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Dave Naylor

TSN Football Insider

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In terms of star power in Canadian football it doesn’t come much bigger than Andrew Harris.

The star running back is among the most consistent players in the CFL, he’s a Canadian and a Winnipeger to boot.

He just became the all-time leader in yards from scrimmage by a Canadian and has been on pace for more than 1,600 yards rushing and another 600 through the air. 

And his team is 8-2, poised to make strong run at breaking a 29-year-old Grey Cup jinx.

So news of Harris being suspended for two games due to a positive drug test is more than just your average flunking of a PED test.

Harris’s insistence that he’s a victim of using a tainted supplement will be dismissed by some, accepted by others. And among those who believe he willfully took a banned substance, many see that as nothing more than the workplace hazard of trying to keep a body functional for an 18-game professional football season. It’s the way many have come to view the game, rightly or wrongly. 

So what does it all mean? Probably in the great scheme of things, not a whole lot.

Though Harris’ profile will take a hit with some, the context of positive drug tests in pro football tell us reputations rarely take much of a long-term hit from testing positive.

By the time Harris retires, his positive drug test will likely be little more than a footnote on his career. One that may not come for a while because he appears to have no signs of slowing down at age 32.

Individually, whether he can garner enough votes to win a Most Outstanding Player Award would seem to be in doubt, and whatever slim chance there was of him winning the Lou Marsh Award as Canada’s top athlete is gone.

In terms of what it means this season for the Blue Bombers, being without their star running back for both halves of their home-and-home series with the Saskatchewan Roughriders is an obvious negative.

And it will undoubtedly put more pressure on Chris Streveler, since the Roughriders can pay more attention to trying to stop the young quarterback running the ball with Harris not present. And Streveler won’t have his safety blanket each time he drops back to pass, which is the role Harris plays as the team’s leader in receptions. 

It’s possible Harris could be fresher in November because of the two-week break, but no team plans to sit one of its top players just to keep him fresh.

The Bombers have activated American running back John Santiago, a rookie with more speed but less size than Harris. Canadian running back Johnny Augustine and fellow countryman Nic Demski could also see carries if the Bombers decide to share the load.

But in a season where so much has gone right for Winnipeg, facing their biggest rival in back-to-back games without their two best offensive players is the biggest challenge the Blue Bombers have faced so far this season. 

Why Only Two Games for PED Suspension?

When the CFL first introduced drug testing in 2010, it did so with a system that called for no suspension for first-time offenders, and no public disclosure of their positive test.

It was in 2015 that the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sports refused to administer tests unless the league put some teeth in its policy, which resulted in a 2016 agreement between the CFL and CFLPA for two-game suspensions for first-time offenders and nine for second-timers. 

The obvious comparison is the four-game suspensions handed out in the NFL, the equivalent of a quarter of a regular season. The CFL suspensions amount to just 11 per cent of a season.

Full Circle for Adams 

There’s something ironic about seeing Vernon Adams evolve into the quarterback answer in Montreal, the player who has brought the revolving door to a halt.

That’s because it was Adams who was targeted by former general manager Jim Popp when he traded a first-round pick for his rights back in 2016. Traded midway through the 2017 season to Saskatchewan, he was dealt again during the off-season to Hamilton, concurrent with the Tiger-Cats pursuing Johnny Manziel. 

By the time Adams got to Hamilton, Manziel and Jeremiah Masoli were in the spotlight, while in the shadows he lost the No. 3 job to Dane Evans.

The Tiger-Cats tried to trade him, tried to convert him to receiver, and eventually released him before the season began.

At that point, most of the shine with which he’d entered the CFL was gone. And Adams looked anything but a star in the making.

But in signing with Montreal, Adams knew he was entering a situation where the quarterback job remained in flux. And while it took a few twists to get here, it’s clear Adams is the man in Montreal.

It will be fun to watch him evolve into a CFL star, the kind of player a franchise can ride for a decade.

It often takes 2-3 years for a good NCAA college quarterback to learn the CFL game and begin to thrive. It’s just that most don’t have to take circuitous route Adams has.

XFL on Horizon

There isn’t the same sense of panic as one year ago when the AAF was getting ready to launch, but another new league on the horizon will definitely have some effect on the ability of CFL teams to sign players released by after NFL camps.

That was certainly the case one year ago and with another league ready to launch, it will be the case again. ​
The XFL will hold its draft in October and the reality is that most recent NFL cuts will want to see how that plays out, rather than signing a deal in Canada. 

CFL teams may be more skeptical than ever about the sustainability of an alternative league in the U.S., but teams are already preparing themselves for another autumn where it will be tough to sign street free agents.