Five intriguing scenarios to keep your eyes on as CFL training camps open
TORONTO — With the CFL and CFL Players' Association having a tentative collective bargaining agreement in place, veterans will report Sunday for the start of training camps. The expectation is the new deal will be ratified sometime next week. With three years of labour peace on the horizon, here's a look at five situations worth watching this season:
MONTREAL ALOUETTES OWNERSHIP ISSUE
It's been a burning question all off-season: Who's running the Alouettes? The CFL maintains American businessman Robert Wetenhall remains in control of the franchise he's owned since 1997, but the persistent talk has been that the league is involved in trying to find a new buyer for the franchise.
Former Alouettes player Eric Lapointe has stated he could put together an ownership group if approached, but there are serious questions regarding whether he ever contacted. In April, Montreal businessman Clifford Starke publicly stated his intention to purchase the Alouettes, but it remains unclear exactly where that situation stands.
There was a report earlier this week that Montreal entrepreneur Vince Guzzo, former CFL head coach/GM Danny Maciocia — now the head coach at the University of Montreal — and commissioner Randy Ambrosie were all seen sitting together at a restaurant and Guzzo was now the frontrunner to buy the Alouettes.
The new owner, assuming there is one, will take over a franchise that appeared in eight Grey Cups from 1999-2012, but has missed the playoffs four straight seasons.
In January, receiver Diego Jair Viamontes Cotera became the first player selected in the inaugural Liga de Futbol Americano-CFL draft, going No. 1 to the Edmonton Eskimos. The previous day, Canadian league officials held a combine in Mexico City.
Roughly two months earlier, the CFL and Mexican league signed a working agreement during Grey Cup week in Edmonton. A total of 27 players were selected in the draft.
Then in April, CFL teams selected nine players in the first-ever European draft from the group of 18 that participated in the league's national combine in Toronto.
As per the tentative CBA, CFL teams will carry one Global player on their roster in 2019 and two next year, boosting game-day roster limits to 46. It's all part of Ambrosie's CFL 2.0 initiative that saw him secure partnerships with nine international football federations (Italy, Mexico, Germany, Austria, France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland).
Two of the biggest dominoes to fall in CFL free agency were Mike Reilly and Trevor Harris signing with new teams.
Reilly left Edmonton for a four-year, $2.9-million deal with the B.C. Lions — returning to the team that gave him his first CFL shot.
The Eskimos responded by signing Harris — who led Ottawa to a Grey Cup appearance last year — through 2020 to a reported average salary of $525,000.
The six-foot-three, 230-pound Reilly has surpassed the 5,000-yard passing plateau the last three years and was the CFL's most outstanding player in 2017. He was also the 2015 Grey Cup MVP with Edmonton.
Harris is coming off a career-best 5,116 passing yards in 2018.
Reilly's return to B.C. spelled the end of Jonathon Jennings' time with the Lions and he signed as a free agent with Ottawa, where he'll compete with backup Dominique Davis for the starting job.
James Franklin opens camp as Toronto's starter following the recent retirement of veteran Ricky Ray, who missed most of last season with a neck injury.
And in Montreal there will be a quarterback competition for the No. 1 job following the off-season departure of Johnny Manziel.
After helping the Calgary Stampeders make three straight Grey Cup appearances — winning last year — former defensive co-ordinator DeVone Claybrooks embarks on his first season as the B.C. Lions head coach.
He has some big shoes to fill in replacing the legendary Wally Buono, who retired after the '18 season to cap an illustrious 46-year CFL tenure as a player, coach and executive.
But Claybooks also has a solid resume. Calgary's defence allowed the fewest points in the league over his three seasons as defensive co-ordinator and like Buono, he is a former player, having spent 11 seasons as a defensive tackle in the NFL, NFL Europe and CFL. Claybrooks also has earned a Super Bowl ring in '03 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders promoted veteran special-teams co-ordinator Craig Dickenson to head coach after Chris Jones left to take a job with the NFL's Cleveland Browns. Dickenson's brother, Dave, is the head coach in Calgary.
Corey Chamblin returns to Toronto as its head coach after serving as defensive co-ordinator during the club's 2017 Grey Cup run. Chamblin has previous CFL head-coaching experience with Saskatchewan, leading the Riders to the 2013 Grey Cup title.
And in Hamilton, Orlondo Steinauer begins his first season as the Tiger-Cats' head coach, given the head job when June Jones stepped aside to become the club's assistant head coach and offensive co-ordinator.
Junes left this week to become the head coach of the XFL's Houston entry. Steinauer promoted receivers coach Tommy Condell to offensive co-ordinator.
It's been an eventful off-season for Ottawa GM Marcel Desjardins and head coach Rick Campbell, for all the wrong reasons.
After losing to Calgary in last year's Grey Cup, the defending East Division champions saw Harris (Edmonton), running back William Powell (Saskatchewan), receiver Greg Ellingson (Edmonton), defensive lineman AC Leonard (Saskatchewan), defensive back Rico Murray (Hamilton) and offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers (Edmonton) all depart via free agency.
On April 1, the club announced that offensive co-ordinator Jaime Elizondo had resigned to reportedly join the XFL's Tampa Bay franchise. It didn't appear to be an amicable split as the headline on Ottawa's statement regarding his departure was "Elizondo Quits on Redblacks."
Desjardins and Campbell have been with the franchise since its inception. Together, they built a club that has made great strides since posting a 2-16 record in its inaugural '14 season. The Redblacks have been to the CFL playoffs four straight years, finished atop the East Division three times and appeared in three Grey Cup games, winning in 2016.