CFL teams are preparing for an expansion draft this off season, in fact it’s the first notable piece of business to happen after the Grey Cup weekend. On December 16, the newest team to the CFL, the Ottawa RedBlacks, gets to have a 3 round draft that allows them to build a team nucleus through selecting unprotected players off other CFL team rosters.
Each CFL team is allowed to protect 1 quarterback, 10 import players and 6 non-import players, with additional rules put in place for additional protected players if you are to have your QB or kicker drafted. The 3 rounds do have other restrictions, only one round can be used to draft imported players and the two other rounds allow for non-import, or Canadian, players. Another key rule is that Ottawa will only be able to select 2 quarterbacks and 1 kicker/punter, and it should be noted that those 3 players cannot be from the same team. In the end, Ottawa will be selecting 24 players to their roster from their future combatants.
BC Lions have a number of talented players that could be on the selection list for Ottawa but the fans will not get to know who they were until they are gone and will not get to know who wasn’t taken. CFL commissioner, Mark Cohon, has made the decision to keep the protected/unprotected lists private and the expansion draft will be in private based on the rationale that he doesn’t want to damage player/management relationships.
What? Really? Are we in youth football?
The CFL is a business, the expansion machine has plenty of hype and energy on its own but why would they restrict the fans and media the opportunity to play GM during what could be a draft spectacle. This is a huge marketing opportunity missed by the league. You have been successfully growing your, technologically savvy, younger fan base over the last few years, who love fantasy football and getting to be engaged with the inner workings of their sports teams. The CFL could have embraced the event with fans being able to pick their own expansion roster, made it a competition so that the roster closest to the real one would get tickets to the Ottawa home opener or to the game that Ottawa plays in their favorite teams stadium, etc.
I can guarantee that every dressing room knows who their top 17 players are when it comes to the parameters of the expansion draft. I don’t think any of the players would be shocked by what lists are put forward. There would be some that would cause conversation but anyone that knows the inner workings of the team would likely be able to understand the rationale, let’s look at two examples that instantly come to mind.
First, the BC Lions, they made a trade late in the year to assist with their quarterback insecurity by bringing in Buck Pierce. The more I think about this deal, the more this move has expansion draft protection written all over it. Travis Lulay will be the protected QB and Thomas DeMarco showed enough promise that Ottawa could target him to be one of their two play callers. If they do, the Lions have a quality leader and backup in place for next season. The other side of that coin, Ottawa may want a veteran in the locker room and could target Pierce to be their leader on and off the field and select a younger replacement for him to tutor. Either way the Lions have protected themselves. The second part of that trade sent a non-import receiver, Akeem Foster, to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Lions have plenty of non-import talent on their roster including running back Andrew Harris, receivers Marco Iannuzzi and Shawn Gore, making it hard to believe that the Lions would be able to keep Foster through the expansion draft.
Second, the Calgary Stampeders and the debate as to which QB do they protect. Kevin Glenn is the veteran starter but they have Bo Levi Mitchell and Drew Tate waiting in the wings. Considering Tate’s inability to avoid injury and Glenn’s age, it would make sense to protect Mitchell as the team’s future starting quarterback. Similar to the Lions, the Stamps have protected themselves with 3 quality play callers and guaranteed that they will enter next season with 2 strong options.
Unfortunately the fans and media will have to wait and see how this all unfolds but if and when the CFL expands again, I hope they celebrate this type of draft more with added exposure and engagement with their fan base.