This isn’t happening in Regina, but its ramifications will be felt here. Today is the day the CFL is holding an expansion draft to help stock the Ottawa RedBlacks with some quality CFL talent before the team begins play in the 2014 season. To prepare for the draft, each franchise was allowed to protect one QB, ten imports at other positions, and two sets of six non-imports. By agreement of the league and CFL Players Association, the lists of protected players, which were submitted on Dec. 9, were kept confidential to avoid bruising the egos of players whose teams may have deemed them expendable by leaving them off the protected list.
I say “may have” because there’s lots of gamesmanship that accompanies this process. There’s three rounds to the draft. In the first round, Ottawa will pick one import from each team. In the second and third rounds, they get to pick two non-imports from each team for a total of 24 players. If a team loses a QB or a non-import kicker, it gets to protect two additional non-imports. If a team loses an import kicker, it gets to protect one additional non-import. But a team can’t lose both a QB and a kicker.
In preparation for the draft, a lot of teams have let contract negotiations with a lot of players lapse with the result that 120 players are eligible to declare free agency on Feb. 15. The Riders alone have 19 free agents, including star running back Kory Sheets and receiver Weston Dressler. If left unprotected, they would be tempting players for Ottawa to pick. But they would also represent a huge risk for the RedBlacks, as if they and other players who are free agents don’t sign with the RedBlacks by Feb. 15 they would be free to sign with other teams. If Ottawa picks players who are under contract, though, they become RedBlack property. So that’s the safer bet for Ottawa.
Teams might also risk leaving unprotected players who are in the twilight of their career like the Riders with receiver Geroy Simon and LB Mike McCullough, Calgary and Hamilton with QBs Kevin Glenn and Henry Burris and so on, reasoning that Ottawa will be building for the future and will be seeking younger CFL talent.
The collective bargaining agreement is up for negotiation in the off-season. I spoke with a couple of sports economists about the league’s financial state, and what the CFLPA will be hoping to achieve from their end for an article in our Dec. 12 issue. A substantial hike in the current $4.4 million team salary cap is one goal for the CFLPA (perhaps to as much as $5.5 million), and it’s questionable whether a new CBA will be inked in time to avert a work stoppage at the start of the 2014 season.