What a difference a year can make. The 2016 CFL free agency market is as close to unprecedented as it gets. Compared to where we were at this point last year, it’s not even close.
Trying to rank the 2015 CFL free agent class was a relatively easy task. The number of high profile, impact players available was confined to maybe a couple of handfuls. Last year it was easy to identify guys like Stanley Bryant, Kevin Glenn and Ernest Jackson. This year, whittling down the list is far more difficult.
Go look at CFL.ca’s list of the top 30 free agents and you’ll see what I’m talking about. You’ve got starting running backs in Andrew Harris and Jerome Messam. The quarterback selection isn’t slim with Trevor Harris and Travis Lulay. At receiver we’re talking about playmakers like Kenny Stafford, Jeff Fuller and Chad Owens…and that’s just on the offensive side of the ball.
The bidding wars for players on the defensive side of the ball might be the ones to watch. I told you last week that my number one player to watch is Ted Laurent, and that remains true. But if you were to sign, say, Justin Capicciotti, Aaron Grymes, Cleyon Laing, or Keon Raymond, you’re not really losing out. At worst, these guys are outstanding additions to a defensive group. In some cases, we could be talking about moves that alter game plans and defensive directions.
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As a CFL fan, you should embrace this. When free agency opens Tuesday morning, you’re in store for player movement that we’ve likely never seen in this league before. It wasn’t this way last year and it’s unlikely to be quite like this again for quite some time. Let’s get it on.
Football is football
Yesterday the NFL celebrated Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco with a 24-10 Denver Broncos win over the Carolina Panthers. The Super Bowl really is a spectacle unrivaled in professional sports in North America, no one is going to deny that. Yet, winning one isn’t always the pinnacle of a player’s career. Yesterday got me thinking about players who have won titles in both the CFL and the NFL and some individual reflections on what each title meant.
My thought process was sparked by something I remembered Caglary Stampeders offensive lineman Dan Federkeil telling me just over a year ago. On the field following Calgary’s 20-16 win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 102nd Grey Cup, Federkeil was reveling in his second title as a professional football player. His first was as a rookie member of the Indianapolis Colts at Super Bowl XLI back in 2007.
“The Super Bowl was great,” Federkeil told me. “But I think with the Super Bowl, I fed more off the other players’ emotions — the guys that had been there for six, seven, 10, 12 years.
“At the time, that was their first shot at it. But here, I worked hard to get to this point and I’m just so happy.
“It’s just awesome when the work you put in amounts to the goal you want at the end of the season, it’s just great.”
At the time, that was their first shot at it. But here, I worked hard to get to this point and I’m just so happy.
His response has stuck with me since that night. Federkeil was a member of a Super Bowl winning team with some of the greats of an era. But a second title, a Grey Cup title, is the more resounding and the more memorable one for him.
When you think about it, it makes sense. Federkeil was a first-year pro activated off the practice roster only a few months before winning his first title. In 2014, though, it was a different story. Federkeil was a starter all season long. He had suffered a bitter Western Final loss to Saskatchewan a year prior. And the Stamps had given him a second chance after retiring in 2009. Winning a Grey Cup after all that had to be immensely gratifying, even more so than a title won in front of nearly 100 million television screens across North America.
Federkeil isn’t unique in his experience, either. Prior to that aforementioned Grey Cup played in late November of 2014, a member of the other team had similar sentiments.
Flutie won three Grey Cups with the Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts before spending the final seven years of his career in the NFL. He never won a Super Bowl, but that didn’t matter. From the way Flutie tells it, that first title with the Stamps in 1992 was enough.
“The last minute or two, I was standing on the sideline with Dave Sapunjis, my receiver and best friend on the team,” Flutie told SI.com. “[We were] putting on our Grey Cup Champions hats, and playing to our crowd behind our bench.
“It was just a moment in time for me. You couldn’t tell me winning a Super Bowl would feel any nicer.”
Winning a Super Bowl is done in a country with a population, and television audience, exponentially larger than winning a Grey Cup in Canada. But what goes into winning each title is exactly the same. You still have to sweat, bleed, and grind your way through two-a-days, a grueling regular season, and single elimination playoff action. That’s why winning a Grey Cup can be just as sweet, or sweeter, than anything else. I think guys like Federkeil, Hall, and Flutie can attest to that.
The right time
It would be really easy for me, and others, to talk about Shea Emry’s career coming to an end too early. In reality, though, that wouldn’t be accurate. After an eight-year career, the Riders linebacker retired earlier this week due to concussion concerns and to pursue his passion for men’s health advocacy.
Emry missed most of the 2015 season with a head injury and he’s advocating for his own health now. At the age of 29, Emry has plenty of good football left in him from a physical standpoint. But that doesn’t matter to him, because in his mind, it’s time to step away.
Far too often we see players forced out of the sport they love. But to make the choice on your own, without your body or a coaching staff making it for you, is far more rare. Could you make the argument he’s stepping away early? Yeah, I guess you could try. But for Emry, the time is right to turn the page. That makes it right in the grand scheme of things, because in the end, his opinion is the only one that matters.