According to Tillman, 20 players on the Eskimos negotiation list were cut by NFL clubs this year. How many will be claimed off waivers by other clubs, or signed to practice rosters, is part of the process.
“This period started late Friday via some early cuts and extends to Monday and Tuesday and even to some extent Wednesday,” he said of hunting season for football players.
“Because of how our neg list works, we’re like Wall Street guys buying and selling stocks.
“We must react, and do so quickly, since the quality of our decision making can be of impact for years.”
People forget the way it works in the CFL.
“Remember, every single American player came into our league via a club’s neg list. At some point, guys like Warren Moon, Dan Kepley, Ron Estay and Willie Pless were all names on a neg list. Same for modern day stars like Fred Stamps, Geroy Simon, Henry Burris, etc..
“So this is a chess game of trying to protect the best guys you can bring to Canada — with the emphasis on ‘bring to Canada’ at some point — is challenging, energizing and one of the most important and hidden aspects of building a Grey Cup champion,” said Tillman.
“And since the neg list is first come, first served, this 72- to 96-hour period is absolutely critical.”
So Tillman won’t be in Calgary.
“I’m going to handle it the same way I do every year — sitting by two phones and in front of a computer.
“I will watch as much of the game as possible. But I can watch it via tape many times.
“The moves and decisions made in the next 72 hours can impact the next several seasons. I can’t stress this enough. Maybe I’m anal, but, over a long career in this league, I’ve lost potential neg listers by an hour to an opponent, by 30 minutes, hell, by less than that.
“And, more often, I’ve gotten good players by working like a freaking maniac when it matters most. With the neg list, every minute matters since it’s first come, first served, not based on where you are in the standings.
“The cuts started Friday, but it’s reacting to the cuts and to who does and doesn’t get added to the practice rosters on Monday and Tuesday. That information comes piece by piece on Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
“Our 35-man list is so critical. It changes by the day, the hour, the minute. So do the NFL roster moves.
“Practice roster additions and deletions are very common on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the first week,” said Tillman. “Hence the madhouse for us.
“Remember, you can lose a great prospect if another CFL club places that player on the neg list an hour or less before you do. It still burns my backside that Edmonton beat us by a few hours putting Matt Dunigan on our neg list back when I was with Montreal in the early ’80s.
“In Winnipeg a few years ago, Brendan Taman beat me by a matter of minutes in protecting Romby Bryant. Thirty minutes earlier and Romby’s CFL career would have begun in Saskatchewan instead of Winnipeg.
“Missing Labour Day is tough, really tough.
“But it’s a multi-hour commute either way and a three-hour game.
“If we lost the next Ed Hervey because I was being selfish — enjoying the game from a luxury box or driving somewhere along Highway 2 instead of working; well I wouldn’t be giving my best to win the off-field competition, would I? You never know, guys protected on Sunday and Monday might be the difference in next year’s Labour Day series.
“In this job, you have to have one eye on the future and one eye on the now,” he said.
But on Labour Day weekend, Eric Tillman believes, it’s best to have both eyes on the future.