On Saturday, the Alliance of American Football became the third league to give Johnny Manziel a chance to make a positive impact in professional football.
Will the third time be the charm?
Manziel, who washed out with the NFL Cleveland Browns and spent an unremarkable year in the Canadian Football League last season, was signed by the Memphis Express on Saturday.
San Antonio owned his territorial AAF rights, but the Commanders passed on him.
“We are pleased to welcome Johnny Manziel to the Alliance of American Football, which we’ve always described as a league of opportunity for talented players to launch or revitalize their pro football careers,” Bill Polian, co-founder and head of football for The Alliance, said in a release. “We completed extensive background work to determine whether it would be appropriate for Johnny to play this season, and after consulting with many people familiar with his situation, we concluded that it would be good for him to resume his pro football career here at The Alliance. The San Antonio Commanders have released his college allocation rights, and the Memphis Express have claimed him.”
Memphis (1-5) is in dire need of quarterback help after starter Zach Mettenberger was sidelined by an ankle injury in a 22-9 loss to Salt Lake (2-4) on Saturday.
Manziel last played professionally for the Montreal Alouettes.
Originally inked to a CFL contract by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Texas A&M completed 106 of 165 passes for 1,290 yards, five TDs and seven interceptions with Montreal.
In February he was kicked out of the CFL for violating his contract, and his first opportunity to dress out as an AAF signal caller will come next Sunday when the Express hosts Birmingham.
By signing a standard player contract with the league, Manziel will be paid $250,000 over three years (with incentive money possible based on performance). However, he can opt out of the contract to join the NFL once a given Alliance season is done and training camp hasn’t started.
Barring a remarkable turnaround by the Express (and collapse by the rest of the teams in the Eastern Conference), their 2019 campaign will come to a close on Saturday, April 13.
Not only are the San Antonio Commanders (4-2) looking like the team to beat in the Western Conference, they might be playing the best football in the league right now.
In a 37-6 rout of Atlanta (2-4) on Sunday, San Antonio delivered a season-best in both points scored and points allowed in a game the Commanders led from start to finish.
San Antonio QB Logan Woodside hit 17 of 23 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns and has quickly quieted his critics.
“I think Logan continues to gain confidence,” Commanders head coach Mike Riley said. “I love how he plays. He plays pretty aggressively. I think he has a chance to just keep getting better and better.”
The defense was the biggest star of the day, however, forcing four turnovers.
“I think everybody learned how good our defense is,” Woodside said. “They were able to give us great field position and helped us out a lot today.”
UNDEFEATED NO MORE
In mythology, Apollo is a god of music, truth and prophecy, healing, sun and light, plague and poetry.
His football namesake, however, proved on Saturday that nobody’s perfect.
The Orlando Apollos’ quest for an undefeated season ended at their home stadium on Saturday with a 22-17 upset loss to Arizona.
Orlando falls to 5-1 while the Hotshots snapped a three-game losing streak to improve to 3-3.
“Well, we’re not going to go undefeated,” Apollos boss Steve Spurrier said. “We didn’t play well enough. We didn’t coach well enough. We got one (linebacker Terence Garvin) thrown out of the game for slugging. That is an embarrassment to me and the other coaches that we can’t teach these guys to play by the rules. Anyway, it was a loss. We had our chances, but it didn’t work out.
“We’ve got a lot of ball left. This is just one game. We can get the guys next week in Atlanta.”
The Hotshots are now back in the conference hunt, and Coach Rick Neuheisel credited his defense for Saturday’s “W.” The unit forced a fumble with Orlando driving in Arizona territory at the two-minute warning, and wrapped things up when the Apollos – who had reached the Hotshots 8 – were called for a false start in the waning moments.
That resulted in a 10-second runoff and ended the game.
“They’ve been a bend-and-no break defense almost the entire year,” Neuheisel said. “Getting that turnover got rid of their timeouts. (That) was a huge play. Orlando had come into this game without a turnover. Their offense had not turned the ball over.
“For us to have a couple and probably could have had more with some balls that were right in our hands. That being said, I give a lot of credit to the defensive staff and the defensive players for finding a way to the victory column.”
The Birmingham Iron (4-2) and San Diego Fleet (3-3) combined for 61 points and 826 total yards as Birmingham won on a last-second field goal, 32-29, on Sunday night.
Nick Novak’s 44-yard sidewinder as time expired put the finishing touches on the weekend’s most entertaining contest, and helped the Iron stay one game behind Orlando in the Eastern Conference.
Birmingham quarterback Luis Perez came off the bench to go 27-49-2 passing for 359 yards and three touchdowns. He replaced starter Keith Price, who was injured early in the game.
L’Damian Washington scored twice and reeled in 128 receiving yards for the winners.
It was a special night for Perez, who got the win in his “homecoming” game.
“It’s a great feeling, I’ll tell you what,” Perez said. “To come home, back to San Diego, where I grew up and where I was born and raised. It’s a great feeling, especially to be able to do it in front of my family and friends who really support me through everything – through thick and thin.
“For me to get in and be able to pull off a win as a team like this in front of my hometown is a great feeling.”
Novak, also a native of “America’s Finest City,” spent three seasons with the Chargers while they were still based in San Diego.
“Who would’ve thought I would play in this stadium again with the Birmingham Iron and have that situation in the end?” Novak said. “It was a great experience and a great memory for me. Most importantly, I’m glad we got the win. Nothing better than celebrating a victory in the locker room after a game.”
With four games remaining in the Alliance regular season all eight teams are technically still in the hunt for a postseason spot, but the Western Conference is the side that offers the most intrigue.
Only two games separate the top team (San Antonio) from the last place squad (Salt Lake) in the conference, and the Commanders and Stallions still have to meet each other twice over the final month of the season.
Their first clash comes Saturday at the Alamodone.
Arizona and San Diego, of course, still have everything to play for with 3-3 marks.
In the Eastern Conference its appears to be a two-team race between Orlando and Birmingham, with one game separating those two and the second place Iron two games clear of Atlanta with one win over the Legends already.
HERE COME THE STALLIONS
Salt Lake isn’t exactly a hot ticket in Utah, drawing a league-worst average of 9,364 fans per game. Still, even at 2-4, Dennis Erickson’s team has realistic postseason hopes.
The Stallions grabbed a 19-0 lead and handled Memphis 22-9 on Saturday, getting another strong showing from quarterback Josh Woodrum.
Woodrum finished with a pair of TD tosses and 243 passing yards.
“Our plan going in, to start with, was to go no huddle in (an) empty (set),” Erickson said. “We had four receivers and a tight end, which we hadn’t shown (earlier in the season). We moved the ball up and down (the field). We thought we might be able to get (Memphis) a little tired.”
The largest crowd of the week was in San Diego, where 20,986 fans were on hand to watch the Fleet square off with Birmingham. Orlando played in front of its smallest home crowd of the season (18,358) while 10,619 came to Atlanta and Salt Lake brought up the rear with 8,150 ticket buying customers.
Saturday: Orlando at Atlanta, 2 p.m. EDT, TNT; Salt Lake at San Antonio, 8 p.m. EDT, NFL Network.
Sunday: San Diego at Arizona, 4 p.m. EDT, CBS Sports Network; Birmingham at Memphis, 8 p.m. EDT, NFL Network.
Scott Adamson can be reached by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @adamsonsl