The CFL and the CFL Players Association has just concluded two days of negotiations on the new CBA, former NFL receiver Chad Johnson is getting a look at Montreal's spring camp, and the careers of a couple of big-name players are still up in the air.
We are just under 80 days from kicking off the regular season in the CFL and these are just three of a handful of football stories that have been circulating around the country. So, just so sports fans can take a little break from the 'what the heck happened to my hockey team' talk, let's take a look at some of the football topics that have managed to wedge their way into the odd sportscast.
Let's start in Montreal, where Alouettes GM Jim Popp is taking a look at former NFL Pro Bowl receiver Chad Johnson at the team's spring camp in Vero Beach, Florida. Johnson hasn't played since 2011, and is 36 years old, but he does have an impressive resume; six times voted to the Pro Bowl after racking up over 11,000 yards and scoring 67 touchdowns in 11 seasons in the NFL.
Wally Buono and the Lions passed on him but Jim Popp wants to take a longer look, and on the surface, there really is nothing lost by the Als inviting him to a workout at their spring camp.
Popp says Johnson wants to play football again, adding "he wants to play, he wasn't ready to stop and didn't like the way his career ended in the NFL, and this is not about money."
The Als' GM also said that the workout in Florida is basically around 25 per cent of the process. Obviously, he wants to evaluate where Johnson is at physically, but that is just one question that needs to be answered. The others include: Where is he mentally? Can he help the Als with what will be a new offensive system? There are work visas to be considered as well.
Chad Johnson can obviously play the game, and according to Popp, who has seen video of the former Bengal working out, thinks he is still in great shape. However, a contract offer to Montreal's main camp has not even been discussed and there are lots of questions to be answered before that occurs. The biggest question is really not whether Johnson can still run or whether he can still catch, he proved he could still do those things in his first workout, it is whether he is willing to completely commit to continuing his football career. We have seen it too many times, in fact it was happening back in the 80's and 90's as well. A former NFL starter thinks they can cruise into a CFL camp, show everyone how it is done, and play for fun for six months, only to find out quickly, that whether you're making $1 million or $100,000, the game of football requires an all-in philosophy.
When Ricky Williams signed in Toronto, while serving a suspension in the NFL in 2006, there were some reports and speculation that Williams would dominate in the CFL, and rush for, well some even said, 3,000 yards without trying. Williams' totals in 11 games with the Argos were 109 carries for 526 yards and two touchdowns, which is hardly tearing it up. Before some start making excuses for that lack of production, like it's a different game, and he didn't get as much opportunity, simply look at his average: it was 4.8 yards/carry. Williams went back to the NFL in 2007 and, in 2009, rushed for over 1,000 yards in Miami, and has rushed for over 10,000 yards in the NFL.
The point being, like Williams, Chad Johnson has been a good football player, but he can only help Montreal if he is willing to be all-in, and approach the CFL in a respectful and professional way. It's never wrong to take a look, but even Popp admitted that he is looking at much more than just whether or not he can still run routes, and catch the ball.
Last week in Calgary, the CFL and the CFLPA met to begin discussions on a new CBA. Both sides are being careful not to leak any information as to how the meetings went. It's safe to say that both sides believe that the players should be making more money, but how they get there and how much more money is going to make these negotiations challenging for both sides.
For example, the players making more money isn't as simple as the owners writing a bigger check, and allowing the teams GMs to spend that money where they please. If the players do get a much bigger piece of the financial pie the question is where should that money be spent? Should starting quarterbacks get a raise due to the degree of difficulty with the position? Should the entire roster get an across the board bump? Or would it be better for the league to raise the minimum wage, and how would the league even regulate that, when each owner and or GM will run their own teams the way they want?
The term revenue sharing has come up and apparently is going to be an issue that is on top of the agenda, but again - it isn't as simple as saying let's split revenues down the middle between the clubs and the players. The players will cite the fact that a new and lucrative TV contract has changed the financial landscape of the league, and they want, as the new head of the Players Association Scott Flory has said, "their fair share." On the surface that sounds reasonable, and again everyone believes that the players should be paid more. However, the new TV deal starts this year, and no club can honestly say right now what the revenues will look like at the end of this season and beyond. In fact, it makes you wonder if revenue sharing at this point is even a good idea for the Players when they don't know what, if any the revenues will be.
All of which makes all of these negotiations clear as mud, but the bottom line is both sides know the players should get paid more, and it is safe to say, that in the end, that will happen.
Under The Radar
Now on to a couple of big-name players that are managing to stay well under the radar and whose futures are still very much up in the air.
The first is quarterback Kevin Glenn, who has both publicly and privately, asked to be traded from Ottawa, and who did not attend the team's spring camp in the United States. Glenn, who led the Stamps to the West Final and a Grey Cup over the last two seasons, is an interesting one for a couple of reasons.
First, despite getting the majority of the snaps in Calgary, Glenn was the back-up to Drew Tate, and in fact last year as the team entered the playoffs, there was all kinds of debate and discussion by the team's fan base over whether or not it should be Glenn, or third string QB Bo Levi Mitchell to start in the playoffs. So he is still a back-up QB to most, yet Glenn has shown he has the skills to lead a team to the championship game. It's tough for management on any team to put a real value on what exactly they are getting when they talk trades for Kevin Glenn.
Secondly, Glenn has chosen not to talk publicly, except to say that he wants out of Ottawa. Now you have to believe that he and his agent are trying to get the message out, behind closed doors, to any team that will listen that if acquired, Glenn will be a good teammate like he has been in his career to date. However, it will not be a newsflash to teams that Glenn's agent is selling him as a team-first guy. One does have to wonder if those same teams are concerned that Glenn will only go to a camp if he is guaranteed the starting job, based on what he has said so far in public. That's another reason why it will be tough on teams trying to assess what they would be willing to give up for Glenn's services and what that might mean to their current rosters.
The second player that has been under the radar of late has been free agent Keron Williams. Last year in BC, Williams was asked to move from rush end to defensive tackle and saw his sack totals go from 12 in 2012 to just four last year. Williams did not complain in the media about the move, and only he and the Lion's coaching staff know if he said anything behind closed doors. Now whether he complained about it or not, the fact of the matter is, it is very difficult to move from the left to the right side of the formation, let alone move to a different position all together. Williams has been asked to do this twice by the Lions.
As a member of the Als in 2008 and 2009, he played on the interior of the defensive line and dominated, accumulating a total of 18 sacks in two years. When he packed his bags and moved to BC, then head coach Wally Buono asked him to move to defensive end, a position that requires a completely different skill set, and in fact a different body type. Williams took a year to get used to his new position, which is completely understandable when you consider most players could not even do it. In his first year playing off the edge in 2010, Williams registered five sacks, but in the back half of the season, you could see he was going to be a force. In his last two full years as a rush end, he was arguably the premier pass rusher in the league and recorded a total of 23 sacks.
Now Williams, who is just 29 years old, is likely waiting to see what happens to the salary cap as the CBA negotiations continue. It also goes without saying that most, if not all, the teams in the league have shown some level of interest in the free agent, and yet it has been all quiet on the Williams front. All of which leads to speculation that he is either going to wait and see if there is an NFL tryout possibility for as long as possible or stay in BC and he and the Lions have already come to some agreement. The only other scenario is that he is still testing the free agent market in the CFL. However, if that's the case, why wouldn't he and his agent want to, say, leak out the level of interest to create a bidding war for his services? Williams could not be reached for comment.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders announced on Wednesday that starting quarterback and Grey Cup champion Darian Durant has agreed to a contract extension with the club, which is ahead of schedule. Durant said recently that he didn't think that the deal would get done until just before training camp, but clearly the Riders made their franchise player, "an offer he just couldn't refuse". Terms of the deal have not been released but, with what he has now accomplished and a playoff run last year that was as close to perfect as any quarterback has had in recent memory, Durant may not be the highest paid QB in the league, but it is not a stretch to think he will be close. It is a well-deserved extension.
And finally, according to CTV reporter Heath Brown who was in attendance at a fan forum event in Calgary recently, Stampeders head coach John Hufnagel addressed the crowd and mentioned the organization has come to a "handshake agreement" with their star running back Jon Cornish on a contract extension. Cornish had as good as season as any player in the history of the game in 2013, a season where he was named the leagues Most Outstanding Player and the Most Outstanding Canadian. He also received the Lou Marsh Memorial Trophy as Canada's top athlete, and most recently was named the Male Athlete of the Year by the Calgary Booster Club.
Apparently, when asked after the event to further discuss the Cornish extension, Hufnagel refused to go there, which may have meant the coach regretted letting the big news slip out. However, whether he meant to or not, the news is huge for Stamps fans, as they will be able to continue to cheer for the most dominant running back in the CFL over the last two seasons.
Okay, now back to the 'what happened to my NHL team' discussions.