After a hectic stretch in the Canadian Football League following the opening of free agency on Feb. 8, the past week has been eerily quiet in comparison.
That wasn’t the original plan. Though the buzz of player signings usually only lasts a few days once the market opens, this week was originally scheduled to be filled with more CFL news, with league meetings to take place Tuesday through Thursday in Kananaskis, Alta.
The CFL hasn’t totally ditched its plans, as coaches, management and other team and league executives are expected to meet sometime over the next week, albeit virtually. In-person talks could also be added to next month’s national combine in Toronto.
A shuffle in schedule had me thinking about a couple of different things.
The first, it’s a reminder that although COVID-19 seems to be more and more under control, it’s still capable of altering the CFL’s plans. The other is that this likely won’t be the only hiccup we hear about when it comes to planned talks over the offseason; the clock is ticking on the CFL and CFL Player’s Association to sit down and hash out a new collective bargaining agreement for the 2022 season.
Those inevitable fireworks will be discussed in a future column. But that doesn’t mean this week wasn’t filled with interesting tidbits and notable moves across the three-down loop.
And we here at the Free Press are also not immune to scheduling issues, which has forced us to pull an audible this week, bringing you this column a day earlier than usual. So, let’s get into it in the latest edition of CFL Rundown.
1) Former Blue Bombers running back Andrew Harris broke his silence shortly after what can only be described as a messy breakup with his hometown team. Speaking as a member of the Toronto Argonauts, Harris said a lack of communication with general manager Kyle Walters and head coach Mike O’Shea left him feeling disrespected, adding he appreciates the Argos for making him feel wanted.
2) I wrote last week about how I thought it was a mistake for Winnipeg to let Harris go, especially after all he’s done for the team, and I still feel that way. But what I believe to be a significant rift with O’Shea is over Harris’ lack of accountability to the team. Harris showed up to training camp last year out of shape and it came as no surprise to anyone he got hurt the first day. If Harris didn’t have the level of respect he has from the organization, he would have been cut. Any other player would have been.
3) Of all the things important to team structure, accountability is at the top of the list for O’Shea. Case in point: prior to hitting the field each year, O’Shea gives a long speech about being accountable to each and every person in the locker room, on and off the field, and how it’s paramount to building a championship culture. While Harris might not fully understand the error of his ways — or perhaps he feels he’s done enough to escape that strict but effective level of accountability — clearly his behaviour didn’t sit well with the head coach. I’m assuming that’s why O’Shea was reluctant to give Harris a contract until he proved his commitment. And if Harris really is willing to bet on himself — he projects to have his best year yet — proving it to the man who’s had his back since he arrived in Winnipeg shouldn’t have been a big ask.
4) Duron Carter is back in the CFL, reuniting with Chris Jones on a one-year deal with the Edmonton Elks. The former two-time CFL all-star receiver will once again play defensive back for Jones, who first transitioned Carter from offence to defence while the two were together in Saskatchewan.
5) It’s unclear just how ready Carter will be, having not played professional football since 2019. He’s one of a few players Jones has convinced to come out of retirement, a list that also includes receivers Adarius Bowman and Manny Arceneaux, both of whom, by the way, will play their natural positions. At least we think they will.
6) The CFL has released the dates of some key events over the offseason, including the CFL national combine (March 25-27); the CFL Draft (May 3); the opening of rookie camp (May 11); the reduction of CFL rosters to 85 players (May 14); the start of training camp (May 15); a roster reduction to 75 players (May 17); and the end of training camp (June 4).
7) Will Ferrell made quite the appearance at Sunday’s Super Bowl. The popular comedian/actor was decked out in a B.C. Lions toque and jersey, while posing for a picture with Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds. Reynolds posted the picture on his Instagram account with the caption: “Will keeps asking me why there’s a fourth down.” At last check, it had 3.7 million likes.
8) Just days after DE Ja’Gared Davis broke the hearts of Hamilton Tiger-Cat fans by joining the provincial rival Argos, receiver Brandon Banks did the same. Banks didn’t exactly jump ship, however, as he was told by the Ticats they were moving on from the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2019. If Speedy B, as Banks is affectionately referred to, can regain his health and form, he should only add to what’s become a very intriguing outfit in Toronto.
9) Speaking of the Argos, they recently signed quarterback Chad Kelly to a two-year deal. For those unaware of Kelly, he’s another spoiled U.S. QB with name recognition — former Buffalo Bill great and Hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly is his uncle — who is trying to resurrect his football career in Canada after squandering chance after chance in the U.S.
10) After developing into a four-star recruit out of high school, Kelly signed with Clemson in 2012. By the time he was kicked off the team in early 2014, he was reported to have threatened to quit if he wasn’t named the starter and got into a sideline argument with his coaches over a fourth-down call. While back home in Buffalo a week after committing to Ole Miss, Kelly got into an altercation at a local restaurant, where he punched a bouncer and then scuffled with police during his arrest. According to police reports, Kelly allegedly threatened to go his car and grab an AK-47 to “spray this place.” In 2016, after suffering a serious knee injury that ended his season, Kelly later rushed the field of a Buffalo high school football game because of what he felt to be late hits against his brother.
11) At the 2017 NFL Draft, Kelly was selected by the Denver Broncos with the final pick, 253rd overall. Broncos GM John Elway told ESPN at the time that he called Jim Kelly, whom he was friends with, the two drafted in the same 1983 class, and the thumbs up from the uncle was all he needed, adding: “We’re full of confidence that Chad’s going to be able to come up here and understand the situation he’s in.” Less than two seasons later, the Broncos cut Kelly following his arrest for criminal trespassing after he entered the home of an Englewood, Col., man and woman while visibly drunk in the early morning hours after a night out.
12) I hope Kelly has truly learned from his mistakes and makes the most out of the opportunity. But I can’t help but to think this is going to be Johnny Manziel all over again, with the CFL looking like the loser when all is said and done.
13) Kudos to the B.C. Lions for the hiring of Tanya Walter as a defensive assistant. Walter becomes the first female coach to be hired full-time in the CFL. She joins the Lions after a playing career that began in 2013 and included stops with the Western Women’s Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Storm, Team Alberta, and Team Canada, where she helped the country earn silver at the 2017 IFAF Women’s World Championship. Walter has been part of the coaching staff at St. Francis Xavier High School in Edmonton the past five years.
14) The Bombers signed two more pieces of their defensive secondary, inking CFL all-stars Brandon Alexander and Deatrick Nichols to one-year extensions. Alexander is recovering from a torn ACL in his left knee that he suffered during the Grey Cup, and his hope is to be ready in time for the start of the regular season. Nichols was already under contract for the 2022 season, meaning his new deal will keep him in blue and gold through the 2023 campaign.
15) Other notable signings: S Antoine Pruneau (OTT); DB Trumaine Washington (Ott); REC B.J. Cunningham (Ott); REC Markeith Ambles (TOR); DB Alden Darby (HAM); LB Justin Herdman-Reed (SASK); QB Dakota Prukop (Wpg).
After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.
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