Negotiations about to heat up


Earlier this week, Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie made the rare decision to grant former University of Calgary Dinos defensive lineman J-Min Pelley special status in order for him to be draft eligible a year early.

Pelley, who was named a second-team U Sports All-Canadian and Canada West all-star while helping the Dinos win the Vanier Cup in 2019, won’t be part of the traditional eight-round CFL draft set for May 3. Instead, owing to the league’s bylaws, Pelley will be available in a supplemental draft a few days later, meaning he’ll be the only player up for grabs.

The decision has raised questions over fairness and precedent.

Given how supplemental drafts work in the CFL, if the Edmonton Elks, who are set to pick first in the CFL Draft after finishing last in the 2021 league standings, want Pelley then they can have him. And the most it will cost is a first-round pick in 2023, as Pelley, who is 6-6 and more than 350 pounds, is considered a highly sought-after prospect.

This is supposed to be a big week between the CFL Players’ Association and the CFL in their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

CP

This is supposed to be a big week between the CFL Players’ Association and the CFL in their negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

That would mean that in the span of just days, the Elks would select first in the CFL Draft, which will likely be Syracuse University linebacker Tyrell Richards, and then add Pelley. Both players are projected to be first-year starters, and have the potential to be longtime CFLers, putting Edmonton at a clear advantage.

That’s left some in CFL front offices scratching their head, wondering whether such an impactful move should be permitted, or, at the very least, what it could mean in the future. It’s safe to say no one in the Elks organization has an issue, but there are eight other teams that wouldn’t mind swapping spots.

The other part to this is whether Ambrosie might be rewarding bad behaviour, while at the same time providing a bit of a lifeline for a player who, by all accounts, would benefit from one. Pelley, 22, is too old to play in the Canadian Junior Football League, and the only reason he’s not with the Dinos is because he flunked out of school, making him academically ineligible.

He’s also helping raise a couple of kids, so providing him the opportunity to earn income sooner than later can only be viewed as a plus. But what ramifications might that create for the next player in a similar position, only one who has the grades to pursue another year at university?

Don’t be surprised if this forces the CFL to review its bylaws, as players will inevitably look for what could become a loophole in trying to kickstart a pro career early. What will determine Ambrosie’s next ruling?

Topping the list of Canadians on the CFL's scouting list is University of Alabama wide receiver John Metchie, (L.G. Patterson / The Associated Press files)

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Topping the list of Canadians on the CFL’s scouting list is University of Alabama wide receiver John Metchie, (L.G. Patterson / The Associated Press files)

With that, let’s get into the latest edition of CFL Rundown, with news, notes and analysis from the week that was in the three-down loop.

1) Speaking of the CFL draft, the league’s scouting bureau has released its final rankings for 2022. Topping the list of Canadians is University of Alabama wide receiver John Metchie (Brampton, Ont.), followed by Penn State University linebacker Jesse Luketa (Ottawa) and Richards (Brampton). Of note, there is only one offensive lineman ranked in the top-10, at No. 10, with that total expanding to seven in the top-20.

2) This is supposed to be a big week between the CFL Players’ Association and the CFL in their negotiations for a new CBA. The two sides have been meeting for weeks, but much of the talk has focused on smaller issues, with some of the bigger concerns, such as player salaries, still to be discussed. Well, that’s supposed to happen this week, and so while we’ve heard nothing but optimism from both sides, the following days should provide the real test on where the relationship is.

3) I see it as no coincidence that the same week CBA negotiations are expected to ramp up, the CFLPA launches a social media campaign with players sharing their thoughts on topics such as how players can help grow Canadian football; why it is important that the CFL and CFLPA are partners; and what a fair CBA would look like. The answers are broad but there are familiar themes, including a line about a “true partnership.” The CFL has resisted a partnership in the past when it comes to adding rules that affect player safety, so what are the odds they’re suddenly going to be willing to play ball this time around?

4) Free Press colleague Taylor Allen spoke with Ambrosie over Zoom last week, and together they addressed several hot topics that have dominated discussion in CFL circles of late. My biggest takeaways are the league is very interested in narrowing the hash marks to align with the goal posts, and that the “naturalized” Canadian is also heavily support by the CFL. Oh, and while Ambrosie said the recent narrative around an internal push for four downs was overplayed, he also didn’t rule out revisiting the idea in the future.

Recent Bombers-signing Jalen Saunders could do a lot of damage for the reigning Grey Cup champions. (Peter Power / The Canadian Press files)

Recent Bombers-signing Jalen Saunders could do a lot of damage for the reigning Grey Cup champions. (Peter Power / The Canadian Press files)

5) Staying on the topic of moving the hash marks closer to centre, former CFL head coach Marc Trestman weighed in on Twitter, calling the prospective rule, as well as tweaks to the ratio, “a distraction” for the commissioner. He added that Ambrosie should focus on the “long road ahead” to grow the fan base. I’d argue that’s what he’s trying to do.

6) The Winnipeg Blue Bombers had a busy week, addressing two areas of the club by signing returner Janarion Grant and receiver Jalen Saunders. Both have battled injuries in recent years, with Grant limited to just six games in 2021, while Saunders hasn’t played since the 2018 season, when he was a stud with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. If both can return to form, the reigning Grey Cup champions just got more dangerous.

7) Super cool move by Montreal Alouettes QB Vernon Adams Jr., who last week invited nine teammates down to Tacoma, Wash. for an unofficial three-day minicamp. Adams dug into his own pocket to cover flights, food and accommodations, while also splurging for things such as massages for the players and a spa day for wives. While many of his targets at receiver and backfield were in attendance, one notable exception to the group was QB Trevor Harris, who is expected to battle Adams for the starting role.

8) After Elks GM and head coach Chris Jones threw shade on Saskatchewan Roughriders QB Cody Fajardo, telling Postmedia in Edmonton that “I just don’t see him as a passer,” Fajardo finally responded to the comments in an interview with Regina Leader-Post columnist Rob Vanstone. I like Fajardo’s moxie when it comes to wanting to prove the doubters wrong, but when you maintain that the criticism from others rolls off your shoulders and then label this year “revenge season,” you’re kind of telling on yourself.

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

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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