JOHNNY FOOTBALL TO RETURN?

Canadian League clears Johnny Manziel to sign a contract to play football again

No. 2 might get a second chance North of the border. Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Should we call him Johnny “Canadian” Football?

Former Cleveland Brown and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has been cleared by the Canadian Football league to sign a contract, presumably with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Hamilton now has 10 days to make him an offer or trade his rights. If neither happens after that point, he becomes a free agent.

Manziel -- perhaps the greatest A&M football player ever -- has not seen the field since being released by Cleveland in 2016. He was a 2014 first-round draft pick after two explosive seasons at A&M, including a year where he won the Heisman.

But like a lot of great college players, things fell apart when he reached the pros. His work ethic was questionable, and off-the-field incidents with alcohol, drugs and domestic violence helped end his career quickly.

The CFL basically had to do a months-long investigation into Manziel before clearing him to be offered a contract. They have attached conditions to his eligibility. Here is the statement the league released:

“Since last summer, the Canadian Football League has been engaged in a thorough process to determine the eligibility of Johnny Manziel. This process has been conducted with the cooperation of Mr. Manziel and independent of the team which currently holds his CFL rights, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

It has included an ongoing assessment by an independent expert on the issue of violence against women, a review by legal counsel, and an in-person interview of Mr. Manziel conducted by the Commissioner. As well, Mr. Manziel has been required to meet a number of conditions set by the league.

As a result of this process, the Commissioner has now informed Mr. Manziel and the Tiger-Cats he is prepared to approve a contract for Mr. Manziel should one be negotiated.

The process that led to this decision does, however, continue. Mr. Manziel has been informed he must continue to meet a number of conditions in order to remain eligible. These conditions, while extensive and exacting, remain confidential.

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have 10 days to make an offer to Johnny Manziel in order to keep his rights or to trade his rights to another team. If Manziel does not receive an offer from the Tiger-Cats or isn’t traded by January 7th, 2018, he will become a free-agent."

I watch a lot of CFL football and really enjoy the league, but it is a different game. The field is wider, the end zone is 25 yards deep, wide receivers get a running start and there are only three downs. The game puts a premium on a quarterback with a  strong arm and mobility, and unlike the NFL size is not a huge factor. All of that should play to Manziel’s strengths.

If Ti-Cats head coach June Jones -- the former SMU and Hawaii coach (and Oilers assistant back in the day) -- is to be believed, Manziel will be offered a deal in Hamilton.

"I think he'd be the best player to ever play up here," Jones said. "He can throw it and he can run it like nobody ever has been able to do."

Manziel very well could be a star in the league. The quality of play is a lot better than people realize -- every roster is littered with former NFL players -- and it is not as simple as walking on a field and doing what he did at A&M.

If Manziel puts in the work, he could revitalize his career. Doug Flutie used the league to get back to the NFL, but he was an outlier. More former college stars fail in Canada than succeed. (Most recently, Vince Young tried it). But Manziel is still young enough and presumably talented enough to get things jumpstarted.

The big question is will he straighten his life out enough to be a success on the field? The skill is certainly not in question. If he focuses on improving his game and keeping his nose clean off the field, he can be an impact player. Jones’ overhyping aside, he definitely can have success. But only if he avoids the massive train wrecks that have followed him throughout his career and deals with the inevitable adversity.

Manziel was amazing to watch in college, and he could be for Hamilton, too. If he plays well, it will help him get back on track and raise the profile of the CFL in the States. If not? The Ti-Cats, who were terrible last season, lose nothing.

No matter how it plays out, it should be fun to watch. As it has been throughout his career, either Manziel will be a star or the victim of yet another massive train wreck.

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After a "qualifying round" of playoffs, the actual Stanley Cup playoffs are here. In a weird hockey world that saw two 12 seeds win in round one and the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference finish last in the round robin and get a four seed, things appear wide open. The lower seeds may actually have a bit of an advantage at the beginning of these series, as they have already gone through an actual elimination round, while the top four seeds played a less intense round robin. As teams still adjust to a long layoff, more upsets could be in order. It should be fun. Here is a look at the matchups:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Philadelphia Flyers (1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (8)

The Flyers were dominant in the round-robin phase and look very much like a team that can make a deep run. Montreal was the lowest seed in the qualifying tournament, but stunned Pittsburgh, and were the better team throughout the series. Philly, however, is playing much better hockey than their Pennsylvania counterparts. The Canadiens will need a big effort from goalie Carey Price, who is capable of stealing games. Young Flyers goalie Carter Hart was outstanding in the two round-robin games he played and is an emerging star. Philly has more talent, but a goalie like Price can win a series.

Prediction: Flyers in 5.

Tampa Bay Lightning (2) vs. Columbus Blue Jackets (7)

Tampa is as talented a group as you will find in the NHL. They have depth on all lines, terrific defensemen and an elite goalie. Yet they have a checkered playoff past. Last season, they were dominant in the regular season and looked like a Cup lock. They were promptly swept out of the first round by the Jackets. Columbus outplayed a similarly talented team in Toronto in round one and are a tough matchup. Can the Lightning be struck down twice? Absolutely.

Prediction: Jackets in 7.

Washington Capitals (3) vs. New York Islanders (6)

The Caps still have Alex Ovechkin and a recent Stanley Cup, and have to be considered a contender against whoever they play. But the Isles play terrific defense, grind you down and get just enough scoring to win games. Plus they have the coach who won the Cup with the Caps, Barry Trotz, which gives them another edge. The Isles are a long shot Cup contender and could pull off the upset.

Prediction: Islanders in 7.

Boston Bruins (4) vs. Carolina Hurricanes (5)

The Bruins were the best team in the league in the regular season, but played flat in the round robin, winding up with a fourth seed. It seems a little unfair that they dominated all year but three games determined their fate, but that's life. By now they should have figured things out again and should be able to advance. They are a tricky team, because if they play as poorly as they did last week, Carolina could knock them out. But the Bruins should get better the deeper they get in the playoffs. The Hurricanes have a rising star in Andrei Svechnikov, who had a hat trick in the first round against the Rangers. The Bruins, however, are deeper, more talented and have the more tested and reliable goalie in Tukka Rask.

Prediction: Bruins in 5.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Las Vegas Golden Knights (1) vs. Chicago Blackhawks (8)

The Golden Knights were impressive in the round-robin, and looked like they did not miss a beat from the break. They were on a 8-2 run before the Rona interruption and swept the three seeding games since. But the Blackhawks are a scary matchup. They dominated Edmonton in the play-in round, winning 3-1 despite being the last team to qualify. They are young and shaky on defense, but still have proven Cup winners like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford. It would be foolish to count them out, but the Oilers were a much better matchup for the Hawks. If Crawford dominates in net, they have a fighting chance. But the Knights are on a different level right now.

Prediction: Las Vegas in 6.

Colorado Avalanche (2) vs. Arizona Coyotes (7)

This might be one of the more intriguing matchups of this round. The Avs look like a Cup contender, and Nathan MacKinnon is an MVP candidate and might be one of the most underappreciated superstars in the league. The Coyotes, however, are going to be a tough out. Goalie Darcy Kempner faced a ton of shots against the Predators and held up well. He will have to do the same here. Taylor Hall and Phil Kessel provide top end forward play, and Arizona matches up OK here. The Avs should win, but don't be shocked if they are pushed hard.

Prediction: Avs in 6.

Dallas Stars (3) vs. Calgary Flames (6)

Dallas is an interesting team. The Stars have Stanley Cup-level talent, but they struggle to score at times, which could be a problem in a seven-game series. They play strong D and have great goaltending, but have issues with quicker teams, which bodes well for Calgary. The Flames are also a bit of an enigma, but they seem built for the playoffs. They have two young American-born stars in Johnny Gaudreu and Matthew Tkachuk, solid depth up front and on the back end and can hold their own with most teams. Cam Talbot is the key, however. If he can consistently man the goal the way he did in the series win over Winnipeg, they have a big shot. He finished off the series with a 31-save shutout.

Prediction: Flames in 7.

St. Louis Blues (4) vs. Vancouver Canucks (5)

The defending champs were not very good in the round-robin, hence the four seed. But it will probably work out; the Canucks are an easier matchup than what they would have faced with Calgary as a 3 seed. Vancouver is an interesting young team. Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are two up and coming stars, but the rest of the lineup is bolstered by gritty vets. Defensemen Quinn Hughes is another young star in the making. Goalie Jacob Markstrom was solid against Minnesota, but he will need to be better in this round. The Canucks could have made a run against Dallas, but hard to see them beating the champs.

Prediction: Blues in 6.

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