June 8, 2020

Steinberg’s MMQB: Cashing in on the ‘Money List’

Arthur Ward/CFL.ca

Under normal circumstances, this week’s column would have been getting ready for Week 1 of the season. Instead, we wait to see if and when a potential 2020 CFL campaign can get started. What we do know is if it happens, it’ll look different from anything we’ve seen before. This season will be shorter, more compact, and will require a great deal of creativity to roll out. But, as we’ve talked about before, different isn’t a bad thing.

Both the NHL and NBA have plans in motion to finish their campaigns in unprecedented fashions, which will impact operations for the seasons following, too. Things will be very different for Major League Baseball when they announce plans to start their year. Everyone has to adjust, which is why it’s encouraging to hear how the CFL is tackling this challenge.

“Everyone just seems to be in the frame of mind that it’s going to be different (and) the best thing we can do is roll with the punches,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie told me earlier this spring.

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“React in a positive way to what the world is going to throw at us and maybe 2020 will be that year where we learn some things. We’ll do some things differently and who knows, we might come out the other end of this having learned some valuable lessons that may make us stronger in 2021 and beyond.”

One of the most difficult tasks will be fitting a meaningful regular season into a condensed period of time. We know September is the earliest games could start being played, which would allow for nine weeks of regular season action if working off the original 2020 schedule. That’s where the outside-the-box thinking comes in.

“How many creative ways could we play as many games as we can in a short span of time,” Ambrosie said. “We went to a 21-week season in part because we wanted to reduce the wear and tear on our players on quick turnarounds. That’s when you’re playing two pre-season games and 18 regular season games. (With a shorter season) there’s going to be less wear and tear. Maybe we have a shorter training camp: less wear and tear.

“Maybe one of the compromises that we need to think about is trying to go with a really creative schedule and playing a little more often. These are the things that we have to figure out in collaboration with the players. Maybe we can fit more football in in a shorter span of time than we normally would.”

Other creative adjustments might include the idea of a hub city, or cities. Perhaps we’ll be seeing an entire traditional week of action being played in one day. There are numerous other changes or compromises that might have to be enacted for a 2020 season to happen. All of this remains a moving target with so many uncontrollable variables.

But the CFL remains willing to roll with the punches, as Ambrosie said. Creativity can be fun and different can be good. Things seem pointed in an encouraging direction in many parts of this country, so let’s hope we get to see how different and creative a 2020 CFL season can be.

The Money List

After a temporary hiatus last week, we’re back to filling out our 2020 Money List. It’s a group of players at every area on the field I’d choose to start a championship winning team right now. We’re focusing on the offensive line this week to add to the group below.

Position Player
Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, Calgary Stampeders
Running Back Andrew Harris, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Receiver Brandon Banks, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Defensive End Willie Jefferson, Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Defensive Tackle Dylan Wynn, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Inside Linebacker Hénoc Muamba, Montreal Alouettes
Outside Linebacker Patrick Levels, Hamilton Tiger-Cats
Kicker Lewis Ward, Ottawa REDBLACKS
Punter Justin Medlock, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Offensive tackle: Stanley Bryant, Winnipeg Blue Bombers

This might be the biggest no-brainer yet. Bryant has been the league’s best left tackle over the last decade and is showing no signs of slowing down. The 2017 and 2018 Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman could very well have made it three straight last season, while he’s been a CFL All-Star five of the last six seasons.

Anchored by Bryant, the Bombers have allowed 38 sacks or less in each of the last four seasons, which puts them in elite company. On top of that, Winnipeg has consistently had a top tier run game with Bryant being an integral part of Andrew Harris’s three straight rushing titles. Bryant is the best in the business and gets the easy nod here.

Guard: Shane Bergman, Calgary Stampeders

Bergman doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but he’s been one of the league’s best-kept secrets since becoming a mainstay on Calgary’s line in 2014. Despite a few different left tackles, Bergman has been a steadying presence on Bo Levi Mitchell’s blindside for four Grey Cup appearances and a pair of title wins.

In Bergman’s four seasons as a full-time starter, the Stampeders have finished one or two in sacks allowed without exception. As one person very familiar with Bergman told me: “Watch what happens when he gets his mitts on someone; they’re erased from the game.” Oh, and Bergman’s Canadian passport does him a lot of favours, too. There’s nothing wrong with the league’s best guard helping Calgary’s ratio.

Centre: Alex Mateas, Ottawa REDBLACKS

Speaking of Canadians, we’ve got the 2015 first overall pick rounding out our offensive line. Ever since then, Mateas has been an integral part of a steady and consistent front five. While he was eased back into Canadian ball after five years in the NCAA with Penn State and UConn, Mateas really started to make his impact felt in 2016.

With Mateas in the middle, Ottawa allowed just 33 sacks during the 2017 season, the third-best total in the league. He was also part of three straight great passing seasons for the REDBLACKS, with Trevor Harris and company averaging more than 300 yards per game between 2016 and 2018. Yes, last season was a nightmare in Ottawa, but I firmly believe Mateas is one of the key parts of the solution going forward.