Johnny Manziel Holds-Up in CFL Debut as Ti-Cats Falter versus Defending Grey Cup Champs

Toronto (36) Hamilton (18) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Friday, June 1, 2018

Week 2 of the CFL Pre-Season featured an Ontario rivalry from across the Highway-401, as Toronto and Hamilton clashed for a pre-season tune-up game held at the University of Guelph as the 2018 CFL regular season looms just two weeks away.

In what would otherwise be a traditional, lowly anticipated CFL Pre-Season matchup, was all-but boring with Johnny Manziel’s arrival on the CFL scene. It happened to be Manziel’s first taste of professional game action since lacing up his cleats for the Cleveland Browns on December 27, 2015, 887 days ago to be exact—quite the absence for a former Heisman Trophy winner.

Since a triumphant, well-documented uprise throughout his illustrious collegiate career at Texas A&M, the talented quarterback has seen obvious struggles with drugs and addiction but is hoping to turn the page on that chapter of his young life and timeless NCAA career. 

The CFL has long been hailed as a league of second chances and that is no different in this case despite the additional star-power attached to his name. He’s here to play, there’s no wiggle-room for the now 25-year-old to escape to the NFL via a player clause in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.

His two-year contract is structured as such; $122,000 base salary, plus $10,000 signing bonus, $18,000 housing budget, $10,000 if active for 6 games, $10,000 if active for 10 games, and $10,000 for 14 games active. An additional $120,000 is earned if he plays half of the snaps. March 1, 2019 marks a $75,000 offseason bonus. The structure of his second year on the contract is the same except his base salary rises to $202,000. (Via @JasonLaCanfora on Twitter).

Manziel still needs to prove that he can play the game as we do North of the border, regardless. Today was a step in the right direction.

Additionally, the Argonauts showcased a similarly hopeful quarterback looking to crack the initial roaster and (almost certainly) back-up Ricky Ray. The man in question is James Franklin, whose rights were acquired via trade in December 2017 after seeing minimal playing time in Edmonton behind the league’s reigning Most Outstanding Player, Mike Reilly. 

His limited snaps, best chronicled by a mere 174 passing attempts over the course of three seasons, led Toronto to take a shot at the talented 26-year-old Texas native with the future of their franchise in mind.

This was not the first time Franklin would be meeting Manziel on the field, either. His first run-in with “Money” Manziel during an NCAA matchup in November of 2013, when his Missouri Tigers emerged victorious 28-21 over Manziel’s Aggies in the SEC semifinals.

For clarification, Manziel has since shed his “Money” persona.

As the action got underway, several players made their mark with eye-opening skills which should go a long way towards falling in favour of the coaching staff and front office.

On the other hand, Jeremiah Masoli began his night with a two-and-out but finished the half with 8/13 completions for 115 yards, 1 touchdown, and added a second interception. His counterpart, Mcleod Bethel-Thompson, started under centre for the Argonauts and went 9/11 for 122 yards, 2 touchdowns, and zero interceptions—not so and for an outside project looking in.

He also happens to be from Ricky Ray’s alma mater, California State University, Sacramento.

Toronto recorded 20 points off of turnovers alone in the opening half, including a big play by safety Matt Webster, who intercepted a pass downfield intended for Brandon Banks to set the tone early in the first quarter.

Manziel took the reigns behind centre before the end of the half and posted a promising slashing line, consisting of 4/5 completions for 35 yards in what was essentially throwaway time.

Despite not posting a touchdown pass, the shifty marauder made several plays out of nothing in the third quarter to compile an 81.8% completion rate on the back of 9/11 completions for 80 yards. 

James Franklin posted solid numbers to pair with Bethel-Thompson’s superb outing, adding 73 yards in the air on 8/10 completions. 

The rush attack lacked James Wilder Jr. and his impeccable style, and no subsequent Argonauts’ back made a lasting impact on the field.

Brandon Banks showed up in a big way for Hamilton, reeling in 4 receptions for 72 yards, and 1 touchdown—an 18 yards per catch average. 

The Ti-Cats failed to produce an opposition to the reigning Grey Cup Champions—but should be hopeful with two fully capable quarterbacks in the mix between Manziel and Masoli. 

June 7th will be Toronto’s final opportunity to prepare for a gruelling 21-week marathon to the playoffs, effective June 15th, when the Argonauts kick off their regular season with a Week 1 matchup against the Saskatchewan Roughriders. 

Side note:

MLSE has decided to bring forth pre-game rallies at the “Shipyard” despite plans to end their tailgating experiment that ran for two seasons, which was deemed not profitable enough to justify its continued existence.

In a statement from Argonauts PR, the “Shipyard” at Stanley Barracks is to feature food, drinks and musical entertainment. Additionally, Argos alumni, team personnel, cheerleaders, the team mascot, Jason the Argonaut, and an Argos Marching Band will be featured in the festivities to facilitate the ultimate pre-game meet-up on the Exhibition Place grounds.

“As we looked at delivering the best experience for our fans, we identified early on a need to address ticket pricing but also to create an energetic in-game stadium experience and traditions that could bring all fans, young and old, together,” — Bill Manning, President of the Toronto Argonauts.

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Photo Credit: @TorontoArgos