in right now. I can honestly say I’m happy and I’m doing the right things to try and put a smile on my face every day, and that means more to me than going out and grinding on a football field.”

Manziel was last seen suiting up for the Memphis Express of the Alliance of American Football, where he appeared in two games before the league suddenly folded. Before that, Manziel had been a part of two teams in the Canadian Football League until the league effectively banned him.

It has been nearly a half-decade since Manziel’s last pass in the NFL, a season in which when posted seven touchdowns and five interceptions with the Cleveland Browns.

Johnny Manziel’s wandering career

If this is indeed it for Manziel, it is a quiet end for a player who was once one of the most famous names in football.

Manziel’s combination of success at Texas A&M, improvisational playing style and personality made him one of the most engrossing players in college football. He became the first freshman to ever win the Heisman in 2012, and left Texas A&M with his name up and down the school’s record books.

His first-round selection by the Browns drew plenty of hype and scrutiny, and later guffaws as he struggled to have any success in the NFL.

The Browns ended up cutting Manziel after accusations of domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend, leading to a year-long hiatus from football that ended when the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats signed him. One trade later, he was making a disastrous debut with Montreal Alouettes.

Johnny Manziel's long, winding career might be finished. (Photo by Joe Robbins/AAF/Getty Images)
Johnny Manziel's long, winding career might be finished. (Photo by Joe Robbins/AAF/Getty Images)

Manziel’s career, at this point, is defined by the question of whether he is a case of massive wasted potential — his off-field behavior has been extensively documented — or if he was just never the talent that many people saw when he was scrambling for touchdowns and setting SEC records.

Talking about his career, the man himself seemed to think the former was the answer:

“During that time when I got drafted, I didn’t put in the time that I needed to be a great player and I don’t think my heart was in it,” Manziel said. “And I think when I went back to Canada, it was the same way. I truly believed and truly thought it was what I wanted to do, and my heart wasn’t in it, and it worked out the way it did.”

Manziel has previously said he wants another shot at playing in the NFL, but his past, his age of 27 and the coronavirus pandemic seem to make it unlikely an NFL team takes a chance on him. He has also said he could see doing something in coaching or the media, but again, there is so much up in the air with the NFL these days.

For now, Manziel seems to be satisfied with where he has ended up:

“People can call me whatever they want,” he says without animosity, “but at the end of the day, I’m proud of what I did. I’m proud of what I accomplished. I bettered myself. I bettered my family’s life. I got a chance to play amazing college football, and it didn’t work out in the NFL and that’s OK.”

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