There is more to the Manziel trade than meets the eye
The Montreal Alouettes moved quickly on Sunday to shore up their inefficient offence. The Alouettes sent veteran National defensive lineman Jamaal Westerman, speedy receiver Chris Williams, and the Montreal 2020 and 2021 first-round draft picks to Hamilton. In return, the Alouettes received offensive linemen Tony Washington and Landon Rice (National) as well as the star of the trade, quarterback Johnny Manziel.
In a league where finding and starting Canadian talent is necessary for success, sacrificing two successive first-round picks seems like a staggering price to pay for Manziel. However, in order to properly assess the full value of the deal for the Alouettes, it is important to look at the impact on the Montreal offence as a whole.
A completely different offensive line
Five games into the season the Alouettes’ offensive line has performed dreadfully. The Alouettes’ run game ranks last in the league in rushing yards, attempts, and average gain per attempt. The Alouettes offensive line has not dominated the line of scrimmage and opponents often begin their tackles at or near the backfield. Even more troubling for the Montreal is the dubious distinction of leading the league in giving up sacks with 14 to date.
Why is the Alouettes’ offensive line so inefficient? A look at the tape reveals that the majority of the Alouettes’ opponents have found their success when matching up against the left side of the Montreal line. So let’s take a look at the breakdown of who has played there throughout the season:
|Game||Left Tackle||Left Guard|
The Alouettes started the year with Xavier Fulton at left tackle. Fulton is a six-year veteran who played for the Roughriders and the Tiger-Cats before being traded to Montreal in 2017. After struggling for four games, the Alouettes released Fulton in favour of Tyler Johnstone. Johnstone is extremely inexperienced. He played his college football at Oregon and after spending some time on the Los Angeles Chargers injured list in 2016 he was selected by the Alouettes in this year’s supplemental draft. He was immediately thrust into the starting role, and while Johnstone faired well against a vicious Stampeders defence, he will need time to develop.
Three-year veteran Philip Blake looked set at the start of the season to provide a stabilizing presence at left guard. However, as the season progressed it looked like his success previous seasons would not be replicated in 2018. On July 3rd, Alouettes head coach Mike Sherman revealed that Blake was dealing with a toe injury and he remains on the Alouettes one-game injured list. Blake’s replacement, National lineman Kirby Fabien, started the year as a depth player for the right side of the line but was pressed into starting duties with Blake’s injury.
Throughout the first five games of the season, the left side of the Alouettes offensive line was anything but stable.
Veteran Presence Required
This is where the overlooked value of the Johnny Manziel trade comes in. Tony Washington is a proven veteran who can anchor an offensive line as a tackle. He has played over 90 games in the league and won Grey Cups with Toronto in 2012 and Edmonton in 2015. While Washington might be entering the twilight of his career, he has the potential to provide an immediate impact by stabilizing the Alouette line. Intangibles are also at play here as well as Washington could be used to mentor up and coming rookies such as Johnstone.
Landon Rice is also a great addition for the Alouettes. Rice is a four-year veteran National lineman out of the University of Manitoba, where he won a Vanier Cup. While he missed some time to injury in 2015, Rice demonstrated that he is capable of playing guard on either side of the line. With Blake injured, Rice can step in and spell off Fabien at left guard if required. Significantly, Fabien was the depth back up for the right guard Ryan Bomben so no matter who starts, the Alouettes have returned depth and balance to both sides of their line.
While the star of the trade will rightfully be Johnny Manziel, there is a lot of hidden value for the Alouettes under the surface. Washington will stabilize a shaky left side of the offensive line and Rice brings national depth at guard for both sides. This trade might not have only brought the quarterback of the future to Montreal, it also might have salvaged their run game and set the stage for Johnny Manziel to thrive. It was a high price to pay, but the offensive linemen in the deal may just give the Montreal Alouettes a high reward.
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