Imagine leaving your house, well aware that you're about to be robbed, and not being able to do anything about it. That's the feeling that eight Canadian Football League teams are experiencing right now in advance of the expansion draft to stock the Ottawa Redblacks.
Each team will lose three players in the process, with each club knowing it will in all probability lose at least one player of substance. Good news for the Redblacks, bad news for the club teams. (draft rules explained at end of article)
For the Toronto Argonauts, general manager Jim Barker has been preparing for this event since it was announced the league would return to the nation's capital. The process to come up with a protection list hasn't been easy.
"It will be interesting to see what Ottawa chooses to do, whether they choose to take some older guys," Barker told TSN 1050. "For us, that factors in to who we decide to protect. We don't know what Ottawa's plan is. Will they decide to take a guy who maybe only has a year or two left (in his career), or are they going to take the younger players and try to build it for more of a long-term thing? We don't know what their philosophy is and we won't until they actually draft the players."
There's the rub. The Argos won't know what the Redblacks plan is until it's too late. So teams around the league can try to project what Ottawa's strategy will be, but Barker says the Argonauts won't be playing that guessing game.
"We can't really do it that way," said the GM. "What we'll do is protect the players we feel are most likely able to help us long term. We try to take all the scenarios."
As an example, the Argos won't likely be able to protect both Jeff Keeping and Joe Eppele. Keeping, a finalist for the league's Outstanding Offensive Lineman this season, is a 31-year old with nine seasons under his belt. Eppele, the second-overall draft pick in the 2010 draft, is five years younger than Keeping, and has far fewer city miles on his body's odometer.
Barker says the choice comes down to trying to replace whichever player the Redblacks snap up.
"If we protect Joe and expose Keeping," reacted Barker to the hypothetical scenario, "If they take Keeping how would we replace him? If we went the other way and they took Eppele how would we replace him? We have players in our pipeline who are not eligible to them. We have Matt Sewell (OT at McMaster) who we drafted in the first round last year, we have (first-overall pick in 2010, LB) Cory Greenwood who has been hurt all year with Detroit (NFL), and we have Natey Adjei (3rd round 2013), who broke his leg at the University of Buffalo and didn't get to play much this year, but he's a guy that we think has a lot of ability as a wide receiver, so those things all factor into it too. When Sewell went back to school it was a good thing for us in terms of (the draft) because he's not eligible."
While fans will see some of the bigger names on the import lists, the key to Ottawa's success will be what happens in the non-import draft.
"The biggest thing is that you have to do is try not to lose too much depth," said Barker. "You can change the ratio when you have depth, if you don't, it's difficult to do that."
"The six non-import protections are the most vital," continued the GM. "They're the hardest to replace, they're what you take the longest time to build. When teams are struggling normally it's because the Canadian talent base is depleted. When you look at teams that are struggling that's normally the situation."
Another difficult decision comes at the safety position. Matt Black is a five-year veteran who started at safety for the first time this year, while Jermaine Gabriel was the Argos second-round pick in 2013 and at some point will start. Who do the Argo protect in this case?
"You hate to lose young players and both of these guys are guys who just started to do well," said Barker. "Matt Black has been in the league for a while and has been a great special teams player. Jermaine Gabriel this year was one of the best ST players in the league. He's what you look for in a safety, he's very physical, this is his natural position.
"Matt is more of a corner that moved in to play free safety. He's a very savvy player. If you're Ottawa and you want to win right now, you prefer that we expose Matt Black. If you're building for the future you hope we expose Jermaine Gabriel. Can you protect both of them? It's very difficult."
The selection process is not an easy one. So how do they decide who is on the list.
"We'll have some heated debates between Scott (head coach Milanovich) and myself and the coaching staff in terms of who it is on the final list," Barker admitted. "The first five are pretty easy, the sixth Canadian is very difficult to pick. With the Americans the first 7 are pretty easy the last three are very difficult."
Whether it comes to consensus, pulling rank, or a good old game of rock, paper, scissors, the Argos will submit a protection list to the CFL. Then the waiting game begins before we find out which players the Redblacks receive as early Christmas presents.
The first stage of the event is the import draft. Each team will protect ten players, including no more than one quarterback, then the Redblacks begin the poaching process. Each current team will then have one player selected from the available imports, with Ottawa being able to take up to two QBs.
Then it's over to the non-import draft. Each team protects six non-imports. If the Redblacks picked one of their quarterbacks in the import draft, then they get to protect eight non-imports. If Ottawa took a kicker or punter, the current team can protect seven non-imports.
After the first round of the non-import draft is over, the current teams can protect six more non-imports (unless the team lost a QB or a kicker, then it can protect eight more) before the Redblacks choose another non-import.
So at the end of the draft the Redblacks will have 24 new players, 16 of whom are non-imports.