It is no secret that the CFL is in significant financial peril and everything is on the table when it comes to cuts.
Yet, when my colleague John Hodge reported that the CFL would be seriously considering a reduction of Global roster spots from two to one for the 2021 season during a meeting Tuesday, I was baffled.
Say whatever you want about the CFL’s Global program, nothing about that type of move makes much sense at all. In fact, I believe strongly it would be detrimental to the league.
To understand why, first you must understand the Global program.
Introduced in 2019, the CFL’s Global program saw one player from outside the United States and Canada required to suit up on each team’s active roster, with two additional development spots on the practice squad. That arrangement was slated to jump to two active roster players and three practice roster players in 2020, which remains true for 2021.
The results from the program’s first year were a mixed bag to say the least. Winnipeg’s Thiadric Hansen became a rotational player on defence and made a couple of crucial plays in the Bomber’s Grey Cup run. Hamilton’s Valentin Gnahoua and Edmonton’s Maxime Rouyer became special teams contributors. The rest barely played, if at all.
But this incoming class of Global talent should not be considered in the same realm as the class of 2019.
There are almost three hundred players available for selection by CFL teams during the four-round Global Draft scheduled for April 15, not an insignificant number of them rank above Hansen in terms of their potential as prospects.
There are multiple players who have signed NFL contracts in the past. Several were starters for major NCAA Division I football programs south of the border.
This is great for the CFL’s hope of generating a meaningful Global star, but not if the active roster requirements are reduced next season and the reason lies in the quality of two positions in particular: kickers and punters.
Several teams decided to use Global specialists in 2019 because it seemed the lowest risk. They were wasted roster spots because the talent wasn’t there. It is a vastly different situation in 2021.
According to the CFL’s Draft list, 39 kickers or punters are eligible for selection this year. Even setting aside the two of those players who are currently on NFL rosters and the two Australian punters who likely get drafted into the NFL after participating in the Senior Bowl. Most of those players have kicked at a very high level, more than half in the NCAA.
Four have signed professional contracts with a major pro league, three in the NFL. Several others kicked in the Spring League. One person I talked to set the over-under on specialists expected to be drafted next week at 10.
It is realistic that each team could draft at least one kicker or punter at a comparable level to their current starter. Some will be more talented and because of the Global rules, they’ll each come at a maximum salary of $54,000, cheaper than the minimum for any other player on the roster.
If you mandate only one global spot in 2021, the reality is the majority of those spots — possibly all — will go to a specialist because deploying the roster spot that way is the most advantageous for teams. But Aussie punters are not going to help the CFL achieve its long term goals.
The CFL wants contributing players they can market to foreign audiences. They want players who can connect to their respective immigrant communities. Whether you believe that has benefit or not, it is even one of the stated reasons the XFL has come calling.
The ability of a punter to do that is marginal, especially when they represent one of the least beneficial foreign markets.
Reducing the Global program to one player would kill the Global program before it even got to show its true potential and it would come at a net savings of just $54,000 per team.
Yes, it’s true that small cuts can add up and removing one Global player probably doesn’t affect the overall talent of a roster meaningfully, but frankly that’s largely true of removing one roster spot for a player of any other designation as well. You would save at least $11,000 more dollars per team doing that without fundamentally undermining a project you’ve billed as your gateway into the future.
The fact is there are talented players at non-kicking positions available in the Global Draft that would easily be drafted, and drafted highly, if they held Canadian citizenship. Heck, the No. 13 overall selection in the 2020 National Draft was Alain Pae, a product of the Czech Republic who would have been in the Global Draft pool had he not got a Canadian passport after university.
And yes, Greg Dick is right. Some Globals have the potential to be better than some Americans.
Not all will be successful. Some will struggle. But without question there is more than nine position players available who will be able to contribute Week 1.
You might argue that if this is true, you don’t need to mandate two Globals, teams will simply exceed their allotment. In some cases, I believe that would happen.
However, coaches hold biases. They are motivated by a desire to win now because they will be unemployed if they don’t. That means they lean on known commodities, and giving players the necessary playtime for their long-term development can fall by the wayside.
It’s the reason the Canadian ratio exists, to ensure coaches are forced to get those players the reps they need to be successful, even when coaches would rather not. The same principle applies for Globals.
For the CFL’s — and perhaps the XFL’s — dreams of foreign interest to materialize, the league needs Global players on the field in roles that don’t involve kicking a ball.
The change being contemplated Tuesday would hurt that possibility significantly and would barely provide a drop of financial relief.
It is incredibly short-sighted and exactly the type of decision-making that got the CFL where it is today.