SAN ANTONIO — The Commanders passed on signing troubled quarterback Johnny Manziel after he was cleared to play in the AAF, but they’re already looking forward to seeing the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner when they host the Memphis Express on April 6.
Manziel, a 2011 Kerrville Tivy graduate, signed with Memphis last weekend after the Commanders waived their allocation rights to him. Nicknamed "Johnny Football," he played two seasons at Texas A&M before being selected by the Cleveland Browns with the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft.
Meeting with reporters Tuesday after practice, Commanders General Manager Daryl Johnston went into detail on what went into the club’s decision not to pursue Manziel.
In the end, the Commanders stood pat because they like the three quarterbacks they have on their roster already – starter Logan Woodside and backups Dustin Vaughan and Marquise Williams – Johnston said.
“I think a lot of people don’t understand the way our system is set up, if we’re going to add somebody to the roster, we’ve got to take somebody off,” Johnston said. “That was part of the combination of everything that we looked at.
“But the big thing was the timing and circumstances that surrounded the decision. You just really wonder if it was going to be beneficial for both parties, so we wish him all the best up in Memphis and look forward to seeing him on April 6.”
Manziel became available to play in the fledgling Alliance of American Football late last month when he was released by the CFL Montreal Alouettes for violating terms of his contract. The Canadian Football League subsequently prohibited the league’s eight other teams from signing Manziel, effectively banning him from the CFL.
The Commanders owned the signing rights to Manziel because he played at A&M, one of the schools allocated to San Antonio by the AAF, which last month started its first season with eight franchises.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of vetting that was going to go on,” Johnston said. “The biggest thing for me was what we had here with our group. The decision to add Johnny, we were going to have to take something away from that. Really, it was more weighing the pros and cons of the decision.
“I don’t think there was as much vetting that went on, as just what is the best thing for our team moving forward if we make this decision? It was really what are the ramifications of the decision more than it was vetting what had happened to Johnny throughout the last year or so with what happened with the CFL.”
Manziel started the 2018 CFL season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, but was traded to Montreal after the sixth game.
Asked if it was an entirely football decision or if other factors, such as fan support, were considered Johnston said: “It’s a winning decision, what gives us the best opportunity to win. This game is all about winning. I think when we talked with everybody in the organization, we felt that the decision that we made gave us the best opportunity to win.
"It’s not about putting people in the seats. It’s not about all these other things people have brought up. For us, it’s about winning.”
Memphis made room on its roster for Manziel by putting quarterback Zach Mettenberger on injured reserve. Mettenberger sustained an ankle injury on the Express’ first offensive play in a 22-9 loss to the Salt Lake Stallions on Saturday. Memphis (1-5) has the worst record in the AAF.
“Really, the blessing in this whole situation, I think, is he (Manziel) got to a team that needed a quarterback, and as a quarterback, he needed a team,” Johnston said. “I think it’s a win-win on that side. I don’t think it was a win-win here in San Antonio (if Manziel had signed with the Commanders).”
San Antonio (4-2) leads the AAF’s West Division with four games left in the regular season. The Commanders, who have won three straight on the road, host Salt Lake on Saturday at 7 p.m. The game will be the Commanders first at the Alamodome since they lost to Orlando in Week 2.
Johnston said the Commanders’ gave no consideration to signing Manziel and then sitting him until 2020.
“But we’ve got to give somebody up, right?” Johnston said. “They (Express) put Zach Mettenberger on IR. Now they got lucky in that situation because if Zach Mettenberger is healthy, who are they going to give up in that situation to bring Johnny Manziel in? We’ve got three healthy quarterbacks that have been great for us throughout this whole process.
“You talk to Matt Troxel (Commanders offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach), you talk to (head coach) Mike Riley, both of them love the quarterbacking, and that’s what we’re trying to create here. That’s the big thing. Playing for 2020, how much do we hurt our chances in 2019? That’s part of that balancing act.”
Woodside has completed 99 of 173 passes for 1,189 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. His passing yardage ranks No. 2 in the league.
“I was excited, I guess,” Woodside said, when he was asked how he felt when he heard that the Commanders weren’t going to sign Manziel. “It would have been fine if he came in. I would have competed. I’m happy that he went to a team that needs a quarterback at this time. Look forward to playing against him in a couple of weeks.”
Coached by NFL Hall of Famer Mike Singletary, Memphis has lost two in a row after beating San Diego 26-23 in Week 4. The Express started the season 0-3.
“Memphis is in a completely different situation than we are right now, so I think it was advantageous for Johnny because I think he gets his best opportunity to have success,” Johnston said. “And that’s that whole timing thing. Is it going to be good for him to come into a situation where you’re seven weeks into a 10-week season?
“You’ve got to learn the playbook, learn the vocabulary (terminology), establish a rapport with all your skill players. Can you get it done quickly? Do you have success? I think Memphis gives him a really good opportunity. I don’t think we were going to provide that here.”
The AAF did not pressure the Commanders, one way or another, on their decision regarding Manziel, Johnston said.
“Not at all, not at all,” Johnston said. “It was our first option. The allocation process has been something that everybody has really enjoyed throughout this roster construction. There was never any pressure from the Alliance for us to do something that we weren’t comfortable with doing. I give them a lot of credit for that. They let each franchise make those decisions. They did not force us at all to make a decision.”