2017 CFL Preview: 5 Storylines to Watch

cflpreview

Canada is in the midst of a very big year as the country will celebrate 150 years with celebrations throughout the country.

There will be massive fireworks displays as Canada Day approaches and plenty more to highlight the uniqueness of the country and the proud history of the country.

Part of these celebrations will be near the end of the year far from the fireworks and great weather of July 1.

That is when the Canadian Football League will hold its 105th Grey Cup in the nation’s capital as one of the final celebrations of everything Canadian.

It is appropriate that the CFL is a part of the celebrations for the 150th birthday of this country as the league is much like the country itself.

Both are often compared to other versions of themselves as Canada is often compared to their neighbours to the south and the CFL is often a part of that comparison.

There are also plenty of comparisons to the country that founded Canada as Britain still has a big influence on the Commonwealth country, the Queen is still the head of state in Canada.

Comparisons between Canada and the USA or Britain are quite common and it usually leaves Canadians wondering what they truly are in the grand scheme of things.

Identity crises seem to grip Canadians often as they are seen as being both British and American but also refuse to be labelled as either.

The fact is that Canada is both and that is what makes the country and the people of the country unique.

The country was founded in the same era as the Americans growing up in the same era and environment in that it was a country of people looking for a new life in a new world, or forced to find a new life in a new world.

Unlike the Americans, though the connections with Britain, and in some cases France, were much stronger and the idea of being a separate country came a little later when it was less about being ruled and more about handling our own business.

That has created a unique country where the way the country grew up informed everything about it taking a little bit from the USA and Britain along with all of the other countries that form the mosaic that is Canada.

The CFL is the exact same as the country that the teams play in as this league is always compared to its American cousin and its British grandfather.

It began from Rugby Football, much like the American version, but morphed into something else when more excitement, and in some cases less violence, was needed.

It took some things from the old sport of Rugby and adopted some things alongside the American version.

Much like the country though the Canadian version of the game did not entirely separate from the history of the game.football-sidebar

There is far more Rugby in this Canadian version than the American version and it is seen in highlights like the infamous Toronto-Montreal game where both teams kicked the ball in and out of the end zone repeatedly.

This and many more highlights express that there is still a connection to the old sport but they are still playing a game similar to the American one.

That in itself makes this game and league unique because it is not Rugby but it is also not American football.

In between is where Canadian football sits with its 110-yard field, goalposts on the goal line, three downs, Rouge and Canadian content.

There may be leagues similar to it and leagues that are bigger than it in the bigger sporting picture but there is one thing that is always guaranteed.

Canadian football is a unique sport that has taken bits and pieces from others just like Canada is a unique country that has been influenced by other countries.

Neither are the biggest or the loudest on the world stage or the world of sport stage but both are hidden gems that represent the best of both worlds, at least in this humble Canadian’s opinion.

So as the country celebrates its 150th birthday the CFL will be right alongside celebrating the uniqueness of both the country and the game.

As they begin another season they look ahead to fight that all teams and all players are about to undergo to be a part of that celebration.

The 105th Grey Cup will be all things Canadian and you can bet that just like the 100th this is going to be a special game.

For that reason, every team is looking to get their all for their own reasons and they begin that battle with plenty to watch throughout the next five months as a special season is about to get underway.

mtlpartners

It was not a pretty sight last year as the league’s most financially troubled team did not look great. There was a lot of excitement for Toronto as they moved into a new, better stadium and got new owners that were far more committed to the success of the Argonauts. Everything was beginning to look up for the team as they only needed to draw more fans to the games and with new tailgating experiences and a more modern outdoor stadium the job should have been easier than in the past. Then the team on the field collapsed and nay momentum that the Argos had gained from their big off-season changes was lost. The Argonauts were 5-13 last year and in their 13 losses they did not look like a team that could compete with anyone. For a team looking to make an impact with all of their biggest issues solved it was the worst thing that could have happened. So the new owners and higher executives decided to follow up the changes of the field and the ownership with changes to their staff. The Argonauts had been under the leadership of Jim Barker since 2011 and had been coached by Scott Milanovich since 2012. The initial reaction for both was great as a Grey Cup came in their first year together but since then had struggled with consistently staying competitive year after year. So the Argonauts fired Barker and let Milanovich walk away to an NFL job. They did both extremely late in the process leaving their assistant GM to run the draft without knowing what type of team was going to be ahead of them. Shortly after the draft, Toronto finally made their decision and for many fans, it was worth the wait. The Argos brought in Jim Popp as their GM and Marc Trestman as their head coach. The last time both of these men were together they led the Montreal Alouettes to two Grey Cup championships and a period where the Als were one of the best teams in the league year after year. They each have their issues, Popp can sometimes fall in love with head coaches and Trestman doesn’t know what life is like without the best quarterback to ever play the game. Together though they seem to work well and with Ricky Ray, under centre, both are hoping that they can help the Argos back to greatness and begin a new dynasty in Ontario.

canadianhope

More than ever Canadians are making an impact in the CFL as they are far more than just the farm-raised lineman that used to dominate the Canadian quota. Players like Jon Cornish and Andy Fantuz paved the way for Andrew Harris and Brad Sinopoli as true stars of teams. There has always been one position that has alluded Canadians though and it is the most visible and important position on any team. Canadian quarterbacks in the CFL are a rare breed as they often find a roster spot but eventually grow tired of sitting on the sidelines and either leave the game or change positions, much like Sinopoli did. Legends like Russ Jackson have given way to Americans that were never noticed by the NFL but have been playing at a high level their entire lives. Every few years it seems like there is a new top prospect but most fade away except for Brandon Bridge and Andrew Buckley. Both are considered the best hope at a true starting Canadian QB that can lead his team for a full year since Jackson did it in the 1960s. Buckley has a bit of a tougher road as unseating Bo Levi Mitchell as the Stampeders starter is not something that is going to happen. Mitchell is considered one of, if not the best quarterback in the league right now so there isn’t a lot of room for Buckley although a trade or free agent signing could give him an opportunity somewhere else. Bridge is the real true hope for a Canadian under centre as he was the first Canadian to start a game as a QB since 1996 and entered training camp with Saskatchewan with a real shot at the starting role. With Darian Durant in Montreal, Bridge was set to compete with Kevin Glenn and later on with Vince Young. The former NFLer was hurt in training camp though and was later cut, so the real battle was between the CFL veteran and the Canadian. It will be interesting throughout the season as there is a serious battle that wasn’t entirely solved in pre-season. Glenn has proven time and time again that he can get things done but the potential of Bridge is sky-high as his athleticism is perfect for the league if only his accuracy could be the same. A true starter might not be determined until a few weeks into the season but one of these two will take over and if it is Bridge the CFL might have its first true starter since Jackson in the 1960s.

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In 2015 the CFL announced that Jeffrey Orridge would be taking over as the Commissioner of the league. It was a big move as Orridge became the first African American Commissioner in North American sports and it was the end of an era in the CFL. Orridge had some massive shoes to fill as former commissioner, Mark Cohon was loved by owners and fans alike. Not only that but Cohen took over at one of the toughest times in CFL history and brought the league from the depths to a great place where more teams were stable than ever before. Orridge had that to live up to and it wasn’t going to be easy as the former TV executive was meant to continue the growth of the league. His experience in television was seen to be one of the biggest aspects as to why he was named the commissioner as the league was looking to gain more exposure and truly become a player in Canadian sports throughout the country not just in the prairies. From the start of his term, Orridge was not very well received by the media as many thought of him as an outsider that didn’t understand the game. His first state of the league was considered a disaster by most because he seemed not to truly understand the league when asked a number of questions that most CFL fans could answer or at least have an opinion on. His time at the head of the league never really took traction as he never really made a big impact but he supposedly had time to make that impact as he continued to learn about the league. Then before 2017 training camps got underway he announced that he would be stepping down as the commissioner. The reports from both sides were that there was simply a disagreement on the future of the league and due to that rift both thought it best to move on. So the league is once again left without a commissioner as this season will be another one where the search continues to find their new leader. Orridge never seemed to fit with the league and the board of directors will likely be careful in not picking someone from the outside again. The league needs stability if they hope to grow and they will need someone who is a better fit than Orridge ever was.

ottheir

It has been one of the toughest things to do in sports for decades, replacing a legend and a fan favourite. There is nothing tougher in life than to try to live up to someone else’s accomplishments. Things get even tougher when that accomplishment is winning the Grey Cup for a city that had been begging to have football back and got their wish only three years prior. Henry Burris was already a future hall of famer as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the league. He became a legend when he went to Ottawa to help an expansion team find glory at an unprecedented pace. In their third year back as a franchise Burris was able to take them all the way to the Grey Cup and take home the title. Not only that but he did it with a bad leg on the day of the game coming out just moments before kick-off to play the game. That cemented his role as a hero in Ottawa and a legendary CFL quarterback but it was also the end of the line for the veteran. The injuries that had him struggling to stay in the line-up throughout the year were enough to make him walk away and finishing on top made it an easier decision. Now with Burris out of the picture the mantle of the starting quarterback for the defending champions falls to Trevor Harris. When the REDBLACKS signed Harris away from Toronto last season he was always meant to take over for Burris. It even looked like Burris wasn’t going to be the guy at the start of the season as he struggled and Harris shined. Then Harris struggled and Burris shined and it went back and forth until Burris took over for good at the end of the season. Now Harris is the guy and there is no doubt that the job is his from the first week until the final week. He has some big shoes to fill as Burris leaves a big shadow and any type of struggle will immediately bring the “If only Burris was still playing” conversations. There have been many players in this same situation with mixed success as there are only a few that have come out successfully. Anything but a serious run at the Grey Cup in their home stadium will be a failure for Harris and how he responds will define his career for the foreseeable future.

bcsale

It was only last year that David Braley let go of his ownership in the Toronto Argonauts but it was just the first step. Braley has been an essential part of the league even serving as interim commissioner at one point. He was the former owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from his hometown and when he moved to the west coast he purchased the BC Lions. Then he swept in to save the Toronto Argonauts at a time when nobody wanted to purchase the team and it looked like they were about to collapse as a franchise. Braley is now in his seventies though and he knew that owning teams was not going to last forever. Instead of waiting to pass his teams down he began looking for potential buyers. Last year he found one for Toronto when he sold the team to Bell Media and Larry Tanenbaum, two of the three owners of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment. With the Argonauts taken care of, it is now time for Braley to give up his biggest passion in the Lions. He is not willing to just give them up either as he has said that he wants to sell but is in no hurry to do so. He wants to sell to someone that will take care of the team and not give up on a team that is struggling, albeit not as bad as Toronto or Montreal. So far there have been a few rumours as to who might take over the team and it seems likely that a decision will be made sometime this year. He might not announce anything throughout the season but rumours will swirl as to the next owners. Much like any other league where new owners take over, there is some concern as a new set of owners might not be as committed as Braley. Will they give the Lions as much of a chance or scrap the team after a few poor years? It is a danger in the CFL where not every team is always in the black and BC tends to be right on the line more often than not. Braley will be careful but he can only do so much vetting and so there is some uncertainty in the sale of another troubled team and the strength or lack thereof of the league and the team.

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