An independent football league debuting in April is embracing high-profile NFL players who were shunned, extending invitations to Johnny Manziel and Ray Rice and lining up several former draft picks with the promise of a shot to display their talent.
Spring League CEO Brian Woods told The Associated Press he had conversations with representatives for Rice and Vince Young, and challenged Manziel to prove himself on the field in a few months.
“If Johnny Manziel is serious about a future in the NFL, the Spring League is willing to provide him with a platform to prove he’s still relevant,” Woods said.
Manziel declared on Twitter this week that he’s trying to be “a good person” and suggested he’s stopped partying.
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner has been a free agent for most of the past year. The Browns released him in March following two tumultuous seasons defined by inconsistent play and numerous problems off the field, including a stint in rehab. Since then, the 24-year-old quarterback has been dumped by two agents after both demanded a second rehab trip, and navigated a domestic violence charge in Texas that prosecutors agreed to drop when he pledged to meet certain conditions for a year.
Manziel told ESPN Friday he’s achieved sobriety without professional help and that his next goal is to play football.
“A preseason game, anything I don’t care what it is,” Manziel said. “Only need one team to believe in me and I’ll do anything to make that a possibility.”
The Spring League debuts in April with four teams composed of free agents. They’ll start training April 5 at The Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia, and will play a total of six games there in a three-week span. The league isn’t affiliated with the NFL, but NFL teams plan to send scouts to games and workouts.
“Our core strategy is to address deficiencies in the current pro football landscape by providing a showcase to experienced NFL players and an instructional platform for younger talent in need of live game repetitions, which are paramount for development,” Woods said.
Longtime NFL scout John Peterson is the league’s president.
The Spring League is ideally looking for players in their mid-20s, but wouldn’t turn down older players such as Rice or Young because they provide more publicity.
Rice hasn’t played in the NFL since he was suspended in 2014 following a domestic violence. The former three-time Pro Bowl running back turns 30 on Sunday.
Young, a 33-year-old quarterback and former college star, last played with Philadelphia in 2011.
Wide receiver Jalen Saunders, another player with character concerns, has already agreed to play in the league. Saunders was a fourth-round pick by the Jets in 2014 and spent time with six teams in two years. He was suspended the first 10 games of the 2016 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
Other players who’ve already agreed to play in The Spring League include: former Georgia QB Hutson Mason, RB Zach Bauman, LB Will Smith, S Pierre Warren, DBs Justin Green and Ellis Lankster and LBs Tyler Starr and Davis Tull.
Smith, Starr, Tull and Lankster also were former draft picks. Warren intercepted two passes in a game for the Saints against Chicago in 2014. Green was a member of New England’s practice squad when the Patriots won the Super Bowl two years ago. Lankster played five seasons with Bills and Jets.