Archive for the ‘CFL’ Category

The Montreal Alouettes are entering the 2022 season with big expectations in the eyes of their owner and a failure to meet them could result in major organizational changes.

In an interview with the Montreal Gazette this week, Alouettes owner Gary Stern told long-time beat reporter Herb Zurkowsky that this will be a make-or-break season for his franchise.

“This year will tell if we’re just talk or real — and I believe we’re real,” Stern said. “If it doesn’t come together, I have a lot of questions. We owe it to the fans to put a team together that’s entertaining and wins. If the team wins and is entertaining, I don’t see why they won’t come out. If they don’t … you have to look at your own internal organization.”

“This season will determine what the CFL and Als are about. If not, by midseason, you’ll see me take action, although I’m not sure what that means.”

Stern and his late business partner Sid Spiegel purchased the Alouettes in January of 2020 under the corporate entity S and S Sportsco. Siegel passed away in July of 2021 having never seen his franchise play and Stern has yet to reap financial benefits after the 2020 season was cancelled and the 2021 campaign was shortened.

The team averaged just over 13,000 in the stands at Percival Molson Stadium last year while finishing with a 7-7 record, numbers that weren’t good enough on either front to see a return on investment for the Als owner.

“I’m a big man and I’m not stupid,” Stern told the Gazette. “I knew what I was getting into. Am I putting in way more work than I thought? Yes. Way more money? Yes. I admit I could have handled some things differently. It’s nobody’s fault. Last year, I don’t know how anybody could have made money; we knew we weren’t. I can’t blame people for not coming out.”

“The fans are passionate and love it; there’s just not enough of them. It’s up to ownership and the team to give them what they need. Then if they don’t come, you go as a business person and say I think we have a problem.”

The Alouettes will need to reach new heights on the field if they expect the stands to be filled and that presses a bullseye firmly onto the back of head coach Khari Jones. While team president Mario Cecchini and general manager Danny Maciocia arrived on the scene shortly after Stern’s purchase, Jones was a hire from the previous administration suddenly thrust into the top job to begin the 2019 season.

While he’s led the Alouettes to back-to-back playoff appearances, criticism of his team’s discipline plagued Jones last season and there have been rumours of a rift between him and Maciocia, who could be eyeing a return to the sideline.

While Stern won’t say where the axe will come down if the team underperforms — and later promised not to meddle on Twitter — the expectations are clear. Jones will need to field a winning team that’s exciting enough to put butts in seats or changes will be made.

CFL players voted to ratify the tentative collective bargaining agreement, the CFLPA announced Thursday.

The league and the union agreed to the new deal earlier Thursday. The CFL’s board of governors also has to ratify the CBA.

“We are pleased that players have now ratified a new collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and CFLPA,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie said in a statement. “The CFL’s board of governors will conduct its ratification vote shortly.

“We look forward to a successful season – including preseason games this weekend – and a long and productive partnership with our players.”

The agreement includes a ratification bonus for players worth around $1.25 million, up from the CFL’s previous $1 million offer, according to 3DownNation’s John Hodge.

The lack of a ratification bonus in the first union-approved proposal reportedly was one of the main reasons players voted it down.

The brief work stoppage was the CFL’s first since 1974. Seven of the nine teams went on strike after the CBA expired on May 15, with the Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders prohibited from joining the rest of the league’s stoppage due to Alberta’s labor laws.

The regular season begins June 9 with a matchup between the Montreal Alouettes and Stampeders. The preseason will kick off on Friday.

Cardale Jones has never seen a quarterback room more crowded than the one in Commonwealth Stadium.

The former Ohio State pivot is no stranger to looking up at a long depth chart. After all, this is the guy who steered the Buckeyes to an NCAA National Championship as a third-string quarterback off the bench. But when eight other passers filed in for the first set of meetings at Edmonton Elks rookie camp, he realized just how hard the climb to a CFL starting job could be.

It hasn’t seemed to phase the former NFL fourth-round pick thus far, as he takes his first tentative steps into the Canadian game. He’s by far the biggest name vying for the Elks’ wide-open quarterback position, but Jones insists that there has been no handshake deal with head coach and general manager Chris Jones guaranteeing him a job. He’s here to work and learn, just like everybody else.

“Nothing was promised to me. I know it is a new staff, coach Jones is a defensive guy and he lets his offensive staff run the offensive side of things,” Jones said.

“I’m just trying to get through these three days and put myself in a position to be here next week. When it comes to a position and a solidified spot on the team, that’s up to the coaches.”

Those coaches have left no stone unturned in an attempt to solidify their situation under centre, seemingly unsatisfied by the veteran options of Nick Arbuckle and Taylor Cornelius left by the previous regime. The rumours around the team’s desire to move on from Arbuckle, in particular, were enough to force the Canadian Football League Players’ Association to allow the Elks’ veterans to attend rookie camp.

Both are competing despite an order to other experienced quarterbacks to stay away during collective bargaining negotiations, but after day one, Jones admitted he still didn’t know the names of the incumbent pair. There are simply too many contenders vying for the job and too much information to absorb.

Signed less than a week ago, Jones has been thrown into the fire of learning the CFL game and the difficulty of the adjustments cannot be overstated.

“Right now, it’s a big difference. Thinking about the wide field, thinking about the deeper end zone. I had a play in our pass skelly where I tried to gun it thinking the end zone would run out and I should have just thrown through the end zone. The guy had an extra 10 yards to run under the ball,” Jones recounted with a chuckle.

“Then of course you have the extra guy on defence and three or four guys moving at one time before the snap, so it’s a lot of different moving parts compared to American football, especially for a quarterback. Everything is so visual for you, but when things are moving before the snap and it’s a completely different picture after, that poses its own challenge.”

By all accounts, the 29-year-old is taking to the game well, though he warns that the tape is the only accurate way to make that assessment. His resume may read like a checklist of criteria for quarterbacks who flame out of the CFL — big name, big school and bigger body — but he’ll have as much of a shot at the top job as anyone in Elks camp, if not more.

In a perfect world, all signs pointed towards the Elks wanting J.T. Barrett to be their starter, the very quarterback Jones replaced to win a National Championship at Ohio State. It was another injury to Barrett, this time forcing his untimely retirement, that provided Jones with this opportunity in Edmonton and his former teammate has left the mantle of frontrunner for the top job vacant.

It’s up to Jones to seize it, but he won’t get ahead of himself.

“That’s not my focus right now,” Jones insisted. “My focus is getting these installs down pat, finishing up these next days of rookie minicamp strong and seeing where it leads from there.”

The Montreal Alouettes selected Syracuse linebacker Tyrell Richards with the first overall pick in the 2022 CFL Draft.

Montreal acquired the pick by trading the fourth overall selection and the rights to offensive lineman Carter O’Donnell to the Edmonton Elks.

“We are extremely happy to have moved up for tonight’s draft,” general manager Danny Maciocia said. “We will select a high-quality player without having to pay the big price.”

The native of Brampton, Ontario, ranked third on the CFL’s final scouting bureau list, behind wide receiver John Metchie and linebacker Jesse Luketa. Both Metchie (Houston Texans) and Luketa (Arizona Cardinals) were taken in the 2022 NFL Draft last weekend.

The 6-foot-3, 232-pound defender racked up 24 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks over eight games during the 2020 season. Richards finished his Syracuse career with 54 tackles (9.5 for a loss) and six sacks in 31 games.

Richards spent last year training and coaching his former high school after considering several options following his transfer from Syracuse.

Despite not playing a game in 2021, Richards impressed evaluators with his testing numbers at the CFL combine in March. He posted a 37-inch vertical jump, 19 reps on the bench press, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.60 seconds.

The Alouettes doubled down on Syracuse defenders on Tuesday, also selecting defensive lineman Kingsley Jonathan with the first pick in the CFL Global Draft earlier in the day.

The CFL’s Touchdown Atlantic game scheduled for July 16 between the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts at Acadia University sold out within one hour of tickets going on sale on Tuesday.

“We’re blown away by Atlantic Canada’s passion for Canadian football,” said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie in a statement.

“From our football celebrations for the whole family, to the action and energy of the big game, we wanted this year’s Touchdown Atlantic to offer something for everyone. And all our fans throughout the east coast and across the country have responded with a firm and resounding message, welcoming CFL football back to this incredible part of the country.”

The capacity at Acadia University’s Raymond Field was increased from 3,000 to 10,000 for this year’s Touchdown Atlantic contest. Given the quick response, the league has begun exploring options to increase capacity for the region’s annual showcase of CFL football. The average cost of a ticket was approximately $50.

“The reception for Touchdown Atlantic has traditionally been very strong and we knew this year would be no different,” said chief Grey Cup and events officer Duane Vienneau.

“And while we always plan for this exciting possibility, it truly never ceases to amaze us. We’re working diligently with our partners at Acadia University to explore various ways to welcome more fans to the big game, whether that’s additional fixed seating or expanding the Family and Party Zones.”

This year’s edition of Touchdown Atlantic will be the first regular season CFL game played in the province of Nova Scotia. The province previously hosted a preseason contest at Saint Mary’s University’s Huskies Stadium in 2005.

Moncton was home to Touchdown Atlantic games in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2019. The 2020 edition of the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic along with the entire CFL season.

The Montreal Alouettes have unveiled new helmets, overhauling the look that was introduced in February 2019 featuring their new logo.

The logo has been moved from the top of the helmet to the side of the helmet and given a bold white outline. The top of the helmet now features a thick red stripe outlined in white.

The helmets will be worn for the first time on Saturday, May 28 in Hamilton against the Tiger-Cats. Alouettes fans will see them for the first time at home when Montreal hosts the Ottawa Redblacks on Friday, June 3 at Percival-Molson Memorial Stadium.

The Toronto Argonauts and Calgary Stampeders voted for the CFL to move from three to four-down football during rules meetings in late March at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel in downtown Toronto, according to Sportsnet reporter Arash Madani.

Madani responded to a veiled shot directed at him by commissioner Randy Ambrosie regarding his report that Genius Sports, the CFL’s new data and technology partner, was pushing the league to play four-down football.

Cute. Tell us about last month’s 7-2 vote on 4 downs, Randy. Tell us about Calgary + Toronto interested in 4 downs. Tell us why you waited weeks before commenting. Could have ended noise earlier, Randy, but you didn’t. Why? Because it was fully on the table until the vote.

On March 20, Madani questioned why the commissioner hadn’t ruled out the possibility of the CFL switching to four-down football. Ambrosie eventually did so on March 26 in an interview he did with Postmedia during the CFL Combine.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie took a veiled shot at Sportsnet’s Arash Madani after he reported in mid-March that Genius Sports, the CFL’s new data and technology partner, was pushing the league to play four-down football.

“You know how that story got started, right? A certain member of the media circulated a story suggesting that Genius was pushing (for the CFL to add a fourth down) — which was not true, and certainly Genius indicated it wasn’t true — but then it took on a life of its own as though it was the truth,” Ambrosie told Sean Campbell on TSN 690 in Montreal.

The CFL unveiled its partnership with Genius Sports in December 2021 and reports emerged that same week suggesting the league would undergo a review of its entire operation, including the number of downs. The idea was met with backlash from fans but persisted through the off-season until Ambrosie quashed it ten days following the initial report.

“We had a great league meeting — I think the best ever, quite honestly, certainly in my five years — and we talked about how do we take our game and make it the best, most exciting brand of football in the world and that’s our focus going forward,” said Ambrosie.

“We have got the plans to be the best, fastest, most exciting brand of football in the world that happens to be played with three downs.”

The league is currently working with the Canadian Football League Players’ Association to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The current deal expires on May 14, which is one day before training camps are scheduled to get underway.

The league conducted market research in January to help determine the best path forward coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the findings was that player transiency, which has gotten worse since one-year contracts for veteran players were implemented in 2014, has hurt fan interest.

“Our fans want more roster continuity. They not only want to see the stars, but they want to see the stars stay in their communities and play for a long time. And when you think back to some of the greatest players in CFL history — Ron Lancaster, who I played for, and George Reed in Saskatchewan to name two — came (to Regina), played their entire careers there, and raised their families in the city,” said Ambrosie.

“I think we’ve got great stars. We’re excited about kinda getting back to a more normal operating environment. One of the advantages of this long-term partnership with Genius is how we enable our stars to reach out to the fans and make them more connected both physically and virtually and we’re very, very excited about that.”

The CFL recently shared the findings of its market research with the CFLPA in the spirit of transparency ahead of CBA negotiations. Genius Sports also did a presentation to the CFLPA’s bargaining committee as a way to convey its plans for the future.

“I think we’ve worked very hard to get together over the past many, many months to really set a new and stronger foundation for our relationship. One built on mutual respect and trust, one built on openness,” said Ambrosie.

“We need transparency. We need openness. The players need to feel like they’re being treated as partners in our league. We had a great session with them and I know the feedback from the Players’ Association was very positive.”

A ‘Double E’ legend is returning to Edmonton, but in a distinctly different capacity.

According to sources around the league, the Edmonton Elks have brought former quarterback Ricky Ray out of retirement with the intention of converting him to linebacker.

Ray played nine seasons with Edmonton between 2002 and 2012, before spending his final seven with the Toronto Argonauts. The 42-year-old remains the Green and Gold’s all-time passing leader with 40,531 yards, but those close to new head coach and general manager Chris Jones say that the defensive guru has long believed Ray was playing out of position.

Jones has had success with position switches in the past, turning tight end A.C. Leonard into one of the league’s best defensive ends and converting Ray’s former receiver in Toronto, Duron Carter into a defensive back. The Elks’ coaching staff believes that only a player with a quarterback’s intelligence can properly command Jones’ defensive system from the middle linebacker position. Ray’s famously large forehead provides him with a genetic advantage when taking on contact in the hole.

Though he could not be reached for comment via his Hotmail account, the six-foot-three Ray has reportedly bulked up to 235 pounds to take on his new role opposite free agent addition Deon Lacey. The Sacramento State product last played in a CFL game in 2018, however the Elks have leaned towards older players this off-season — including signing receivers Adarius Bowman and Emmanuel Arceneaux — in an attempt to set a new cultural tone in the locker room.

The Elks continue to have questions at quarterback, but did not feel Ray would be a fit for that position room. According to sources, the team favours three-time Ohio State team captain J.T. Barrett for the starting job, while Ray was disqualified for never once captaining the Buckeyes.

Ray was signed after previous discussions with former Riders’ quarterback Vince Young fell through last month.

As the proud winner of the only XFL Championship ever played, you can’t accuse Toronto Argonauts’ senior advisor Jim Barker of being a hater of upstart spring football.

However, the four-time Grey Cup champion coach and executive simply isn’t a fan of the latest attempt to enter the market.

“The USFL, I’ll believe it when I see it make it a full season — I’m just not sold that it will,” Barker said in an appearance on The SportsCage.

Following the inaugural USFL Draft, some around the CFL have expressed concerns that the new league will cause a major drain on American talent. Having recently re-joined the Argos front office after a stint on the CFL on TSN panel, Barker does not appear to share that worry.

“The players they have are guys that would be battling for spots in this league, there aren’t a lot of guys you could say: ‘That guy could come here and be a starter.’ I mean, Shea Patterson was the first guy taken in their draft and Shea’s been kicking around our league for a couple years and hasn’t seen the field much,” he said.

“I think there’s a lot of guys like that, guys who are good enough to knock on the door, but you don’t know whether they’re gonna be able to be good enough to ever play in our league.”

The CFL has faced down challenges from countless alternative football leagues over the course of its history, with competitors rarely making a meaningful dent in the talent pool. As a former offensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Xtreme, Barker knows well how quickly they tend to disappear.

The original USFL was a somewhat different story, a viable pro football option with Hall of Fame talents that was collapsed by the ego of a future United States president. The latest version of the league has few similarities.

“The USFL is basically The Spring League in the past and players paid to play in it,” explained Barker.

“They renamed it to try to get people thinking about the old Donald Trump days when he had the New Jersey Generals and Herschel Walker and all of that. There was a ton of [big-name players] and they were trying to out-bid the NFL back in those days. In reality, it’s The Spring League from last year.”

Though the USFL has big TV backers in Fox Sports, the new league will be following the low-cost model of its pay-to-play predecessor by using a hub city. The savings in terms of travel and stadium costs could keep the fragile entity viable, but will prevent it from having any meaningful long-term impact in Barker’s eyes.

“The USFL is now trying to evolve into being a league, but you’re going to have Pittsburgh playing Detroit and they’re going to be playing the game in Birmingham. Every game is going to be in Birmingham. All the players are going to be in Birmingham,” he marveled.

“Are you going to be able to develop a fan base when you do that? People in Pittsburgh, do they care what their Pittsburgh team does when they never have a chance to go and watch? No.”