With the CFL draft only six days away, and three of the four prospects I previously listed as the "fantastic four" signed or trying out for NFL deals, should the Winnipeg Blue Bombers now make their first selection (second overall) from the scraps of the NFL draft, or simply take the best player available, existing contract or not?
For proper context, it's important to know that most Tier 1 players in the CFL have had some form of contact with the National Football League at some point in their careers. Whether they went to camp, were previously drafted, played a few games or seasons, or worked out for a couple of clubs, serious skill sets do not often go unrecognized by the super sleuths of the NFL. The talent may have been glossed over and not developed properly (Cameron Wake), or it may be in the wrong place at the wrong time and prematurely dismissed (Brandon Browner), but few standouts north of the border worth their salt haven't at least got a sniff from the Americans.
With that in mind, I think the reaction to a rookie free-agent contract in the NFL by CFL teams is overblown and inappropriate. While it is true that both Matt Sewell and Stefan Charles signed with the Titans, Andy Mulumba with the Packers, and Ben D'Aguilar will be trying out for the Bucs, all we can be sure of is they might be late for the start of 2013 training camp in Canada. In fact, as the statistics about rookie-free-agent signings tell us, many won't even make it to regular training camp, and most will be cut before the NFL season begins.
I would understand the contemplation if any of these players were taken on Day 1 of the draft. Unless you really screw things up and are a non-functioning adult, being drafted anywhere in the first three rounds in the U.S. usually guarantees you at least two or three years in the show to hone your craft.
But that didn't happen.
Not only did none of the top CFL prospects get drafted on Day 1, 2 or 3, but there were 254 other players selected before teams even started to think about them. For every story you hear in the NFL about a player making good and making a career in the league in spite of his non-existent draft status -- such as Israel Idonije -- there are hundreds of other rookie free agents that never gain a foothold and become exactly what the NFL thought they would.
When it was reported that Stefan Charles received a bonus to sign with the Titans, some of the comments I read opined the up-front cash is an indication the team is serious about him. Trust me when I tell you NFL rookie-free-agent signing bonuses are nothing more than specks of chicken feed general managers find beneath the couch cushions. My first one in 1997 was for a paltry US $2,500. They don't even blink about giving away bonuses of this nature.
While I understand that no one wants a Christmas gift that is on layaway and doesn't have a definitive arrival date, look at the development of former No. 1 pick Henoc Muamba. Henoc only began to make an impact on this roster in his second year of play, and his best years are ahead of him, which is typical of all but the rarest of freshman players. So does it really matter if a CFL team has to wait a few months, or even a year or two before they get a return on their investment? Do you really think any of these draft candidates have the capacity to show up and run amok in the CFL before the moisture dries behind their ears? The day a first-round CFL draft pick turns the tides and fortunes of their football team in their inaugural season is the day I come out of retirement as an offensive tackle. Besides, a season or two of NFL coaching and tutelage will only make that player even more valuable when he does wash out of the league.
In six days, the Bombers have an opportunity to select a player who could make an impact both on the field and to their non-import ratio for more than a decade. If this club is already taking a gamble at quarterback this season to solidify the future of the position, wouldn't it also make sense to roll the dice and draft the best talent available, even if there may be a miniscule risk that he may never land here?
Doug Brown, once a hard-hitting defensive lineman and frequently a hard-hitting columnist, appears Tuesdays and game days in the Free Press.