Post-Season starting to shake down and shake out for CFL

December 10, 2018 - 9:43am

The CFL started to lurch into its post-season with the full implications of the football administration salary cap coming into focus and the sneaky suspicion the CFL was cutting off its nose to spite its face.

This cap was brought in by the CFL as a pre-emptive strike across the bows of the CFL Players Association who are going to ask for an increase in the players’ salary cap and increase in minimum salary for players. The CFLPA was/is going to argue the increase in salaries for coaches/general managers or any combination thereof including an increase in the number of quality assistant coaches justified the players asking for a piece of the action going to football administration types.

The football administration cap is set out to be $2.58 million for 2019 with a top end of coaches set at 11 and 14 football operations personnel. Teams that are over the cap would be fined whatever amount the team exceeded for the first $100,000, and for teams that went over that amount, the team would be fined an additional $25,000 plus lose a second round draft pick to a maximum of $250,000 and losing three draft picks. This not include whatever individual fines would be deemed appropriate

In 2019 there would only be team and not individual fines levied. Included in the cap will be expenses like wages, salary benefits, playoff bonuses that exceed player playoff bonuses, health plan and car/housing allowances.

The new cap has already had an impact on CFL team operations. In Hamilton, June Jones gave up the head coaching spot to Orlondo Steinhaeuer and became the offensive coordinator while Jerry Glanville, the defensive coordinator, quit rather than accept a salary cut. Considering Hamilton is paying Kent Austin to stand around at roughly $500,000 a year somewhere in Nashville, Hamilton may not have had much room to play around with although the team is stating that all is well.

This leaves Hamilton with maybe Steinhauer doubling up as defensive coordinator, or interestingly enough, maybe looking at bringing in Rich Stubler to run the defense, something he did to interesting effect in Montreal. There is also Mike Benevedes, the former defensive coordinator of the Edmonton Eskimos who was let go, or Mark Washington of the BC Lions who might be gone.

Hamilton is also looking to put together its 2020 Grey Cup package with city council commissioning a study to see just exactly how many temporary seats Hamilton can fit into Tim Horton’s Field for a Grey Cup. Lawsuits over the construction of the field have left a bid and strangely enough the answer to the question of temporary seating up in the air for years, and while Hamilton is no doubt overdue to host a Grey Cup, the 2020 bid is up against the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the bid of Mosaic Stadium, along with Montreal trying to use Olympic Stadium as a draw.

In Montreal, the miracle that is GM Kavis Reed saw defensive back coach Billy Parker released, along with receiver coach Jason Tucker; assistant offensive line coach Chris Mosley and defensive assistant coach Chris Dishmon along with scouts Eric Deslauriers and Russ Lalonde. This may have been due to the cap, but it also may have been due to Sherman perhaps looking to get his own people in place in what may be a pivotal year for Montreal.

Benevedes walked from Edmonton after rejecting a pay cut that didn’t work for the distance he had away from his family. For Eskimo fans, it seems this might be a case of addition by subtraction, considering how the team skidded out of playoff contention despite being the host for the Grey Cup.

But then Edmonton also let go Rob Ralph, the Director of Canadian Scouting for the Eskimos who had risen to the position after starting as a video person and getting promoted by former GM Ed Hervey. The Eskimos have kept Jason Maas as head coach, in an effort to hang onto pending free agent quarterback Mike Reilly, but whether or not these changes help the Eskimos or set them back is a question they and other teams are going to try to answer.

Filling the role in Edmonton as defensive coordinator might be Baron Miles, who has experience with various teams as a coachand player in the CFL. Another possible addition could be Demetrious Maxie, the defensive line coach who might be another DeVone Claybrooks, but then again, might not.

In Calgary Bo Levi Mitchell worked out with Minnesota and has other NFL tryouts lined up including the Washington Redskins. Calgary could also be looking at the departure of defensive coach DeVone Claybrooks who might take on the head coaching role in BC. Calgary will probably try to fill that role internally should the initial reports of Claybrooks leaving pan out.

In Winnipeg offensive coordinator Paul La Police took his name out of the mix for the Toronto Argonauts job, as it seems clearer that former Rider Head Coach and Argo defensive coordinator Cory Chamblin seems to have the inside track for the new job. Winnipeg seems pretty content with its’ lot in life and looking to try to hang onto free agent linebacker Adam Bighill who is eligible for free agency.

But then again, Bighill has connections to BC and it seems depending on if Claybrooks signs on as head coach, then the Lions may have to decide whether to hang onto linebacker Solomon Elimimian who missed a sizeable amount of the last season with a hand injury, or invest in Bighill who has connections to BC. Elimimian on the free agent marketplace would very attractive to a team that may fancy itself as a just a player or two short of being a Grey Cup contender.

BC has already moved to keep some of their defensive pieces on hand as Odell Willis signed a 2019 contract.

The list of pending free agents looks extremely interesting at a few positions. At quarterback, you have Reilly, Mitchell, Jon Jennings, Travis Lulay, Zach Collaros, Brandon Bridge heading up the available prospects, although considering the injuries of Collaros and the ineptitude of Bridge, Lulay and Jennings may be the best of the B list contenders.

At receiver Dionte Spencer is making the rounds of NFL tryouts, while Greg Ellingson is facing a charge of failing to provide a breath sample while awaiting free agency. Other potential receiving free agents include Derel Walker, Duke Williams, Juwan Brescacin, Kamar Jorden, Bryan Burnham, Eric Rogers and Jalen Saunders along with Naaman Roosevelt.

At defensive end we have AC Leonard and Willie Jefferson as free agent picks. Defensive tackle gets interesting with Dylan Wynn, Micah Johnson, Zach Evans, Mic’Hael Brooks and Gabe Knapton. At linebacker is Alex Singleton, Bighill, Don Unamba, Otha Foster III and Elimimiam. Rounding things out at defensive back, at least from the Rider perspective, is Mike Edem and Louchiez Purifoy.

The CFL is trying to eliminate all the potential leverage the CFLPA may have including cancelling the 2019 CFL week set for Ottawa which may have been held hostage to collective bargaining negotiations. The CFLPA is looking for an increase to the players’ cap but the league will plan to argue that absent any new source of revenues, there is not much room for the cap to rise.

Whether the minimum salary is increased or not, in an effort to keep players from the Alliance of American Football starting up in February 2019, the XFL starting up next year, or yet another spring league, is again up to debate. The CFL in reducing the football administration side of things, along with things like free agent camps, is seemingly not interested in working to find players for the CFL and is more interested in maybe looking at checking out old football magazines for potential players.

The CFL seems to be taking an approach that if it just sits tight, the new leagues coming into play will fade out just as fast, leaving potential players who can’t make it into the NFL no other option but trying the CFL if they want to continue playing. It’s a pretty regressive strategy that looks to strip initiative from teams looking to improve themselves, especially if they can afford to try things like weekly free agent camps in the US and Canada.

There is no doubt the rule was aimed at the Riders, who saw assistant GM John Murphy quit rather than take a pay cut.  The Riders have already brought in a 10 per cent pay cut to their football administration side and there are likely cuts coming down at some point before the end of the year.

So while the Riders sell out and lead the league in merchandise sales, they now have to resort to other methods to try to come up with players, especially a quarterback. No one will argue Chris Jones hasn’t done a good job of rebuilding a 3-15 teams into a 12-6 contender, with the biggest hole perhaps being the most critical –quarterback.

The Riders are looking at whether or not to tender offers to Collaros, who had injury problems including concussions that probably knocked him out of the western semi-final. Brandon Bridge, who did not a bad job of playing off the bench in 2017, regressed last season and could do little more than run. Bridge could not seem to figure out how to read a defense, never mind how to throw a ball and all the wishful thinking of hoping Bridge could be the great Canadian hope at quarterback has landed like a thud.

So the Riders after cutting Kevin Glenn in 2017 are finding themselves back at Ground Zero. Collaros was serviceable, but his injury history makes him not worth $434,000 in 2019. Bridge not a starting quarterback, or even a competent backup quarterback.

The options include Jennings, who has basically been kicked out of BC by GM Ed Hervey who said Jennings does not put in the work to be a starring quarterback, never mind a competent quarterback. Jennings started off with a bang, but as teams got more film on him, they took away his ability to create plays on the run and then he got injured, throwing him off track.

Jennings could work in Saskatchewan, as could Lulay, if he chooses to move on from BC. Another potential possibility could be James Franklin of Toronto. Franklin was traded by Edmonton to Toronto last year, and had the opportunity to understudy Ricky Ray, but when Ray went down with a neck injury, Franklin was distinctly underwhelming and the grapevine had it he was in the Jennings school of quarterback study.

Jones had brought Franklin to Edmonton when he was head coach there, and might presumably be still interested in Franklin. With Cory Chamblin likely to be next head coach of the Argos, it will be interesting to see how Chamblin proceeds with a quarterback in Toronto – especially if Ray decides to retire.

The Riders will have some other holes to fill in their lineup. Jefferson, likely their best defensive player, is a free agent, but said he has no intention of trying out for NFL teams unless he has a contract, believing his work speaks for itself. If Jefferson doesn’t get an NFL bite, he will likely return to the Riders.

Then there is Sam Equavoen, the linebacker who has at least 10 NFL workouts lined up. Don’t expect to see him back this season, especially if he gets a contract offer with money behind it. Rider first round pick Dakoda Shepley, an offensive lineman, tried out for Denver Broncos, but didn’t make it.

Shepley might try for the AAFL as a way to get game film for an NFL tryout. However, he might come back to fulfill his contractual obligation with the Riders. It’s an interesting scenario for the Riders, who are looking at former Number one pick Josiah St. John being free and clear after basically spending three years learning to play offensive line.

Whether the Riders tender an offer to St. John depends on whether they feel he is ready to be a starter and how much he feels he is worth. That is a question open to discussion.

The Riders have started to stock their lineup for next season by signing defensive back Reggie Hall and linebacker Deon King. Both players have been on the Rider practice roster from last season and represent the first steps towards replacing likely departures.

The Riders will continue to hold their free-agent camps in the United States until December 16, and then the Riders face the next challenge of how to find players when their hands are tied by the new cap. It will require a bit of inventiveness for the Riders, and if Chris Jones can figure this out, then he truly will have proven capable of building the sustained success the Riders set out as his mandate when he got hired.

Speaking of the AAFL, that league had their quarterback draft and three former Rider quarterbacks figured in the selection. Blake Simms was taken by the Birmingham Iron, while BJ Daniels went to the Salt Lake Stallions and Marquisse Williams went to the San Antonio Commanders.

It begs the question of why the Riders let these quarterbacks go, or if the market for quarterbacks is so bad that anyone with any sliver of professional experience has a chance at a professional career. In an ideal world, the Riders could identify a quarterback out of College, have him apprentice behind a starter until he knew what the position required and if he could deliver, and then step into a starting role.

But in the world of one year contracts, multiple options for players, that route may be not be realized. The Riders may have to place their bets on someone with professional experience who is willing to learn or execute the game plan and hope the experience of being in Saskatchewan can keep him around.

It’s a nice wish for Christmas.

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