Moffat: Popp ready for whatever Ottawa Draft throws at him | | Official Site of the Canadian Football League
Adam Gagnon

Forgive Jim Popp.  He has little or no sympathy for the REDBLACKS, set to forage through CFL protected lists.   

“There was no love for us when we moved the Stallions to Montreal,” Popp recalls of the year he was on the receiving end of a Canadian talent dispersal pool ending the All-American rosters of US expansion.

The seniority leader among league GMs knows just how easy it is to have your pocket picked no matter how many times you check.   He knows how much Marcel Desjardins would love to play “Artful Dodger” and pull off a heist comparable to the one he and Popp suffered together during the last Ottawa expansion draft more than a decade ago.

Popp had been through the 1994 expansion process working alongside Don Mathews to build Baltimore, and was on the taking end in ‘96 when the Stallions galloped north to give rebirth to the Als.  

Taking a chance

“We’re not going to protect those guys (free agents). It doesn’t mean Ottawa won’t take one of them.  If they do, they must have some idea they’ll get a deal with them.  In that case, that guy really had no interest in coming back.”

- Jim Popp on protecting free agents

» Full list of 2014 free agents

Now it was 2002 and the Renegades had already grabbed a quality Canadian linebacker Kelly Wiltshire left unprotected by  the Alouettes in Round 1.

So Popp and his young assistant Desjardins never suspected that their linebacking hidden gem, John Grace, would have to be protected.  He’d spent parts of two seasons with Montreal, but mostly on the practice roster.  When he played he hit everyone that moved, but he didn’t play much.

Figuring the Renegades had already swiped one linebacker, Jim and Marcel left Grace off the protected list in Round 2.  It didn’t exactly look like a heist at the time, but Grace finally had his chance to start and became an instant all-star with Ottawa.  By 2005 he was CFL Most Outstanding Defensive Player (though he’d moved on to Calgary by then).

“We left 2 players exposed at the same position,” Popp admits.  “This time around I’ll have my list of 6 non-imports to protect, and my next 6 (once Desjardins plucks from one pocket), but we know how we’ll bump up guys if they start filling particular positions.”

“There was no love for us when we came from Baltimore in ‘96.  Every team was supposed to give us two non-imports.  Some only gave us one, some didn’t give us any.”

What remained of the ’95 Grey Cup champs struggled to bond out of the gate (rushing king Mike Pringle and sack master Elfrid Peyton were also testing NFL opportunities).  The Als started 0-3, but won 12 of their next 15 and made it to the East Final, falling to Mathews and Doug Flutie’s Repeat Argos.

“You can have talent, but you have to learn to be a team.”

Popp notes one key difference working in Ottawa’s favor this draft over 2002: The REDBLACKS can get their hands on an experienced quarterback or two.

“That could make all the difference – it did for us in Baltimore in ‘94”, says Popp, who admittedly grabbed Tracy Ham off the free agent scrap heap when all other CFL GMs figured the future Hall of Famer was done.

“Other teams will lose more experienced quarterbacks – our QBs are risky picks – our quarterbacks are relatively unproven (meaning Tanner Marsh and Troy Smith).”

Josh Neiswander is a free agent February 15, 2014 and the Alouettes will not protect anyone who could test the market.

Colleagues no more

“Marcel knows our team better than any in the league and look who is working for him: Brock Sunderland, Jeremy Snyder, Chantal Covington all used to work with us.  We shared a lot of information for years.”

- Alouettes GM Jim Popp on his former assistant general manager Marcel Desjardins

“We’re not going to protect those guys,” Popp admits.  “It doesn’t mean Ottawa won’t take one of them (the Alouettes have 17 potential free agents).   If they do, they must have some idea they’ll get a deal with them.  In that case, that guy really had no interest in coming back.”

Nothing personal Ottawa, but some prospective free agents have held off re-signing because they may not want to move to the nation’s capital.  Many players are also stalling on new deals until a new CBA is in place, but others simply don’t want to risk being exposed in the expansion draft.

“We’ve been looking at our possible list for half a season and it’s changed week to week,” reveals Popp.  “It’s even trickier for us because we don’t know who the head coach is or who the offensive coordinator will be.”

“I have input from the coaches’ and scouts’ post-season evaluations of our team and the others.”

Popp knows he’ll lose talent.  

“Marcel knows our team better than any in the league and look who is working for him: Brock Sunderland, Jeremy Snyder, Chantal Covington all used to work with us.  We shared a lot of information for years.”

In fact the talent raid has already begun.  The REDBLACKS have already filed their Negotiation List picks to CFL HQ and Popp reveals some are players he and Desjardins had discussed previously.

“There’s nothing wrong with that...he knows us inside and out.”

“It’s an exciting time over there,” Popp says, enthused for his former football ops teammates.  “They’ll have more pride in this team than anything they’ve worked on before.”

Popp is braced for whether the REDBLACKS are going to young prospects who will be salary cap friendly or higher priced veterans to try to build a winner right out of the gate.  

At least there will be a level playing field when Camp 2014 kicks off.  The REDBLACKS will have the same number of training days as everyone else.

“In 1994 the league and CFLPA gave us one extra week for training camp, more like an extended week of rookie camp,” recalls Popp, whose expansion Stallions started slow but finished 12-6 and went to Grey Cup.

The REDBLAKCS won’t likely match that, but Popp will be checking his pockets frequently between now and the end of December 16.   

About Rick

Rick Moffat is the Voice of the Montreal Alouettes on CJAD 800. He works alongside former CFL Dave Mudge. Moffat's first attended Grey Cup was as a fan in '77 - the infamous Tony Proudfoot "Staple Game". Rick is proud to say he had his first beer at an Als' game during the Marv Levy Era. Follow Rick on Twitter @RickMoffat.

Fan Comments
als rule
except for ottawa 12-16-13 becomes for every other CFL team THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY!!
December 09, 2013 - 10:25am
Saskatchewan is in the same boat as the Als. Both teams will lose some players through free agency and the draft, but both teams are deep in a lot of areas so I feel that both teams will field a competitive team in the long run because both organizations are solid and have good GM's. Good luck to Ottawa, but not to much luck.
December 09, 2013 - 9:52am