CFL coaches, GMs acknowledge XFL is impacting off-season
BLUE MOUNTAIN, Ont — All anyone in the CFL can really do about the XFL is wait and see how it plays out.
Rival leagues have come and gone over the years in the U.S., and nobody in the Canadian game is worried about the XFL taking all the best non-NFL players and somehow destabilizing the CFL.
Salaries are higher in Canada and it will be a long time before the XFL can convince everyone that they have the stability the CFL does.
But at the ground level, the XFL’s looming kickoff is having an impact this off-season.
“I think you’re seeing less players available,” said Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Craig Dickenson. “There’d be more guys out there we’d be looking to bring in (if it weren’t for the XFL), but all of that has kind of already happened. If a guy is going to the XFL, he’s already there so we’re not competing for that guy.
“But yes, if there was no XFL there’d be a lot more players you’d be looking at to bring into rookie camp and workout this off-season. We’ll see how it goes. They’re playing games here pretty soon and I wish those guys the best. The more football there is, the better.”
With former CFL head coaches Marc Trestman and June Jones now both coaching in the XFL, there are certainly connections between the two leagues. XFL commissioner Oliver Luck openly acknowledged his league had taken a look at the Canadian game when it was coming up with its rulebook, too.
But as of right now, there doesn’t seem to be much real concern that CFL veterans are going to pack up and head south to play in the unproven spring league.
The XFL is, however, affecting the availability of young players who are coming right out of college, just like the now-defunct Alliance of American Football did last year before it kicked off for its first season.
“It was something we were more prepared for because of the AAF venture,” said Shawn Burke, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ senior director of personnel. “There are definitely some younger guys that have been on the neg list who are looking just for some film and they can get it done in four months and still make NFL camps.
“But we’re built on is that our league has been around for so long, you’re playing for something. That’s a showcase when guys come up here and see what our league is about and get excited about playing for the Grey Cup or playing for a community. We had several AAF guys last year, and they could feel the difference.”
There appears to be one position, in particular, where the presence of the XFL is making it harder to find available players, and that’s at quarterback.
At the best of times, there are only so many quarterbacks in the world who are able to play their position at the professional level, and teams looking for young guys to come in and spend a couple years developing are in for more of a challenge now.
“It’s harder to find quarterbacks right now because of the XFL,” said Calgary Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson. “There were some players on our neg list who we thought would be ready to come up right now, but they’re just not. We’ve dropped a few guys because of that and we’re trying to find other players.”
Until the XFL actually completes a full season and proves that it has a viable business model, it’s likely best for CFL fans not worry too much. Last year, the AAF appeared to have everything in place for a sustainable future, and that league lasted all of a couple months.
So as of right now, the CFL isn’t under threat. The league will be fine.
Life has just become a little harder for general managers looking to bring guys north of the border.
When they’re asked about next season, the CFL West Division’s head coaches and general managers all just sort of smile.
It’s going to be a dogfight. They know that now, and we haven’t even hit free agency yet.
With Rick Campbell taking over as the B.C. Lions head coach, everyone is expecting that team to take a leap, and that potentially means that all five West Division teams are going to be legitimate Grey Cup contenders
“B.C.’s going to be better, it’s going to be tough,” Riders head coach Craig Dickenson said. “That’s really the way it is every year, though, and every year is different.”
The East Division should have both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Montreal Alouettes grinding it out in the race to finish first, but the West Division figures to be absolutely wild this year.
Not that it wasn’t last year, to be fair.
“Yeah, it seems like it always is, to be honest,” said Riders general manager Jeremy O’Day. “It really does seem like the West is always strong.”