Jim Barker says he isn't losing any sleep these days.
Says he's not worried. Says he's not stressed.
The list of protected Argos has been submitted and there is nothing left to do but wait for Monday's Expansion Draft.
The general manager of the Toronto Argonauts knows full well that he's about to say 'so long' to some players that he'd much prefer remain in double blue. It's not that he doesn't care.
|Mock Protection List|
It's that he knows there ain't a damn thing he can do about it.
“You don’t worry about what you can’t control," said Barker, during a break from the CFL's Presidents and General Managers' meetings in Las Vegas.
“There are guys I don’t want to lose. But I don’t lose sleep over it because we did a great job, I think, in our preparation. We’ve come to the reality that what’s going to happen is going to happen."
There's a certain amount of uncertainty ahead, as the Ottawa REDBLACKS get set to bolster their roster by picking up some pretty decent football players from the other eight CFL teams.
Trying to predict what kind of player the REDBLACKS would like and what their building philosophy is must have given the general managers of those eight teams more than the odd headache.
“It was not fun," said Barker of the process of forming and finalizing a list of 10 imports, six non-imports and a quarterback that would be protected.
“They’re going to get some good players.”
Not knowing what Ottawa general manager Marcel Desjardins will do, what type of player he'll favour (will he build with youngsters with a future, or veterans who can win now?) meant that Barker and head coach Scott Milanovich could only put their own philosophies into place when accruing their list of the protected.
Barker wouldn't reveal exactly what his strategies were but he did shed light on the kinds of questions he's grappled with these last few weeks.
“Do you protect the young player with potential, or the older player who is probably more developed right now but who may not have as long a time?" he asked, rhetorically.
I'd suggest, as I did in my 'mock protection list' for CFL.ca, that it'd be a mixture of both. General managers like to say that when they're drafting they'll 'take the best player available.'
Why not employ that same strategy when trying to prevent another team from doing just that, at your own organization's expense?
"Your top four, five, six guys... it's pretty easy to figure out," said Barker.
After that, the guesswork comes in and one of the big questions out there has been whether teams should protect players who are slated to become free agents next February.
The Argos have a number of high profile players in that category. Receiver Dontrelle Inman, linebacker Robert McCune, defensive back Pat Watkins, and kicker Swayze Waters all have the right to become free agents this off-season.
Many believe free agents ought not to be protected. That Ottawa wouldn't chance selecting a player who they might only have on their roster for a couple of months, potentially.
Montreal Alouettes' GM Jim Popp has publicly stated he won't protect potential free agents. Seems like solid reasoning.
However, Barker is not in that camp. At least not fully. He answered succinctly when asked if he has any players who could become free agents on his list.
"I do," he replied. Then added: "Not many."
What "not many" means is up for interpretation. Would three count as ''not many?"
I know that one certainly would be thought of that way.
Try as I might, I did not get him to reveal those names, or any names on his protected list.
"I’m not going to tell you who’s protected or not protected and I don’t know who’s protected and not protected on other teams. One person knows all of this and that’s Marcel Desjardins," he said flatly.
|More Expansion Draft Coverage|
Given that Barker has at least one potential free agent on his protected list, you can assume he believes that Desjardins will, indeed, snag players who will be without contract early in the new year.
That's despite - as I mentioned - the conventional thought out there that Ottawa will take a hands-off approach with such players.
"You can’t believe anything you read or anything that they (Ottawa management) say at this point," countered Barker. "They’re trying to posture themselves to get the best possible players they can."
Floating bad information out there to keep other teams guessing? That's certainly a possibility. Would Barker do that if he were in their position?
"Absolutely," he replied.
Without naming anybody, Barker lays out his rationale for protecting certain free agents.
"There’s free agents I think have a legitimate chance to go to the NFL and some that I don’t believe, necessarily, have a chance," he began.
Then, he explained further.
“There are a lot of players that think they’re going to go and maybe I don’t believe they’re going to go and so I’d protect those guys. Let them go do their tryouts and if they sign, I lose.”
Still, there are those of us who figure leaving potential free agents open for draft is a no-lose situation. You can easily assuage any hurt feelings of having such a player scooped by Ottawa by telling them the rationale, ahead of the draft.
That it's not about them or their performance but, rather, about their contract situation. That - come February 15th - you'd love to have them back.
Barker will take no such gamble, which leads me to believe he's got a line on one or two of his highly prized would-be free agents, contractually speaking. Not willing to forfeit any window to negotiate.
For Barker, this process began long ago, when Ottawa was granted a franchise and the expansion draft became a reality.
"It goes back to three years ago when they put together the rules. I started planning with players I was signing. How I did contracts with existing players... this is something I’ve been planning on since I found out the rules when they were established three or four years ago," he said.
All through the 2013 season, Barker had a possible list in the back of his mind, if not on paper. It was fluid. Constantly evolving.
"We’ve had a list and it changed constantly and it changed all the way up until the day before (it needed to be submitted)," he said.
Now, it's carved in stone, with no turning back.
Asked - one more time - if the expansion draft process makes him nervous, Barker replies in a confident tone, albeit it one tinged with resignation.
“We’re going to lose a couple of players that we don’t want to lose. That’s the nature of what this is. All you can do is put the work in, put the time in and then do what you think is in the best interests of your organization, for your fans. That’s what we’ve done."
A freelance broadcaster and writer, Don is also the in-stadium announcer for Toronto Argonauts home games. A familiar voice to Toronto sports fans, he hosted the morning show at The FAN for more than 10 years. Follow Don on Twitter @CFLLandry