Johnny Manziel is the disaster the CFL can see coming a long way off. That hasn't stopped anyone from wanting a piece of what he brings – attention, if little else.
Manziel, 25, is so close to a caricature of an entitled football prodigy from east Texas that he ought to be illustrated rather than photographed.
Though gifted with an abundance of rough talent (he was drafted by the San Diego Padres despite giving up baseball after high school), he has never been a worker. The arrests, the rehab stints and the on-field failures are all symptoms of his disease – fear of missing out. If his online misadventures are any guide, Manziel has never had an early night in in his life, nor ever said "No" to a terrible choice.
Hamstrung by poor judgment, Manziel got as far as precociousness could take him – a Heisman Trophy. When the next step up the sporting ladder required small concessions to self-discipline, he tapped out. He has since shown no inclination to change.
It's a truism that great athletes get an infinity of mulligans when it comes to bad behaviour, but that's not precisely correct. A great draw gets that favour.
No one cares if the silent, surly cornerback is just one self-help audiotape from realizing his full potential. But they will twist themselves into moral knots for a high-profile loudmouth with crossover marketing appeal and a signature hand sign.
That's why the Hamilton Tiger-Cats have held onto Manziel's rights since he was a college freshman. That's why, despite enough red flags to garland a May Day parade, they still wanted him when he bombed out of the NFL. That's why – knowing at something close to a scientific certainty that it will end in tears – they still do.
Hamilton (and, by extension, the CFL) is not trying to sign a quarterback. They're hoping to invest in an undervalued brand. A few years ago, a controlling share in Johnny Football Inc. was worth eight figures. Now it might be had for a civil servant's salary.
Sports franchises are no different than people – they will buy anything that's marked down by 90 per cent, whether or not it fits.
At issue now is just how deep the discount will be. In recent days, the Tiger-Cats offered Manziel what is presumably an entry-level salary (something in the range of $50,000). He has until the end of the month to work out a deal. If he passes, the Ticats retain his rights for another year, giving him nowhere to go but … I don't know, what else is Johnny Manziel qualified to do? Very little, one imagines.
If the sports world were driven by logic, the question here would be, "Why?"
Manziel has not played football in nearly two years. He hasn't played football well in twice as long. During that time, his training regimen has largely involved bending an elbow and shuffling between a lawyer's office and the dock.
Why would you want this sort of player? Sensible answer: You would not, at any price. It's the equivalent of purchasing a pinless hand grenade just because you found it in the dollar bin.
But pro sports are not logical, so the question has become, "How much?"
This week, Manziel's agent released a ransom note disguised as a statement insisting Hamilton pay Manziel a "fair deal" (i.e. an unfair one). He made the demand through a high-profile NFL writer, revealing who Team Manziel believes is the real audience for this travelling circus act.
Now it's fallen to internet bickering about how much a guy who has never played the three-down version of the sport and will not any time soon (Manziel would initially be the backup) is worth.
The right answer here is "nothing." Less than that. From a footballing perspective, the Tiger-Cats (or any other team foolish enough to trade for his rights) would be better off paying Manziel a stipend to remain at whatever poolside cabana he is currently occupying.
But since this is not really about football, the number will go up. Whatever bargaining power the Tiger-Cats had went out the window when their own head coach, June Jones, announced a few weeks ago that Manziel would be "the best player ever to play up here."
"Up here." Like it's the moon or something. Somewhere the normal laws of gravity don't apply.
By contrast, Manziel's negotiating advantage is limitless because he has already proven that he does not care if he plays football. If he did, he would've done it when he was being paid $2-million (U.S.) a year to do it on a Monday Night.
It's bizarre to feel affronted when that type of person is not as inclined to do it for what amounts to an NFL per diem in a stadium named after a purveyor of doughnuts.
If there's any wavering to be done here, it will be on the CFL's part. The simple act of extending an offer is a bended knee – "We (heart emoji) you. Pick us." All the back-and-forth going on now is a matter of determining how much money is enough to paper over Manziel's embarrassment at having to play in Canada.
When and if it gets done, you can predict how it will play out.
Manziel will come "up here" promising all sorts. He'll look good. He'll say things like "best shape of my life" and "looking forward to a new challenge."
It'll work out just long enough for a few people to say, "Hey, this thing might actually work out." And then it will go wrong.
Manziel won't start. That will be a problem. He will be paid more than all but a few players in the league. That will be a problem. He won't be anywhere close to "the best player ever." That will be a problem. The American media will lose interest. And that will be a serious problem.
As a rule, I don't wager on sports. But if there were a way to short Manziel's CFL career, I would remortgage my house.
Because that's not putting money on the randomness of a game. It's betting on something that can't be drilled out of people – their nature.