This piece was originally going to be about 10 players with new teams for the upcoming season whose stories I find the most fascinating. I could easily bang out 1,000 words on Ryker Matthews in BC, Larry Dean in Saskatchewan, Ciante Evans in Hamilton and about half of the Argonauts roster. But instead, I have decided to focus on one name: Quarterback Paxton Lynch.
On Monday the former first-rounder got his first taste of CFL football as a member of the Roughriders’ training camp. He spoke about the difficulties that come with any quarterback dipping their toes in our 12 man, wider fields, “Wait, how many players can be in motion at the same time???” brand of football. That is the predictable soundbite that I expected; however, I did appreciate his honesty when it came to his career ambitions. He openly spoke about wanting to one day get back into the National Football League.
Let’s all be adults on this subject. Any quarterback drafted in the first round of the NFL draft wants to make their way back somehow, someday. If we all can be emotionally and intellectually honesty about it, there is nothing wrong with the desire to return to the land of $100 million contracts and sneaker commercials. These grown men grew up dreaming of winning a Super Bowl with Brett Favre posters plastered all over their walls. The problem is that many of us still have that chip on our shoulder when it comes to this glorious game. We hate when it gets compared to the NFL in a negative light with people saying the game is “inferior.”
My thought on this has never wavered. Frankly, I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Let them love the game, hate it or be indifferent. It has zero impact on my joy. People are always going to rip whatever sports league they don’t understand or don’t care to learn about. While they are throwing stones into an empty abyss, I’m over here watching Andrew Harris embarrass linebackers. My bigger point is I have no problem with whatever Paxton’s motivations are, as long as he doesn’t cheat the game or his teammates.
In fact, I am rooting for him to succeed and not because I don’t have Cody Fajardo on my fantasy team.
I’d love to see Lynch succeed either by unseating the top passer from 2019 or by being traded to a quarterback-needy team. The reason for this is simple. I, like so many of you, enjoy seeing something different. And the one thing we have yet to see succeed in this league is a high-profile quarterback, either from college or the pros dominate the CFL.
Don’t believe me? Let’s go over the list real quick, shall we?
1994: I vaguely remember Timm Rosenbach trying out for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Back in 1990 he was the only quarterback in the NFL to take every offensive snap, so I was excited to see what he could do closer to home. I’m still waiting.
1995: Former Heisman winner and former NFL first round pick Andre Ware signed with the Ottawa Rough Riders. Ware would bounce around between three different teams and was out of the league after 1997.
2006: Eric Crouch won the Heisman while starring at the University of Nebraska. The guy put up over 3,000 yards on the ground while passing for over 4,000 yards. That led to him hitting the great heights of a fourth-string quarterback position with the Argonauts for a brief while.
2006: Yup, 2006 was a bad year for former Heisman winners. Troy Smith was an absolute stud for Ohio State. Too bad he wasn’t good enough to leap over Alex Brink as a member of the Alouettes. His career would last less time than my 1998 frosted tips.
I could go on with other names like Michael Bishop (he had some moments); Vince Young and Chris Leak but you get the picture.
At this point I’m getting tired of the storied passer who has made a name for themselves in the States only to flop, fail and flame out before the end of the CFL pre-season. I want a new story where a guy like Lynch embraces the game, becomes star — even for a short period of time — and goes back to the NFL as a better passer than the one who came up to Canada.
This could normalize gifted quarterbacks who, for whatever reason, are on the outs in the NFL to try and get their groove back up here. Think about some recent former first-round pick failures where it didn’t seem like they fully embraced what this country and this game is all about. I don’t think I need to mention his name at this point but I wonder if Johnny Manziel would have taken his opportunity up here more seriously if there was already a rich history of second chance quarterback success? Maybe seeing that the blueprint can work would further motivate future quarterbacks to take their job as seriously as they should no matter how many downs they have to work with.
I have no problems with this league being the home for productive small college passers who need to work on their game before trying to strike it reach in the NFL. I know that may ruffle the feathers of some more traditional die hards (by the way, there’s nothing wrong with anyone in this category) that could feel the CFL is being exploited by talented but flawed passers but I view this possibility in a different light.
Yes, it could lead to some transient quarterbacks who go from CFL all-star to NFL back-up but it also would inevitability lead to more Bo Levi Mitchells and Michael Reillys. I have written about it before but so many of today’s CFL all-star quarterbacks came to this league after an illustrious college career at some small Division I school and a brief fling in the NFL before coming to the land of ketchup chips to become stars. I’m here for a steady stream of these quarterbacks if it leads to the occasional future Hall of Famer.
So I approach the acquisition of Paxton Lynch not with suspicion or cynicism but rather with hope that his success will not only make the game more entertaining for this year but could lead to many special unintended consequences down the road.