Which team stood out on CFL Draft night?
Just hours before the selections began on Tuesday night, the Edmonton Elks traded the first-overall pick of the CFL Draft to the Montreal Alouettes in exchange for the fourth-overall pick and the rights to offensive linemen Carter O’Donnell.
O’Donnell, who has spent the past two seasons on the practice roster of the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, is a prize. A huge, athletic offensive lineman who was raised in Red Deer and trained at the University of Alberta, he’s the kind of player who could become a mainstay in Green and Gold for years to come.
That is, if he ever comes to the CFL, which depends on a couple of things.
One, obviously, is whether his playing opportunities south of the border dry up. It might also depend on whether the CFL’s new collective bargaining agreement makes provisions for Canadians returning from the NFL to earn more than the league’s minimum salary of $65,000 per season.
Under the about-to-expire agreement, all Canadian rookies are capped at $65,000 for the first two years of a minimum three-year contract (plus signing bonuses and housing worth up to $7,500 for higher picks), with a 10 per cent raise available in the final year.
The measure was put in place to ensure teams wouldn’t waste money on players coming out of college who had yet to prove themselves, and to simplify the process of signing draft picks. That makes sense when you’re talking about 22-year-old players with only collegiate experience.
It doesn’t make sense, however, as an enticement to a player returning from the NFL in his mid-to-late 20s.
In CFL circles, this is known as the “T.J. Jones Rule” after it managed to keep the Canadian-born receiver out of the league in 2020.
Jones, a star receiver at the University of Notre Dame and a veteran of 45 NFL games, negotiated a deal that winter with the Toronto Argonauts for $200,000 per season – a fair wage for a player of Jones’ pedigree, given that he had status as a Canadian.
But Jones’ deal violated the collective agreement’s $65,000 maximum for Canadian rookies and was ruled invalid by the league and players’ association.
There was discussion among the CFLPA about how to handle the situation, as the net result was a good Canadian player being kept out of the league. Jones, understandably, wasn’t willing to play for the CFL minimum.
The pandemic hit before the situation could be resolved, the 2020 season was cancelled, and T.J. Jones never played a game in the CFL.
The Jones situation highlighted the absurdity of requiring Canadian players returning from the NFL to play for the league minimum, a measure that virtually guarantees that the very best Canadian football players will never step foot in the CFL.
Jones wouldn’t have been eligible to be the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie based on his NFL experience, yet that same experience was ignored when it came to being allowed to pay him.
The CFL needs some measure that recognizes the exceptional cases of Canadian players coming to the league who are not professional rookies – be that measured in games played or years spent in the NFL.
It’s especially important at a time when and more and more of the best Canadians aren’t coming directly to the CFL.
Alabama receiver John Metchie and Penn State linebacker Jesse Luketa were selected in the CFL Draft Tuesday night after being selected over the previous weekend in the NFL Draft. If for some reason their NFL careers don’t pan out, does anyone think they should have to play for the CFL minimum?
At a time when there are debates about the Canadian ratio and whether there are enough good Canadians to adequately fill the league’s quotas, it’s never been more important to make sure as many of the best Canadians as possible are playing in the CFL.