EJ Manuel had a tough call to make with his career: continue his pursuit of playing time in the NFL or make the transition to broadcasting.
Despite an opportunity this spring with the Kansas City Chiefs, Manuel knew what choice was best for him over the long term. The former Florida State quarterback last week was named as a studio analyst for the ACC Network, which will launch on Aug. 22.
“For me I saw more of a future with the ACC Network and doing the TV college football analyst role,” Manuel said. “I played six years in the NFL so I have my pension. I saw a better future for the longevity of my life with doing the TV role.”
Manuel was a first-round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills in 2013, spending four years there and then a season in Oakland in 2017. But after he was cut by Raiders coach Jon Gruden after the 2018 preseason, Manuel began to evaluate the next step in his career.
It was a step that he had already planned for as a communications major at FSU.
“Terrell Buckley was the one who actually mentioned it to me my sophomore year,” Manuel said of a conversation he had with the former FSU graduate assistant. “I was trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to major in at the time. It was going to be biomedical engineering and then I realized how much time that would take away honestly from football and just being a quarterback. Because I would have no free time from studying both classwork and football work.
“T-Buck was like, ‘Try out communications.’ Florida State is one of the best in the country in the school of communications. So it’s funny how everything has come full circle.”
During his FSU days, Manuel was articulate, quick to smile and didn’t shy away from answering questions. Being a quarterback put him in the spotlight and he learned how to handle a variety of inquiries from the media.
“In college I felt comfortable speaking to the media even when it wasn’t always easy questions,” Manuel said. “If they asked me something that was uncomfortable in my mind I always felt like there was some way I could answer the question completely but answer it with dignity … At the end of the day as the person that’s answering questions or as an analyst it’s still up to me how I answer the question no matter how it’s asked to me.”
After he was let go by the Raiders, Manuel was connected with United Talent Agency, a group that felt he was a good fit for the new ACC Network. Manuel did a few shows for Fox as a warmup to help prepare him for the audition at ESPN.
Manuel accepted the job with the ACC Network in the spring but then the Chiefs called. He went to OTAs with the Chiefs before deciding to retire and pursue broadcasting. Manuel is expected to be an in-studio analyst on Fridays and Saturdays.
He said jumping into broadcasting has similarities to football. The main one is that there is plenty of preparation before the lights go on.
“It’s the same as when you’re a player in my eyes,” Manuel said. “You still have to know what you’re talking about. And if you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t speak. That’s always been my policy. I think you have to do the work, especially with this college football analyst job I know there’s going to be tons of studying because I’m not just studying one opponent – now I’m studying 15.
“For me that’s exciting because I’m a fan of the ACC, I played in the ACC. I’m a college football fan anyway. Even when I was in the pros I was still watching and staying up to date with what was going on. The transition for me was perfect and that’s truly why I chose it. These ESPN or ACC Network jobs don’t come out of there or like they offer these to anybody or any year. I saw it as a time of the essence thing.”
Manuel last played for FSU in 2012, finishing his career with 7,741 passing yards, 47 touchdown passes and four bowl wins, leading the Seminoles’ resurgence in the early years under coach Jimbo Fisher. He has kept up with the program closely and is looking forward to seeing what coach Willie Taggart can accomplish in Year 2.
“Being this is his second year, I know having a spring is extremely important because you get a chance to take all of those practices with your offense and with your defense in that system,” Manuel said. “Having a full spring this year and then also bringing in a whole new wave of recruits that cater to the offense and defense that you run now, I think it’s going to help him tremendously.”
And Manuel has also enjoyed watching quarterback James Blackman, who was thrown into the fire as a starter in 2017 before assuming what was mostly a backup role in 2018. Now Blackman is the likely starter for FSU when the season begins against Boise State on Aug. 31 in Jacksonville.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how he progressed over the spring and going into the fall,” Manuel said. “I think James has a ton of potential. Obviously he has the size and he will grow into that frame. As far as his quarterback play I saw flashes of greatness. Where James needs to grow is just understanding the situational football: How to handle a third-and-2 vs. how to handle a third-and-12.”
Manuel already feels comfortable talking football. He plans to make visits to Tallahassee and various ACC schools in the months ahead as well as meet with league coaches at the ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte in July.
“I feel very blessed,” Manuel said. “These opportunities don’t come very often. And again I still had the chance to play football so I am honestly very proud to say I walked away from the game to walk into this opportunity. A lot of us play in the league, when you’re finished, you don’t know what you’re going to do next. For me that’s why I took this opportunity and I’m extremely excited about it. I’m going to put 110 percent of my effort into it just like when I was playing football.”