Johnny Manziel will be back on a football field this spring.
No, it won't be as a tryout player in any NFL camp, or as a member of the Hamiltion Ti-Cats, the CFL team that holds Manziel's rights. Instead, Manziel has signed on to play in the Spring League, a three-week scouting event in Austin, Texas, consisting of four teams that play two games each on the weekends of April 7 and April 14. The Spring League will be televised on the Turner Sports' streaming service.
In 2017, its first season, the Spring League included former NFL players, Kellen Winslow II, Ahmad Bradshaw, Fred Jackson and Ricky Stanzi. Although none effectively parlayed their time in the Spring League into another NFL shot, they also didn't have Manziel's upside and can't come close to matching his intrigue.
"We're excited to have such a dynamic player in Johhny Manziel taking part in the Spring League," Brian Woods, Spring League CEO, told Bleacher Report. "We believe our platform is the ideal forum for Mr. Manziel to enact his NFL comeback."
We're not sure we agree entirely. The CFL is a more established and reputable league than the Spring League, with at least a minor track record of yielding productive NFL players, if not serving as a reclamation league.
But we do think this can be an important step for Manziel, assuming his mental and physical health truly are priorities 1A and 1B in his life, followed by an earnest desire to jumpstart his football career.
Manziel is still only 25 years old, albeit perhaps not your average 25-year-old, considering the wear and tear years of excessive partying might have taken on his body. He's now six years removed from his Heisman season, too. But just eight starts over two seasons with the Browns from 2014-15 would qualify as a tiny sample size for any quarterback, never mind one with the extenuating circumstances that accompanied the NFL stint of the 22nd overall pick in 2014.
Manziel showed some humility in his interview this week on Good Morning America, acknowledging the sense of entitlement that marred his brief Browns career, in addition to the mental health issues compounding his substance abuse.
Although we still think Manziel's best shot at making good on his #comebackszn is going the CFL route, he has to start somewhere. The Spring League won't have the glamour and glitz that became second nature for Manziel from the time he was young all the way through his wildly successful college career before bottoming out in the NFL.
First and foremost, Manziel must show he's matured and, most importantly, truly is committed to his recovery. That's just to become a functioning member of society. Coming from someone who's seen firsthand the way addiction can tear families apart, I can tell you unequivocally it'll take a lot more from Manziel than merely a successful two-week stint in some developmental league to prove he is a changed person.
But to get back in the NFL, a league full of second and third chances and short on competent quarterbacking, he also must show he can still rediscover at least some semblance of being the breathtaking playmaker he once was. He can't do that without being on a field, even one in Austin, Texas in the largely unknown Spring League.