Could Johnny Manziel Impact the 2018 CFL Grey Cup Odds?

by Aaron Brooks
on January 25, 2018

With all football fans’ attention squarely on the National Football League, you might not be aware of an interesting gridiron story developing north of the border.

Johnny Manziel, the former Texas A&M star and first-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, appears closer than ever to signing a contract to play in the Canadian Football League next season. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats aren’t concerned with Manziel’s NFL failures with the Cleveland Browns or his litany of off-the-field issues, and CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie has given his stamp of approval for the Ticats to ink the polarizing quarterback to a new deal.

If this all goes through, what effect might Hamilton’s addition of Manziel have on the 2018 Grey Cup odds? Let’s look at the current CFL futures odds at Bovada and break down Johnny Football’s chances of making an immediate impact.

All odds that are referenced in this article were taken from at 12 p.m eastern on January 25, 2018. These odds may have changed since the time of this writing.

2018 Grey Cup Odds

Oddsmakers either don’t think too much of the Ticats’ chances of signing Manziel or don’t expect Johnny Football to make much of a difference in Hamilton.

Bovada lists Hamilton at +700 to win the Grey Cup in 2018, which may sound like pretty short odds until you remember the CFL is a 9-team league. In fact, Hamilton’s odds of winning the Grey Cup in 2018 are tied for third-worst in the loop (although they’re also tied for fourth-best, depending on how you look at it.)

  • Calgary Stampeders: +350
  • Edmonton Eskimos: +500
  • Toronto Argonauts: +600
  • Saskatchewan Roughriders: +700
  • British Columbia Lions: +700
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers: +700
  • Hamilton Tiger-Cats: +700
  • Ottawa RedBlacks: +1000
  • Montreal Alouettes: +1200

Despite the Stampeders’ tendency to spit the bit when things matter the most, Calgary is once again the favorite to win the CFL championship in 2018. That’s what happens when you’ve gone 71-15-2 in regular-season play over the past 5 years and return most of your top talent, even if the Stamps have just 1 Grey Cup to show for their 10 straight winning seasons since 2008.

Calgary’s provincial rival, the Edmonton Eskimos, are second on the 2018 Grey Cup odds while the defending champion Toronto Argonauts are third.

Why Johnny Manziel Could Succeed In The CFL

It all has to do with the size of the field. At 110 yards long and 65 yards wide, the CFL gridiron is around 35% bigger than the NFL playing surface. And that’s not even including the end zones, which are 10 yards deeper in Canada than in the U.S.

Even with an extra defender in the Canadian game, that’s a lot of room for a mobile quarterback to roam. You don’t get much more mobile than Manziel, who ran for a 7-yard average and a ridiculous total of 21 touchdowns in his freshman year facing mostly SEC defenses while at Texas A&M.

Even when Manziel wasn’t using all that space to gain yards with his legs, defenses would have to respect his running ability and were hesitant to send extra rushers on a blitz. With time in the pocket and the ability to extend plays with his elusivity, Manziel could be absolutely lethal on a CFL field with his phenomenal arm strength and so much space for defensive backs to defend.

A couple of the best quarterbacks the CFL has seen in recent years have been cut from the same run/pass hybrid cloth as Manziel. Doug Flutie and Jeff Garcia both tore up the league before landing jobs in the NFL, and Hamilton coach June Jones – who also has head coaching experience in both the NCAA and NFL – believes Manziel could be even better than those two.

“I think he’d be the best player to ever play up here,” . “He can throw it and he can run it like nobody has ever been able to do.”

Why Johnny Manziel Won’t Succeed In The CFL

There are two huge red flags that the Tiger-Cats have been willing to ignore in their pursuit of Manziel, probably because they’re more interested in the media and fan attention Manziel would attract.

First, the guy hasn’t played professional football in 2 years. The last time we saw Manziel in action, he completed 13 of 32 passes for 136 yards, 0 touchdowns and 1 interception against the Chiefs. Yes, Manziel added 108 yards on the ground on just 11 carries, but the Browns finished with just 13 points in a 17-13 loss. That was the fourth time in Manziel’s 5 starts in 2015 in which the Browns managed 13 points or fewer, and he didn’t reach the end zone on any of his 37 rushing attempts all season.

Secondly, and more importantly, are the massive character and commitment issues Manziel has displayed throughout his career, even dating back to Texas A&M. After winning the Heisman in 2012, Johnny Football may have actually regressed in his sophomore season, running for 1.7 yards less per carry and finishing the year with 12 less rushing touchdowns. Defenses may have figured him out, but Manziel also seemed content with his early success, rather than working hard on his game to get better.

Manziel’s off-the-field issues are well documented. His own father has acknowledged that “it’s not a secret that he’s a druggie”, Manziel was suspended by the NFL in 2016 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and he was charged with domestic violence against now ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley earlier in the year.

He also was spotted playing blackjack at a Vegas casino 1 night before the Browns’ final regular-season game of 2015 and missed a mandatory meeting with doctors during concussion protocol, resulting in the Browns releasing him in March 2016 – 2 years after spending a first-round pick on him.

Although the CFL is looked down upon by many as a second-class league to the NFL, there’d still be a learning curve Manziel would have to overcome in order to flourish in the Canadian game.

Considering that Jones acknowledged Manziel was out of shape a month ago and that Manziel hasn’t shown any commitment to improving his game in the past, it’s hard to imagine Manziel putting in the work to develop into a CFL superstar.

Manziel May Not Even Sign With The Tiger-Cats

All of this Manziel talk may even be entirely moot. Though Hamilton owns his CFL rights and has repeatedly expressed interest in signing him to a deal, Manziel’s contract demands may prove too unrealistic for the parties to come to an agreement.

According to reports, of approximately $50,000 Canadian, which is what the Tiger-Cats are believed to have offered. Instead, Manziel and agent Erik Burkhardt responded by demanding that Hamilton pay Manziel in the neighborhood of $500,000 per year (the amount that former Ticats starter Zach Collaros made in 2017) and that the Ticats do so before the end of January. Otherwise, Manziel and his camp have threatened to move onto other professional football opportunities available to them, even though we have to wonder what those might be.

Those ridiculous contract demands have led some to speculate that , and not genuinely interested in playing in the CFL. Johnny Football has already capitalized on getting his name back in the headlines, marketing a new line of clothing called “Comeback$ZN” and selling out his stock of hats, sweatshirts and T-shirts within 48 hours.


There’s not much debate that Hamilton badly needs an upgrade at quarterback. The Tiger-Cats have already moved on from former star Collaros, dealing him to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in early January, and incumbent starter Jeremiah Masoli couldn’t help the Cats rank any better than third-last in the CFL in passing yards this past season.

But Manziel isn’t the answer, and I think both he and the Ticats know it. Johnny Football craves the attention of getting back in the news, and Hamilton wants to create a buzz and sell some tickets, something that is always a challenge in the southern Ontario market and even more so when coming off a 6-12 campaign.

The Tiger-Cats may have some value at +700 on the 2018 Grey Cup odds, but only because the East Division is so bad and gives Hamilton an easier road to the championship game.

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