Johnny Manziel took one of the initial steps in a potential return to the NFL by playing his first competitive football game in over two years.
The polarising quarterback strapped on the pads and helmet for about two quarters of action in Austin, Texas on Saturday in The Spring League, a showcase event for players hoping to make it onto the roster of a professional team.
Manziel had his ups and down, including completions on his first seven passes, two scrambles for 11 and 10 yards, and a vintage touchdown toss in which he rolled out to the right and zipped an off-balance throw to the back of the end zone to wide receiver Antwan Goodley.
He was also sacked three times and couldn’t engineer a scoring drive after getting the ball back down four points with two minutes remaining, finishing 9-of-15 for 83 yards in a 11-7 loss.
His return to the field in the modest settings were a far cry from his days as a top prospect in college football with Texas A&M and as a starting NFL quarterback with the Cleveland Browns, but Manziel is working his way back to the game after off-field issues stemming from substance abuse and bipolar disease derailed his career.
“The main thing, #ComebackSZN for me is like no matter where I end up and no matter what happens football-wise, at least my life, at least, you know, I’ve repaired a lot of relationships that needed work, I’ve repaired a lot of myself that needed a lot of work and I’m able to run back on the field, something I didn’t know if I’d ever get a chance to do again,” Manziel said after his debut in The Spring League.
“It’s disappointing, some of the things that happened, but nevertheless this is a huge step for me. I put pads back on.
“A lot of people would have just wrote me off to even get to this point. I’m definitely emotional about it. I’m definitely happy about it. This isn’t the end goal for me, but I’m having fun again.”
Manziel will have one more chance to show what he’s still capable of in The Spring League’s final round of games on Thursday. After that, the 25-year-old will hope to earn interest from an NFL team, with the Canadian Football League (CFL) a secondary option. His rights are currently held by the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
In all likelihood, a two-game sample size in a developmental league won’t sway NFL teams one way or the other on Manziel. The reason why he fell out of the NFL had little to do with his talent as he showed promising glimpses as a playmaker with both his arm and legs in his brief two-year spell.
Checked with several teams this morning about Manziel’s subpar performance yesterday. There is still NFL interest in him.— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) April 8, 2018
And by unfreakingbelievable I mean totally believable.
The word I keep hearing from NFL execs is “potential.” They think Manziel’s potential is off the charts.— mike freeman (@mikefreemanNFL) April 8, 2018
But I just don’t see it.
The real question marks surrounding Manziel have to do with his professionalism and behaviour off the field. NFL teams will want to see if he has developed better habits and that’s exactly what Manziel is hoping to show during his time in The Spring League.
“The message that I’m sending is showing up every day and going to meetings,” he said.
“Being engaged in everything that is going on during practice and in the game. I can’t control what is going on [with NFL teams’ interests] and I don’t know what’s going on in NFL meetings.
“If that’s the case, if the NFL is something that pops up, cool. If not, I’m going to work until I get back there. We’ll see how things play out.”
Before Saturday, Manziel’s last appearance in a competitive game came in the Browns’ 17-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on December 27, 2015, when he threw for 137 yards and an interception, while adding a career-high 108 rushing yards on 11 carries.
In 14 NFL games, Manziel had a completion percentage of 57.0, averaged 119.6 passing yards per game and 6.49 yards per throw, tossed seven touchdowns and seven interceptions for a passer rating of 74.4, and produced 259 rushing yards and one rushing score.
Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis will be suspended for the first four games of the coming NFL season after violating the league’s policy on performing-enhancing drugs.
Davis made the announcement on social media on Friday, calling it “one of the saddest days” of his career, while also stating “I am not a cheater”.
In the video posted with the message, Davis said: “I was completely caught off guard by this. I’ve never in any way done anything to try to intentionally cheat the game. It’s one of those situations where the NFL rules are clear; they state that you are responsible for what you put in your body.
“I’ve taken the same supplements for the last seven or eight years and never had any issues. Been tested numerous times over the years while taking the same stuff. And, unfortunately, these are some of the things that happens when you take supplements.
“I’ve never tested positive for a steroid or HGH. It’s not one of those situations. It ended up being an estrogen blocker that triggered a positive test for me. I just want you guys to know that in no way would I ever do anything, like I said, to cheat this game or to try to create a competitive advantage over anybody.”
This is by far one of the saddest days of my NFL career. I never thought that this would happen to me. I’ve worked extremely hard to do things the right way on and off the field. Panther Nation please know that I am not a cheater. #KeepPounding pic.twitter.com/zUppMfm6yk— Thomas Davis (@ThomasDavisSDTM) April 6, 2018
The 35-year-old Pro Bowler, who was honoured with the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award in 2014, has missed only three games over the past six years.
Between him and Luke Kuechly, the Panthers have one of the best linebacker duos in the league and one that helped to allow the seventh-fewest yards last season with 317.1 per game.
While the NFL has yet to release the schedule for next season, Carolina will be tasked with playing in one of the toughest divisions as the NFC South featured three teams with at least 10 wins last year.
Davis had previously announced he would retire after 2018, but said in his video that the ban may change his plans.
“I’m going to serve this four-game suspension and I’ll be back ready to go back out there with my teammates,” he said. “And, you know, who knows? Maybe this isn’t my last year.”
Brandin Cooks spent all of one season in New England before the Patriots decided to move on from the speedy wide receiver.
New England shipped Cooks to the Los Angeles Rams for the 23rd overall pick in this month’s draft, one year after acquiring him for a first-rounder.
As part of the deal, the Patriots also sent a fourth-round pick (136 overall) and received a sixth-round selection (198) back from Los
Cooks was one of Tom Brady’s primary weapons this past season, serving as the vertical threat in New England’s offence. He hauled in 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns, while his mark of 16.6 yards per reception and 18 catches of 20-plus yards ranked seventh and eighth in the NFL, respectively.
His speed and ability to beat defenders allowed Brady to attack downfield more than he had in years. And at 24, Cooks is still near the front-end of his prime as one of the star receivers in the league.
So why did the Patriots, who are very much in the middle of a championship window with an aging Brady, trade away one of their best playmakers?
Bill Belichick is known for moving on from players before they begin to decline, but that’s not what this trade is about. Instead, it has more to do with getting value for a player who New England may not have wanted to pay a premium for.
When the Patriots sent the 32nd overall pick in last year’s draft to acquire Cooks from the New Orleans Saints, they likely did so with the intention of keeping him for at least two seasons on the tail end of his rookie contract – including the fifth-year option for 2018 that will pay him nearly $8.5 million.
But with receivers like Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins earning deals this offseason that will pay them around $15m annually, New England may have felt dissuaded by their chances of keeping Cooks on an appealing contract after this coming year.
Watkins also indirectly factors into the Cooks trade in another way. With the wideout having left the Rams for the Kansas City Chiefs, it created a vacancy for Los Angeles to fill with another deep threat capable of stretching the field.
The Rams reportedly inquired about New York Giants star Odell Beckham Jr, but preferred the option of Cooks. With the reigning NFC West champions trying to fill a need and continuing to be aggressive in the trade market to assemble a win-now roster, the Patriots likely saw an opportunity to extract maximum value for Cooks.
New England now have two first-rounders (23 and 31 overall), two second-rounders (43 and 63) to play with ahead of or during the draft. Belichick has given himself plenty of flexibility to bolster the roster in a number of different ways, whether that means using the picks on impact rookies, trading up to select a top prospect, trading down to accumulate more assets, or – the most proactive option – using them in a trade for a star.
It’s impossible to escape the speculation that the Cooks trade is potentially a precursor to a trade for Beckham.
The Giants probably aren’t actively shopping Beckham, but have reportedly told teams that price for the mercurial wide receiver would be two first-round picks. And it just so happens that the Patriots now have two first-round picks.
As fun as it would be to imagine Brady and Beckham on the same field destroying defences, it’s more fantasy than reality. New England, under Belichick, have never been the type of team to give up valuable, cost-controlled assets for star players. Even when they traded for Randy Moss in 2007, they bought low with a fourth-round pick.
Perhaps Brady’s ticking clock – and maybe Belichick’s as well – could change the Patriots’ approach, but it’s more likely the Cooks trade has nothing to do with Beckham and is more telling of the confidence they have in their current receiving corps of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell and Rob Gronkowski, who looks like he’ll be back after contemplating retirement.
But even if Beckham isn’t on the way, New England should now have more moves up their sleeve.