Grey Cup 2018 – in between the zip-lining, Justin Beaver, the name of the new Atlantic CFL franchise, Mexican football and the CFL Player Awards – it almost feels like the CFL is unfolding nicely as the Calgary Stampeders and Ottawa Redblacks prepare for their second Grey Cup meeting in three years.
The Stampeders are looking to avoid being the first team since the Montreal Alouettes in 1954-1956 to appear in and lose three Grey Cups in a row. The Ottawa Redblacks are looking to win their second Grey Cup in their fifth year of operation. And in Winnipeg, there are still 1990 bottles of beer on the wall, but their cruel winter will be tempered by knowing they beat the Riders in the western semi-final but yet, it will now be 28 years and counting since they last hoisted the Grey Cup.
While Edmonton has expanded the scope of what a Grey Cup festival could be, hanging over the spectacle is the prospect of a new collective bargaining agreement, and perhaps one of the biggest musical chairs of quarterbacks in recent memory, along with a salary cap on football operations for which the rest of the league can probably thank the ineptitude of the Toronto Argonauts.
The new collective bargaining agreement with the previous agreement set to expire in May, is the focus of a bit of gamesmanship between the league and the CFL Players Association over what the future of the league will look like. In a bit of a pre-emptive strike, the league has decreed no off-season contract bonuses be paid out and they have instituted a salary and personnel cap on football operations to head off the CFLPA decrying the increase in coaches and GM salaries while players, especially American players, see their salaries slip due to the whims of the currency market.
There is a wild card in this with the emergence of the Alliance of American Football which will start play in 2019 after the Super Bowl. This new league, with teams – Atlanta Legends, Birmingham Iron, Memphis Express, Orlando Apollos, Arizona Hotshots, Salt Lake Stallions, San Antonio Commanders and San Diego Fleet – will play a 10-week schedule that will culminate in a championship in Las Vegas with players signed to a three-year contract worth $250,000 in non-guaranteed contracts along with incentive and fan interaction incentives.
This league, the brain-child of Charlie Ebersol and Bill Pollian, is aimed at NFL cuts and cashing in on Fantasy Football, which will be more lucrative now that sports betting is legalized in the US. Players who impress the NFL can be released from their contract to try the NFL again, but the base of $250,000 compares even more favorably due to the CFL minimum wage, which is paid in Canadian dollars and therefore potential American players lose even more money compared to their counterparts in the AAFL and then the year after, the emergence of the XFL under Vince McMahon.
The XFL will start in 2020 with eight teams. Like the AAFL, all teams will be owned by the league and the XFL is looking to ensure there are no protests by players and will have a minimum game salary of $7,500 per game with players signed to one year contracts. Compare this to the CFL minimum salary of $50,000 which translates to a weekly salary of $2,777.
So with the increased competition for players and coaches, what does the CFL do? It brings in a financial and cap for football operations, ends mini camps and uh…brings in a Maritime CFL team?
The CFL has a salary cap of $5.2 million for players with a roster of 44 players and 10 practice roster players. The football operations budget, for general managers, coaches and such, is $2.738 million with a cap of 11 coaches and 17 football operations personnel.
Teams have started to cut coaches and ensure that bonuses are not paid out, which will lead to an exodus of coaches from Canada. If you fire a coach, you carry his salary on the books, although once every five years the remaining money is exempt, otherwise the remaining salary of a fired coach or GM is amortized over five years.
In place of the now forbidden mini camps, teams will be allowed to have extended rookie camps. For teams like the Riders, which have 13 coaches listed on their web site and 23 people in football operations – although that includes nine doctors, two equipment staff and one chaplain – there are likely cuts coming after the Grey Cup.
For the moment, the Riders have brought in 10 percent salary reduction for football operations staff, and have nine open try out camps listed from November 28 to the end of the year. The reason for the football operations cap was apparently to head off the players’ complaints of the increase in coaching numbers and salaries, and in apparent reaction to the situation in Toronto, where the cost of coaches was apparently more than what the team brought in in terms of gate receipts.
The CFL will apparently attempt to deal with the impression the CFL is reacting to two new leagues and the exodus of coaching talent by announcing Friday the name of the new Atlantic CFL franchise, likely to be the Schooners, which will increase the number of players getting jobs. If the Atlantic franchise actually goes ahead, this will increase the league to 10 teams and may raise the possibility of four playoff teams in the east and west, getting rid of the first place bye, and then…
A letter of agreement is expected to be signed Friday between the CFL and the Liga de Futbol Americano of Mexico. This has been hinted in various forums for the last month or so and may feature an agreement where Mexican players can come up to the CFL while Canadian players can go to Mexico to try the Mexican league and gain some professional experience.
In addition, there may be an agreement for the CFL to play a regular season game in Mexico City next year, which will be interesting since the NFL recently pulled out of a regular season game in Mexico City since the field at Estadio Aztecia was deemed to be in poor shape prior to a game between the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs. Aztecia also hosts soccer games and concerts and seats 87,000 which will be interesting to see how they will market it.
As Grey Cup week unwound in Edmonton, the CFL Player awards saw Bo Levi Mitchell of Calgary win his second Most Outstanding Player Award; Brad Sinopoli win the Outstanding Canadian Award; Adam Bighill of Winnipeg winning the Outstanding Defensive Player Award; Stanley Bryant of Winnipeg winning the Outstanding Offensive Lineman Award; Lewis Ward of the Ottawa Redblacks winning the Outstanding Rookie and Outstanding Special Teams Player awards; Chris Jones of the Riders winning the Coach of the Year award; Pierre Vercheval winning the Commissioner Award; Rolly Lumbala winning the Jake Gaudaur Veterans’ Award; Ryan King of the Eskimos winning the Tom Pate Memorial Award and Wally Buono of the BC Lions winning the Hugh Campbell Leadership Award.
This is setting up the league for the Grey Cup on Sunday where the Stampeders are looking to break a two year losing streak in the championship game and avoid joining the Montreal Alouettes (1954-1956) and Winnipeg Blue Bombers (1945-1947) as three time losers but so far stopping short of the Regina Roughriders record as five-time consecutive Grey Cup finalist losers (1928-1932).
The historical record seems to favor the Stampeders breaking the hex with four other teams previously losing two consecutive Grey Cup championships and if they made it to a third consecutive championship, finally winning it. Those teams include the Winnipeg Blue Bombers who lost the 1937-38 championships before winning in 1939; the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who fell short in 1961-1962 before winning in 1963; The Edmonton Eskimos who lost in 1973-1974 before winning in 1975 and most recently the Hamilton Tiger-Cats who lost in 1984-1985 before winning in 1986.
The Stampeders got in by beating the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in the Western Final 22-14, which extended Winnipeg’s futility streak since 1990 by another year, while Ottawa beat Hamilton 46-27 in a flawless performance by Ottawa QB Trevor Harris who threw a record six touchdown passes against a pussycat defense in Hamilton.
Calgary swept the season series against Ottawa, but those games were in the early part of the season as Ottawa seemed to finally find a bit of consistency at the end of the season by sweeping Hamilton to solidify their first place finish and an 11-7 record. Ottawa has been one of the more frustrating teams to figure out because when they should be favored, they fall short, and then they are not favored, they come up with a great performance.
So the Ottawa performance against Hamilton in the eastern final should be taken with a grain of salt while Calgary’s performance against Ottawa should probably share the same grain of salt. Calgary’s receiving corps was decimated by injuries with Mitchell relying on Eric Rogers who had three touchdown receptions against Winnipeg, but is also injury prone. Calgary might also get DeVaris Daniels back from a broken clavicle, but that is a maybe situation.
Calgary will likely rely on their defense to win the Cup, the same defense that held Winnipeg to no touchdowns in the Western Final. Ottawa has a rhythm passing attack and if Calgary gets defensive pressure, then Ottawa loses a consistent attack which should include a healthy dose of William Powell who finished second in rushing with 1,362 yards of offense. However, if the rhythm is disrupted by the Stampeder defense, that balanced attack may not materialize for Ottawa.
For Calgary, this Grey Cup has them trying the same approach that won them the 2008 Grey Cup when they went to Montreal and faced the Montreal Alouettes – in other words Us Against the World. For Calgary, there is a bit of urgency because it is highly likely Mitchell will be in the NFL next season if he finds a situation to his liking and Calgary doesn’t have someone in the wings who is the apparent heir apparent.
So for Calgary, this may well be their last Grey Cup appearance for awhile, which is ironic considering they are the hosts for the 2019 Grey Cup. Ottawa for their part seem to be finally over the hump of being a 500 team and considering this is their third year of operation, has become the team to beat in the east.
Depending on when the Atlantic team begins to play, the Ottawa model in building a team will likely be followed there and an expansion draft may be held in either 2020 or 2021, depending on when the team gets its stadium together.
So expect a close relatively defensive game with Calgary closing the window on its Grey Cup opportunities with a 26-23 win.
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