January 10, 2020

Cauz: Off-season departures offer a silver lining

Shannon VIzniowski/CFL.ca

Wow, we have seen a great deal of high-end talent either hooking up with NFL teams or granted a release to pursue their dreams so far this off-season.

Over 2,600 yards of offence in the form of receivers Reggie Begelton and Bralon Addison are no longer with their 2019 teams. Begelton, a 2019 All-Star, has signed a deal with the Green Bay Packers while Addison is still looking south of the border after being released by Hamilton.

A CFL off-season isn’t official until Calgary has lost multiple All-Stars and this year is no different, with defensive back Tre Roberson currently on his own American tour. Sticking with the theme of impact defensive backs, the reigning Grey Cup Champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers have lost 12 interceptions with the departure of Winston Rose (Cincinnati Bengals) and Marcus Sayles (Minnesota Vikings). Finally, it is just a matter of time before the destroyer of offensive lines, Willie Jefferson, starts collecting an NFL pay cheque.

To this loss of All-Star talent I say, this is a good thing. I often opine about my own sports selfish desires to keep all these players in Canada like Kathy Bates holding James Caan hostage in Misery (Google Misery, it’s a damn good movie that earned Kathy Bates an Oscar win). However, this greedy feeling is unrealistic, selfish and quite frankly short-sighted. It’s like eating a bag of Peanut M&Ms before you go to bed. Yes, it feels great at the moment but by the following morning you probably don’t feel so good and you’ve put on a couple extra pounds.

» Ticats release Bralon Addison to pursue NFL 
» How can each team replace their departing players?
» Stamps grant Begelton early release for NFL opportunity
» Bombers release Winston Rose to pursue NFL

Reggie Begelton is one of a handful of CFL stars taking their talents to the NFL (Dave Chidley/CFL.ca)

On a basic human level, the idea of restricting a player’s ability to switch leagues, in essence to snuff out their dreams, is a karmic nightmare. In a recent Paul Friesen column from the Winnipeg Sun, Rose said of his move to the Bengals: “I’ve just been on a high. The month of December was crazy… and the whole month of November. And to end the year with me signing, it’s surreal. Part of me is sad… but it was my dream at one point to play in the NFL. And I never really got that chance to play a regular-season game. So for me to get an opportunity to try again, that’s all you ask for.” How could any of us feel good about the idea of keeping him in Winnipeg just for our own entertainment of seeing if the Bombers can successful defend their Championship?

Then there is the bigger picture of the image of the CFL on a much larger scale. You find me a better way to show off this fantastic league than to be able to point out examples of contributing NFL players who not only got their start in the CFL but were developed right here in Canada. The best advertisement to the collegiate stars of today that the CFL is an excellent avenue for their continued football journey is to demonstrate real life examples of former CFL players succeeding on one of the 32 NFL franchises.

The drawback is shorter CFL careers but it is also means a continued influx of talent to fill in the gaps from recently departed stars. Also to attempt to block player movement to the NFL betrays a level of insecurity that no one wants to be associated with. Trust me, there is part of me that was bummed out that Begelton went from Bo Levi Mitchell to Aaron Rodgers but we should not panic.

Back in 1998, we “lost” Grey Cup MVP Jeff Garcia to the San Francisco 49ers. Three years later, Calgary would again win the Grey Cup beating Winnipeg 27-19 behind Marcus Crandell, who would throw two touchdowns in the second quarter en route to his own Grey Cup MVP award. Staying with the Stampeders for a moment, in 2018 they had to overcome the departure of their two leading tacklers in Alex Singleton and Jameer Thurman, plus pass rusher James Vaughters. Yes, Calgary took a hit but they still finished the year fourth in yards given up, third in offensive points allowed and second in yards allowed per play. No team forced more turnovers last season and Calgary allowed just 19 touchdowns compared to a robust 26 interceptions. 

Finally, let’s consider the illustrious recent history of the Edmonton Eskimos receivers. In 2017, Brandon Zylstra led the league with 1,687 yards before the Minnesota Vikings snatched him up. We were deprived of his on-field brilliance but in his place stepped up D’haquille Williams, who went from 715 yards in 2017 to wearing the top receiver crown with 1,579 yards and 11 touchdowns the following season.

Bralon Addison was released from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to pursue NFL opportunities (Dave Chidley/CFL.ca)

The point of all this is that we feel the sting of saying goodbye to familiar stars but the next great player is always waiting in the wings for their opportunity. New stories are just around the corner throughout Canada. Will the departure of Begelton lead to either Hergy Mayala or Josh Huff becoming stars? Both had a couple of 100-plus yard receiving games towards the end of the 2019 season. Or maybe we will see the triumphant return of Kamar Jorden who missed all of last season with injuries.

No more Addison in Hamilton could easily translate into either Jaelon Acklin or Marcus Tucker becoming a legit No. 2 target in the Tiger-Cats’ passing attack. On the defensive side of the ball, I’m curious if Jackson Jeffcoat, a beast back in his college days at Texas, can at least partially fill the giant shoes of Jefferson. Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea will be remaining in Winnipeg till at least 2022. It will be up to Walters to find and sign new talent and for O’Shea to coach the young replacements up. I’m here to see how such a smart organization handles the inevitable annual roster shakeup.

This talent drain can and will hurt at first but the potential for new stars and storylines will offset these notable losses.