Smart Teams are Looking North to the CFL

Over the last few days, the CFL has been making news in the NFL. The leading receiver for the Seahawks was Chris Matthews who surprised everyone with a fantastic 45-yard catch in the first half that really got the Seahawks offense going in the right direction and then had that huge touchdown catch before the half.

Then, the last two days, the Indianapolis Colts have signed Duron Carter, Cris Carter’s son, to play wide receiver for them and a 6’4”, 316-pound offensive lineman named Ben Heenan who helped Saskatchewan win the CFL title last year.

Carter was in the CFL because he bounced around from Ohio State to community college to Alabama and FAU, not playing a snap at the last two because, in the words of his father, he hates school. By all accounts, he’s a good kid, some guys are just different and the Colts are about to benefit in a huge way because of it. In two seasons, he had 124 catches for 1939 yards and 12 touchdowns. His highlight tape is very impressive and the link is here.

Fifteen teams expressed interest in Carter, his teammate, Chad Ochocinco, states that Carter is “easily, a number one NFL receiver right now.” His GM with Montreal, Jim Popp praised his growth over the past two season and that “he’s as talented as any receiver that will be in the draft this year.” Like Cris Carter, Popp expressed that Duron has a high IQ and has matured immensely over the last two seasons. Popp states that the 6’4”, 205 receiver has all the intangibles to be a great receiver in the NFL including blocking, body control, quickness as a punt returner and the ability to make guys miss.

Considering what the Colts may have in the son of a Hall of Famer, they could be getting a steal with him as he’ll cost much less than a first round receiver would, thus continuing their trend of finding low-cost, high-value receivers to make their offense roll.

this isn’t the first time either of those two teams have gone to Canada to find talent and it’s a part of a broader trend in the NFL. The Seahawks have one of the best punters in the league in Jon Ryan, a guy so athletic that he was the leading receiver for his Regina Rams in college on top of being their punter. The Colts have found two linebackers in the CFL in Henoc Muamba and their starting middle linebacker, Jerrell Freeman.

Through signing guys from the CFL, these teams are getting guys who have experience at the professional level in a league that the NFL is becoming more like every year, according to NFL/CFL veteran Doug Flutie. He states that many of the things that have become common place over the last few years, the wide open, explosive offenses, no huddle, no-back sets, shorter time between plays and a faster pace of the game are things that the CFL was doing back in the 1990s when he was playing. Due to this, the CFL is becoming a great minor league for the NFL and organizations should treat it as such.

Over my time playing football and training at DeFranco’s Gym, I began to discover the wealth of talented players who didn’t get the chances they were hoping for in the NFL. Far too often, many of these guys would go undrafted, go unsigned and not take CFL opportunities, which would have allowed them to continue to play, make money and get film for NFL teams. Of course, I don’t blame any of these guys because I would not know if I myself would pass up my dream of the NFL for a CFL roster spot, but I’m beginning to become a big proponent of the CFL route.

Part of why I’m writing this is because I want to make sure other young agents don’t make the same mistakes I’ve seen with letting guys pass up chances in the CFL, then missing out on NFL chances. The reason I decided to become an agent is because I hate seeing talented players not get an opportunity and I think the CFL and the FXFL are real opportunities for players. The key to getting a guy in the NFL after he’s fallen through the cracks is more film and the CFL and FXFL are major opportunities for, especially quarterbacks, receivers, linemen, defensive backs and pass rushers to get film and then make the transition to the NFL.

Andrew Hawkins is a perfect example of a guy who fell through the cracks and then just kept plugging away and got an opportunity just by staying in the game. He didn’t even blow people away in Canada, in two seasons, the 5’7’ 180 speedster only had 41 catches for 457 yards and five touchdowns. The Rams signed him in January of 2011, but waived him on August 1st of that year, and the Bengals claimed him off waivers. They signed him to their practice squad, but brought him on the 53-man roster, when Jordan Shipley went on the IR. He then became their third leading receiver in 2012 and proved to be a valuable slot receiver. He got injured in 2013, but he had shown the kind of ability that made the Browns signed him away with a four-year, $13.6 million deal with $6.8 million guaranteed. If he never gave the CFL a shot, who knows what would have happened. Now, he’s one of the best slot receivers in the NFL and a millionaire.

We haven’t even mentioned Cameron Wake yet, but after getting cut by the Giants shortly after being signed as an undrafted free agent in 2005, he eventually settled in with the BC Lions in 2007 and became a force on the defensive line after switching from linebacker. In his CFL debut, about three years after his last college snap at Penn State, he had seven tackles and three sacks in a win over the Toronto Argonauts. He finished that season with a league-high 16 sacks and had the only blocked field goal in the whole league. He was the first player in league history to win the Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same year. He led the league in sacks the next year as well with 23 and won the Defensive Player of the Year trophy again.

For all that production, the Dolphins still got him for a reasonable price of four-years, $4.9 million. Since 2009, he’s been a Pro Bowler in four of his six seasons and in 2012, he signed a four-year extension worth a total of $49 million, $20 million of which was guaranteed.

Many of the best organizations in the NFL are beginning to look to the CFL for talent, I think the main reasons are that the players have experience in the professional game and are cheap, but also the way the NFL game has become more like the CFL game in recent years with the rule changes and the evolution of the passing game.

To sum it all up, I highly recommend that teams look for guys who fit their system north of the border. The CFL is filled with players who could flourish in the right situation and, from a salary cap perspective, you can find a high-impact player for a low cap figure. With the average CFL salary around $80,000, the rookie minimum at $50,000 and the salary cap set at $5 million per year, per team, CFL stars are just happy for the increase in pay, let alone the fact that they’re about to live out their NFL dreams.

While the CFL will lose more of their stars, the increased success of their players will turn more eyes to the CFL game in the summers, when we’re all going through football withdrawal anyway. It’ll also increase the value of their TV deal with TSN, which is currently $43 million per year, up from it’s recent value of $15 million.

Rather than compete like they both were in the 1980s, it’s time to work together. In the long-run, the CFL/NFL relationship could be a major win-win for all involved. It’s up to NFL front offices to take advantage of it.

And one kind of P.S. final note on this, I think that players who have missed out on their NFL dreams, gone to the CFL and succeeded have faced some adversity that a) makes them more thankful for their chance in the NFL, b) has humbled them a little bit and c) gives them the kind of chip on their shoulder that can drive them. Through the things I learned from my mentor and friend Dr. Elko, my own personal life and simply stories I hear on podcasts, you learn how important overcoming adversity is to shaping individuals. In the case of Duron Carter for instance, I think he and his father are very proud of the man he’s become these last two years. That’s another reason why I think the CFL can become a breeding ground for NFL stars.


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