Spring is in the air and football season is coming at us like a freight train. The CFL Combine was held this weekend in Toronto, there are a flurry of free agent and mini-camps across North America over the next few weeks, the draft is May 2 and then it'll be training camp time.
Over the past couple weeks there has been a lot of news locally (Saskatchewan) and around the CFL, so here is a quick grab bag of what has been top of our football mind:
Reducing The Canadians
A little over a week ago 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk broke the news that the CFL and CFLPA were in favour of reducing the amount of Canadian CFL starters from seven to five.
This caused the biggest shockwave in a pretty quiet CFL off-season. Twitter was on fire with debate between former and current Canadian and American players, podcasts finally had something to talk about and talk-shows that are usually all hockey at this time of year were talking CFL football.
Taking two Canadian starters off the roster seems a bit much, so how about a compromise?
This is something we have been talking about here at Out of the Tunnel for the past two years and if the CFL and CFLPA want to change things then they could try this:
- Reduce the overall Canadians on the game day roster by two.
- One can be an American if he has five or more years with that respective CFL team. That player would be deemed a ‘designated Canadian’ and would be one of the seven Canadian starters.
- That American can rotate game to game but must stick to the 5+ years with their team.
- Quarterbacks are exempt from this rule.
For example, receiver Bryan Burnham is entering his sixth season with the B.C. Lions. Because of his five-plus seasons served with the Lions he would be deemed a designated Canadian.
This would help raise the salaries of American players who commit not just to the CFL but to a CFL city. The CFL team would be committing to that player, not just on the field, but off because marketing-wise the clubs can start building long-term fan relationships to their favourite players.
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Non-North American players made their first-ever CFL appearance this weekend at the Combine. The majority all tested fairly well but this is just football Olympics. No one knows how they will perform on the field.
We are torn over this CFL initiative. To expand the CFL brand of football in other football-playing countries is important as well as opening up other football playing options for U-Sports and CJFL players (but this has been happening for a long time in Europe).
But at what expense?
This goes back to the above topic and the Canadian/American ratio.
If the international player takes away a spot for a Canadian, that isn’t good for the development of those players in the league.
There is no way that a random 22-year-old German offensive lineman is better than a graduating starting tackle from Temple or Oklahoma or UCLA — you get the point. So, taking away an American roster spot would affect the quality of play on the field.
Let’s hope as this initiative goes forward there are no spots taken away, but a spot added. Just increase the 44-man game day roster by one to 45. If the CFL wants to add two, make it one on the roster and one on the practice roster and not have that practice roster money count against the salary cap.
Dakoda Shepley A Rider
This transaction felt like it went under the radar but signing the Riders' first round pick in the 2018 CFL draft is the first big victory for the Jeremy O’Day/Craig Dickenson regime.
For some reason, Dakoda Shepley was very slow in deciding to come and play for the Riders and to finally get this done adds a potential long-time starter along the aging offensive line.
Heading into the 2019 training camp the Riders will have not just one, but two fresh first rounders in the fold. It also gives them some leverage during the draft.
The Riders have the sixth and 16th overall picks and they don’t have to pick a pair of linemen but can help fill out other spots in need of Canadians. They can pick one of the top receivers in the first round to add to a very thin group of Canadian pass catchers and then in the second they can go in any direction; add an offensive lineman, another receiver, or help out along the defensive line.
So, signing Shepley isn’t just optically good but makes things just a little easier in managing their future Canadian ratio.
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A few weeks ago Saskatchewan was abuzz at a possible NFL preseason game between the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers. This would be considered a Raider home preseason game to get them away from all the lease problems they have in their final season in Oakland and the Coliseum.
There has been no real news since the original leak and there is still no word from the Regina Exhibition Association if negotiations have been happening between themselves, the potential promoter of the event, the NFL and the Oakland Raiders.
If we were the Saskatchewan Roughriders, we would hate the potential of this event, but also love it.
We would hate it because football fans would spend their dollars on an NFL preseason game instead of one or two Rider regular season games. Let’s be honest here; the majority of people that go to Rider games are just fans of the Green and White and the CFL. They don’t give a lick about the NFL.
The casual fan that loves all football, but doesn't want to invest in the CFL on a full-time basis, may go to a game or two to watch the Riders. Those fans would more than likely spend their hard-earned money on seeing Derek Carr, Antonio Brown and potentially Aaron Rodgers. That’s money out of the pocket of the Roughriders.
On the other hand, there are a lot of fans in Saskatchewan that do not like the CFL but love the NFL. If you question that, go to any bar in Regina during fantasy football season and look at all of the NFL jerseys picking their fantasy team for the upcoming fall.
They would definitely go to this game. Other than the Buffalo Bills in Toronto, it has been years since the NFL has been in Canada and NFL fans wouldn’t balk at the chance of seeing even an exhibition game.
There are a lot of Oakland Raider fans that are not able to get to Oakland and would use their valuable American dollars (great exchange) to come to Regina to see their team. If the Green Bay Packers are the opponent, triple that number.
These two facts would be huge to sell the stadium, the game day environment and the city itself. It would turn into future ticket sales for the Riders and a boon to the city itself.
Of course until this game is officially announced, this is all a moot argument.
Johnny Manziel Part III
While everyone was tuning into March Madness or the NHL playoff race, some of us were watching the return of Johnny Manziel. He made his AAF debut on Sunday night as a member of the Memphis Express. In summary it was hauntingly similar to his unspectacular run in the CFL.
The same dramatic interview with highlights from the ‘glory days’ at Texas A&M all tied in a nice bow, the same words coming out of Manziel’s mouth, “I’ve made mistakes, I’ll make amends to all the people I’ve hurt in my life, I will move forward and not make the mistakes I've made in the past.”
We defended Manziel’s entry into the CFL here in this column and said it would be great for both Johnny Football and the CFL if he was successful. Like many, we bought into the hype machine that surrounds him and it feels like it’s happening all over again.
It will be a great story if Manziel can make a comeback on the field and make his life right off the field, but this feels like the same old thing off the field and the game Sunday night against the Birmingham Iron was the same on it.
Like in Montreal, Manziel put his athletic abilities on full display running the football and eluding oncoming rushers but when it came to the execution of the offence as planned, it was not good. He can’t figure out a defence and he can’t read his progressions. It’s either chuck and duck or make one read and run.
In the end he only played a few series as starting quarterback Brandon Silvers was solid leading the Express to a come-from-behind 31-25 overtime victory.
Manziel has the athletic tools to be a successful quarterback but what is between his ears will hurt him on and off the field, and his football career will end in the AAF.