Enforce cap, already

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

The coaches are here, the general managers are here and so are all kinds of marketing and public relations types.

But the CFL's annual coach-of-the-year shindig, which kicks off in Winnipeg today, will not include the nine men who really call the shots.

And the absence of a board of governors meeting means the league won't be getting any closer to enforcing its salary cap.

We bring this up as evidence mounts that the CFL is heading down a road rife with hazards.

Sure, the old beast has undergone a restoration the last few years, and is rolling along nicely. The parts of the frame that were rotting (franchises in Toronto and Hamilton) have been replaced, and the suspension (attendance and TV ratings) is solid.

But if we've said it once we've said it a thousand times: The potholes created by over-spending will send even the most well-built machine straight to the ditch.

The warning signs are there -- just listen to the squeaks from the first week of free agency.

The Calgary Stampeders and their well-heeled new owners sign one of the best receivers in the league in Jeremaine Copeland, perhaps the top defensive back on the market in Anthony Malbrough and a promising Canadian O-lineman in Alexandre Gauthier.

Malbrough and Gauthier join the Stamps from Ottawa.

And what do the Renegades, one of the few privately owned teams that more or less adheres to the salary cap, do to counter?

They land two backup defensive linemen from B.C. (Cameron Legault and Marc Pilon) and a third (Ray Jacobs) who didn't play last season after a drug-related run-in with police.

"Calgary had a need and went for it," the agent for Jeremaine Copeland, Ivan Zigler, told the Montreal Gazette.

Ottawa has a need, and sort of gives it the old college try.

But just when the Renegades think they've lured flashy receiver Ed Hervey from Edmonton, the wealthy Eskimos match their $150,000-plus offer.

And, for good measure, the Esks throw between $125,000 and $150,000 at safety Kelly Wiltshire, making him an ex-Renegade.

Meanwhile, over in Saskatchewan, the community-owned Roughriders are headed straight for a sinkhole.

Abandoning all common sense, they offer quarterback Henry Burris a reported $310,000 to stay, simply because that's the going rate, apparently, for quarterbacks who've never won an MVP award or taken their teams to a Grey Cup.

WHATEVER IT TAKES

In roll the Stamps with a cheque for, who knows, 350 grand? 400? Whatever it takes.

Burris will eventually stop giggling long enough to sign the deal, and the Roughriders, on the verge of something after all these years, will find themselves back in their rightful place, playing penny Tiddly Winks with the frugal Winnipeg Blue Bombers at the bottom of the CFL West.

"There are still teams that are paying way, way more than us," Stampeders president Ted Hellard told the Calgary Herald.

The scary part is, he may be right.

Anybody notice the Toronto Argonauts don't seem to be losing anybody from their Grey Cup team?

We know head coach Pinball Clemons is a nice guy and all, but don't tell me he's convinced everybody to stick around T.O. for less money because the cost of living is so low.

"It's just excuses. We didn't buy this team," Argos president David Cynamon told the Toronto Sun.

Of course they did. Just like everybody else buys the team they can afford and tries to drive it all the way to the finish line.

We're not saying the team that most exceeds the $2.6-million cap this year is guaranteed to reach it first.

Let 'em keep driving like this, though, and it'll guarantee a rough ride for everybody, eventually.


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