Rosters a big target

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:03 AM ET

If Wally Buono had a beef with the NFL for taking so much of the talent off his football team, no one would really blame him.

The B.C. Lions have lost four players to option-year deals this off-season, meaning the team's GM and head coach must replace four starters for the upcoming season.

The CFL option-year agreement where a player can freely sign with an NFL team despite being under contract in Canada has been available for years.

Only now, after the demise of both NFL Europe and the Arena Football League, has the CFL become a hot-bed for player movement.

During the signing window, 17 CFL players inked deals down south, leading to a talent drain.

Yet Buono and other GMs know it's the cost of doing business, and some argue it's actually good for the league.

"The logic for me makes sense," Buono said. "We are a proven professional football league that plays good football.

"It's not a draft choice or high priority free agent. It's not even a free agent. From that perspective, they have an ability to bring in good competition with guys who have proven to be professionals. They've seen these guys succeed at a high level."

The Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers each lost four players to the NFL, but the team that might be hardest hit is the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Three starting players, including defensive player of the year John Chick, are gone, and the Riders will need to some serious retooling under new GM Brenden Taman.

With Chick gone to the Indianapolis Colts, fellow defensive end Stevie Baggs off to the Arizona Cardinals and middle linebacker Rey Williams headed to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Riders have lost the base of their defence.

Taman, who was previously GM in Winnipeg, sees an upside to it all, though.

"I try to take an optimistic view that it's good for the player and it's good for our team and our league," Taman said. "It's a neat recruiting tool in your pocket to say our last two defensive ends are in the NFL at camps.

"It doesn't hurt. A lot of our players, when they come up here, are still chasing that dream. There is some credibility when guys get this opportunity."

If a player makes it in the NFL and suddenly gets mentioned on TV for making a great play, then the CFL gains notoriety. Two of the best examples are Cam Wake (Lions to Miami Dolphins) and Stefan Logan (Lions to Steelers) in the past year.

"When you are watching a game and the league gets mentioned as to where he came from, it's good for the league as a whole," Taman said.

It used to be the NFL was only looking for the 6-foot-5, 280-lb. specimen when scouting the CFL, or they would take quarterbacks who had success (Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, Dave Dickenson, Henry Burris ...).

Now it seems the first thing the scouts look at is birthdate.

Edmonton Eskimos GM Danny Maciocia said it's now easy to project who will get a chance off his team.

"If they are under 28 and having a good year, there is an opportunity they will be looked at," said Maciocia, who admitted he was sweating bullets in the past week but didn't lose anybody this season.

"You have be ready to lose those guys. There's nothing we can do. We understand it.

"But if he ends up playing through his option and he doesn't get a look, then we have them for the long haul.

"A lot of these kids just want to get an opportunity so they go down with no money up front. They can afford the move because they are young and having nothing to lose."

Another option for players popped up this past year with the United Football League -- a four-team loop played with NFL rules. But Taman hopes his team is a better option because so many CFL players have realized their dream and have signed an NFL contract, while the UFL is still fledgling.

The Riders managed to lure Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell to Regina last spring away from the UFL with the idea he would get an opportunity to prove himself and develop.

A problem may develop if the CFL becomes a one-and-done league if players just use it as a stepping stone.

"If we can get a good player, especially here in Saskatchewan, we don't care about the reasons why, as long as we can get him," Taman said. "If it's for a year or two, then so be it. If they use this as a stepping stone, that's fine with us.

"It's not bad because he will come play with some passion and some emotion. If he's talented, you will get a good player out of the scenario.

"I don't see a lot of downside in it."

The road doesn't necessarily run both ways. Many CFL teams drool at the opportunity to pick up a former first-round draft pick from the NFL, but often his skill-set is not suited for the Canadian game.

The best example came when running back Ricky Williams had one mediocre year with the Toronto Argonauts before returning to the NFL.

If more CFLers become regulars down in the U.S., the talent in Canada may just gain more respect.

"No one appreciates the talent until you get into it," Buono said. "The guy who comes from the NFL doesn't appreciate it until he plays against it.

"The guy from the major college doesn't appreciate how strong the players are. The guy from the CIS comes and has his eyes wide open.

"The players in the league are the ones who appreciate it most. Most of the guys come from the NFL and feel they should dominate right off the bat.

"They don't realize how tough it really is."

IAN.BUSBY@SUNMEDIA.CA

HEADING SOUTH

17 CFL players have signed contracts in the NFL for 2010

Rolly Lumbala, FB, B.C. -- Miami

Martell Mallett, RB, B.C. -- Philadelphia

Ricky Foley, DE, B.C. -- Seattle

Ryan Grice-Mullen, KR, B.C. -- Miami

Dimitri Tsoumpas, OL, Calgary -- Miami

John Chick, 27, Sask. -- Indianapolis

Renauld Williams, LB, Sask. -- Pittsburgh

Stevie Baggs, DE, Sask. -- Arizona

Jonathan Hefney, DB, Winnipeg -- Detroit

Dudley Guice, WR. Winnipeg -- Indianapolis

Derrick Doggett, LB, Winnipeg -- Pittsburgh

Pat MacDonald, LS, Winnipeg -- Seattle

Larry Taylor, KR, Montreal -- N.Y. Jets

S.J. Green, WR, Montreal -- N.Y. Jets

Walter Curry, DL, Toronto -- Jacksonville

Justin Medlock, K, Toronto -- Washington

Bo Smith, DB, Hamilton -- N.Y. Jets


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