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January 9, 2020

Walters weighs in from CFL meetings

Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea have spent the last few days trying to get some concrete answers to some pressing questions at the Canadian Football League’s annual winter meetings.

CFL rosters will expand in 2020 in the second year of the league’s collective bargaining agreement and undergo some other tinkering that have dominated the sessions at the Blue Mountain Resort north of Toronto. And, frankly, the changes still have GMs and coaches mulling over the implications.

“Part of the point of these meetings was to get the clarifications on things just to make sure we know how all of this fits in,” said Walters this week in a chat with bluebombers.com.

“We’ve spent a lot of time today sitting around these meetings scratching our heads and for some of these changes we’re still wrapping our heads around it.”

Three issues, in particular, have been front and center at the meetings – the CFL-NFL window that allows CFL players to sign down south before the expiration of their contracts; the roster changes that will see teams dress two quarterbacks instead of three; and the addition of another Global player and the ‘nationalized’ American concept which will be implemented in 2020.

Walters weighed in on all three of those subjects in our chat, in no particular order:


‘NATIONALIZED’ AMERICANS

What’s new: CFL teams will dress 45 players, including 21 Canadians and 20 Americans – four of which will be ‘designated imports’, meaning they can only replace imports in the starting lineup during a game. That part isn’t new.

But beginning this season teams will now be required to dress two ‘Global’ players – it was one a year ago – and two quarterbacks instead of three. As well, the number of Canadian starters has grown from seven to 10, although that’s a bit of a misnomer.

The new provision will see the extra three ‘Canadian’ starters be designated as ‘Nationalized’ Americans. Here’s the clause, as outlined in the CBA:

Teams will be eligible to name as National Starters a maximum of three (3) Players per game who have become National Players by virtue of the Amended definition of National, i.e. Americans who have played with the same C.F.L. team for three (3) consecutive years or who have played four (4) years in the C.F.L. These three (3) players only apply to the starter ratio, and not to the roster allocation. In the event of a game injury to any of the Club’s ten (10) National Starters, the injured player(s) can be replaced by either a National or any other American on the roster who qualifies under the Amended definition of National above.’

By that definition the Bombers, for example, could designate any three of the following imports as ‘National Starters’ if they are on the roster in 2020: offensive linemen Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick, linebackers Adam Bighill, Kyrie Wilson and Korey Jones, receiver Darvin Adams, defensive backs Brandon Alexander, Nick Taylor and Chandler Fenner and defensive linemen Jackson Jeffcoat, Willie Jefferson, Drake Nevis and Craig Roh.

The goal of this new clause was to put a value on teams having a semblance of continuity with American veterans, but managing it now becomes an issue because of how they are replaced in the case of injury.

“What we’re wrestling with is who and how to designate our ‘Nationalized’ Americans,” began Walters. “For example, if we designated Darvin Adams as one of our National starters and he got hurt, Janarion Grant could not replace him (as he does not have enough tenure in the league or with the Bombers).

“So, based on our Grey Cup roster, here’s what the Bombers would likely do with that: we would list Stanley (Bryant) or Jermarcus (Hardrick) as National starters because if they got hurt in a game they would be replaced by Canadians anyway, based on the way our roster is built. We might also designate Biggie (Adam Bighill) as a National starter, knowing we could use Korey Jones in his place if he was to get hurt.

“But there are a lot of different scenarios within that we’re still trying to figure out. It’s going to mean some changes as to how you set your roster each week.”

A potential problem here for the league is this: teams could list a Canadian as a starter and then if that player was injured in the warm-up or first series he could be replaced by a National starter. The possibilities of gamesmanship here by teams – wink-wink – could be difficult for the league to monitor.

“A lot of the discussion revolved around this,” said Walters. “Here’s a what if: if we were to start Nick Hallett at safety and dress Brandon Alexander as a nationalized Canadian, what if Hallett was to get hurt in the warm up or on the first play of the game? Alexander would then go in and play the whole game. That’s the interesting debate where the commissioner weighed in… there could be ‘gamesmanship’ and he warned us about that and how he would come down like the wrath of God if a team was caught doing that.”

TWO QBS, OR NOT TWO QBS?

What’s new: teams will now dress two quarterbacks instead of three, although many teams – like the Bombers – listed only two on occasion in 2019 and in previous years to save on the salary cap.

That extra spot is essentially now going to the addition of another Global player, with another Global player also being added to the practice roster, for a total of five per team. The rule doesn’t prevent a team from dressing three for a game, but with the limited roster and the addition of an extra Global player that extra QB would rarely see action, making the merits to dressing three questionable.

The impact of this as it pertains to future quarterback development is yet to be determined. Consider that with all the injuries to starting QBs this past season, most teams will likely opt to dress two pivots with experience. The third spot, usually reserved for a prospect – the Bombers’ Sean McGuire, for example – will no longer be a player who dresses for games.

“Teams are still going to keep three quarterbacks, the decision is where you put your third – you’re going to have to put him on the reserve or the one-game (injured list) and allocate a cheque to him if you don’t think you can get away with putting one on the PR (practice roster),” said Walters.

“I don’t think that’s going to change a lot this year, other than every No. 3 quarterback will either be on the reserve or the one-game injured or practice roster. But that can be a tough sell for young quarterbacks. Everyone wants to dress for a game.”

THE NFL-CFL WINDOW

What’s new: still TBD.

This has been all over the map for the CFL, the CFL Players Association and the NFL. It had been thought that players on expiring contracts or entering the final year of their deals would have a window to work out and sign with NFL teams in the offseason.

But early last month the NFL indicated there was no agreement in place to continue that. Still, the Bombers have released players like Marcus Sayles (Minnesota Vikings), Winston Rose (Cincinnati Bengals) and Jonathan Kongbo (San Francisco 49ers) in order to honour what was thought to be the agreement.

“But what we’re saying to the guys coming up here now, to be perfectly transparent, is as of today you’re committing to us to two years,” said Walters. “That may change and they’re hoping it changes in that it will revert back to the option year where they come up here for one year and can then go try out for the NFL and if they don’t make it they can come back to us.

“But there’s still nothing on that. There’s still no agreement. Now, I can tell you the CFL and the NFL are trying to get this sorted out. We’d all just like some clarity, the players, the teams and the agents.”