Bo Levi on return next year: ‘I’ll feel like I’m 25 again’

We’ve seen a number of CFL players exercise their opt-out option since becoming available last week. Headlined by names like Vernon Adams Jr., Cameron Judge, and Nate Holley, all nine teams have seen at least one player opt-out for a shot south of the border.

With no 2020 CFL season, the league stepped up and allowed players on current contracts an NFL option if they decided to take it. For those players who have, new opportunities have opened up that likely would have never been available under normal circumstances. As such, I’m curious to see how those players approach the next eight months or so.

Some, like Holley and Stampeders’ teammate Wynton McManis, have already signed deals in the NFL. Holley linked up with the Miami Dolphins while McManis is now a member of the New Orleans Saints. Both in training camps now, players in their situation now face a fascinating set of choices depending on what happens next.

NFL teams need to cut their 80-man training camp rosters to 53 by Saturday. For some CFL names under NFL contract already, their chances of making that active roster seems higher than in might be in other years. Training camp rosters are usually set at 90, but the unprecedented nature of 2020 trimmed that by ten, which means an NFL team has to like a player that much more to bring them in, especially late in the game.

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But even if guys like McManis and Holley don’t make the 53-man cut, their options are more wide open than any other year. First off, while camp rosters were trimmed for 2020, practice roster sizes have gone the other way: from ten all the way to 16 for this season. There’s a good chance numerous players will be in the mix for practice roster spots with this year’s expanded size.

That’s where things get really interesting. Under normal circumstances, some players (specifically higher profile ones) might turn down an NFL practice roster offer to return to the CFL for a more lucrative contract and/or more prominent on-field role. With no season to return to in Canada, though, saying yes to a practice roster spot becomes that much easier of a decision.

We don’t know how many CFL opt-outs will stick around south of the border. What we do know, however, is those that do will be in a good spot for next year. Perhaps a longer-term NFL contract is in the cards. Alternatively, though, both Holley and McManis signed one-year deals, which means they’ll be free agents after this season. That’s where the return of Canadian football becomes that much more important.

The CFL’s sole focus right now is preparing for a full and successful 2021 season. For any player that shakes loose in the NFL in the new year, including any of this year’s opt-outs, that’s another wide open door for gainful football employment. Sure, it might be a quicker turnaround than usual, but I don’t think anyone will be complaining with all of what 2020 has entailed.

A silver lining

No one associated with the CFL wanted to hear the news of a cancelled season. It was devastating for players, coaches, team employees, and fans alike. But for some players, a full year away from the physical punishment of football could be a significant silver lining.

“I’m going to get my shoulder and body as healthy as I possibly can and use it as a blessing instead of looking at it in a bad way,” Stampeders’ quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell told me earlier this month. “I’ll feel like I’m 25 again and come out and kill it next year.”

A year away from football has an obvious benefit for players like Mitchell, who have been working to return from recent injuries. He’s not alone, as there are a number of high-profile players that were uncertain to be 100% for the start of 2020 training camp. The opportunity to fully heal and rehab is something they wouldn’t normally be afforded.

Bo Levi MItchell is one of many players who are going to take the extra time off to prepare thieir bodies for a 2021 season.

Let’s be honest: there’s not a more physically demanding major sport than professional football. The older a player gets, the more wear and tear he’s subjected to. Even without a major injury in the picture, a year away from the pounding of a football season could do wonders for some of the league’s biggest names.

“Think about the blessing it is for guys like (Kamar Jorden), guys like myself, guys like Jeremiah Masoli, Matt Nichols,” Mitchell said. “Just anybody in the league, man, we all have things wrong with our body and it’s just whether or not these guys decide to take advantage of it.

“That’s kind of my mindset right now: buckle down and get my body to a place that it has never been. This is the one chance I have to do that, you know, to really prepare myself for the next four to five years of playing. Typically you work out in an offseason and you’re like: well, let me just get healthy enough for the season and I can maintain during workouts during the season.

“But now you’ve got a kind of chance to transition your body into a new phase if you take it seriously. I think that’s the way I’m looking at it, I’m sure a lot of players are because that’s the athletes we have in the CFL. I think it’ll make for an exciting (2021)”

Of course a season in some form would have been the desired outcome in 2020. But with that not in the cards, there’s a real opportunity to turn part of this unfortunate situation into a positive. It’s just another reason I can’t wait until May.

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