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What are the chances the Saints sign Johnny Manziel?

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The latest rumors connect the former Heisman winner with Sean Payton.

NFL: Johnny Manziel Autograph Signing Eric Seals-USA TODAY Sports

Ever since the Cleveland Browns cut Johnny Manziel in March 2016, rumors have swirled about when and where he would return to the NFL.

Wait, no. That’s not true.

First, the rumors were whether or not he’d be indicted for domestic abuse after a high-profile altercation with his then-girlfriend (he was). Then, they were about if the league would suspend him for substance abuse issues (it did). In between, the question was whether his high-powered agent would drop him as Manziel partied his way up and down the West Coast (he did).

Once that was settled, pundits pondered whether a Mexican party mansion filled with drugs was the best place to spend his time (probably not). Finally, the big question became how much it would cost to get his autograph outside Super Bowl 51 ($99 for a signature, but only $50 for a selfie).

All of this is to say that the former Heisman Trophy winner has had an eventful run off the field in his year away from football. Now, as brunching season ramps up (and free agency headlines die down), the query is whether or not he’ll return to the field. On Thursday, NFL reporter Ian Rapoport connected the mercurial quarterback to a landing spot that’s anathema to sobriety.

Rapoport went on to say Payton has taken a liking to the former first-round pick, who has been avoiding the tabloid fodder that has defined his football career while gearing up for an NFL comeback. Manziel kicked off his comeback tour in earnest back at the Combine, and has been steadily gauging interest from teams in the weeks since. The 24-year-old sat out last season after being unceremoniously dumped by the Browns, but could certainly find a place in a quarterback-needy league if he could cast off the maturity issues that plagued his two-year stint in Cleveland.

Why signing Johnny Manziel makes sense for the Saints

Drew Brees just had one of the best seasons of his career after throwing for 5,200 yards and 37 touchdowns, but he’s also 38 years old. While it’s possible he launches passes downfield through his mid-40s, it makes sense for New Orleans to write up a contingency plan for his eventual retirement.

Wide receiver Willie Snead was the only non-Brees player to throw a pass for the team last fall. The other two quarterbacks on the Saints roster were Luke McCown and Garrett Grayson. McCown will be 36 next season, and Grayson, a former third-round pick in 2015, has never thrown a pass in a regular season game.

That backup plan leaves room for improvement — and Payton may not be happy with Grayson’s development if he’s flirting with the idea of bringing in another young passer. Manziel has undeniable talent and the ability to make the “no, no, no, no, YES” plays that drive coaches crazy but make fans explode from their seats. Though he only went 2-6 with Cleveland, that was the best winning percentage of any Browns starting quarterback not named Brian Hoyer between 2014 and 2016.

He also showed improvement as a sophomore. Manziel cut his interception rate from a ghastly 5.7 percent to a manageable 2.2 and better utilized his scrambling ability while more than doubling his yards-per-carry number. There were flashes of competent play there, though they were often overshadowed by his own persona.

Plus with two wins as a starter in his professional career, he’s twice as successful as any Browns passer was in 2016.

Why signing Johnny Manziel doesn’t make sense for the Saints

That list of headline-creating questions in paragraphs three and four? That’s the kind of attention Manziel drew in a season where he didn’t even step on a football field. Those kinds of distractions are the price to bring in a backup quarterback with a career passer rating of 74.4.

For comparison’s sake, that would have ranked him 29th among qualified starters in 2016, ahead of only Brock Osweiler and Ryan Fitzpatrick. What’s more, Manziel only started eight games in his career with the Browns, and it’s not like he was Salieri trying to break free from Mozart’s shadow. The team started players like Hoyer, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, and Austin Davis over him those two seasons.

Manziel may come cheaply on a “prove-it” deal to showcase his talent and some newfound maturity, but he may not be as cheap or contract-controllable as selecting a young, developmental passer in the 2017 NFL draft. Recent reports have tied the franchise to Texas Tech passer Patrick Mahomes — a player the club could target with any of its five picks in the first three rounds. Even if they don’t go younger, Grayson is on board for an affordable $540,000 for next season and $630,000 in 2018.

The elephant in the room is the clash of setting and off-field problems. New Orleans is a top-tier party town, and Manziel is a top-tier partier. The scathing takes written about the connection there would haunt Saints press conferences throughout the season. Sobriety would be an issue anywhere for a player with Manziel’s issues, but they’d be magnified in the Big Easy.

Likelihood (2/10)

Manziel has helped his own cause by largely staying out of the tabloids recently. If rumors of his comeback are true, he’s a prospect whose youth makes him an interesting pickup for a team looking to pass the torch from its veteran quarterback to a new generation. However, questions about his attitude and leadership ability have plagued the former Aggie throughout his career, and he may not be worth the baggage he brings.

Signing a player like Manziel smells like a desperation move, and the Saints are anything but with Brees behind center. The acquisition would give the team a contingency plan should the veteran’s play suddenly drop off, but comes at the steep price of potential never-ending distractions — though one of those distractions would be to pull eyes from the team’s inability to land top-notch defensive help in free agency this spring.

Even so, all we have to go on connecting the two sides is a breakfast date between coach and quarterback. Until anything more concrete leaks, it’s tough to take the relationship seriously.