Big guys with fat wallets: CFL salary cap has been good to offensive lineman

By Dan Ralph

The salary cap era in the CFL has been good for Canadian offensive linemen.

In the pass-happy league, starting quarterbacks have always been the most important players and therefore the highest paid. But the Canadians tasked with protecting them are also well compensated, with many earning over $200,000 annually.

The reason is simple: supply and demand.

“It’s hard to find quality Canadian players. Period,” said Jim Barker, the former Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts general manager. “Just look at the 2017 draft.

“Defensive linemen Faith Ekakitie (first overall to Winnipeg) and Randy Colling (No. 6 to Calgary) were both cut last weekend. It’s just very hard to find those guys.”

CFL teams must carry at least 21 Canadians on their 46-man roster and start a minimum of seven. Playing as many Canadians as possible on the offensive line makes it easier to use Americans at other positions.

But that also means having Canadian backups so a club won’t have to drastically change its ratio if a starter is injured.

“We see teams that try to start three (Canadian offensive linemen) struggle,” said Montreal-based agent Darren Gill, who represents Canadian offensive linemen Ryan Bomben and Philip Blake (both Montreal), Alex Mateas (Ottawa), Sean McEwen (Toronto) and David Foucault (B.C.). “If you try to start less than three you’re going to struggle even more.

“As a result that position has built-in value to it because that’s your building block for crafting your Canadian ratio. The trend has always been there, it’s just we’re noticing a lot more now because the dollar figures are that much bigger. The good news for offensive linemen is they’ve always been, I’d say, the second-highest paid position on a team behind the quarterback.”

Added Barker: “That’s why the Canadians make more money right there. When Chris Walby and Miles Gorrell played tackle for Winnipeg, the Bombers could never replace them when they left. So you’re going to pay them and try to keep him playing for as long as you can.”

CFL teams employ Canadians at other positions, but for the most part Canadian offensive linemen have proven to be more durable.

“Those positions, receiver, running back, defensive back, there’s just a much higher incident of injury than with offensive and defensive linemen,” Barker said. “That’s why the more Canadian offensive and defensive linemen you can play, the better chance you have of those guys staying healthy because if you lose a good Canadian, that really causes a problem.

“Look at Montreal, (defensive end) Jamaal Westerman is a key guy for them. As long as he stays healthy that’s big but if they lose him now they must find another Canadian to step and make the same impact as Westerman, and you can’t do it. So now you have to go to your next-best Canadian, which might be an offensive lineman who maybe isn’t as far behind an American starter and you make that change so you can play another American as a pass rusher. It can get complicated.”

Gill said another factor is there’s not much separating Canadian and American offensive linemen.

“Take any position on the football field and compare the Canadians you could start versus the Americans and the gap, in my opinion, is probably the least on the offensive line,” he said. “I’m not saying all the Canadians are NFL worthy because the gap between the NFL and CFL is big.

“But the gap there is the least, which is why it makes sense to put all your Canadians there. Once you do, naturally you’ve got to find some pretty good ones and try and keep them around.”

How important are Canadian offensive linemen? A record seven were taken in the first round of the ’18 CFL draft.

But drafting Canadian offensive linemen is one thing. Signing and keeping them is another.

There are certainly financial advantages to signing first-year players to short-term, low-money rookie contracts. But the risk is the player won’t feel an allegiance to the team when his deal is complete and will leave.

Teams signing youngsters to three-year contracts with decent money not only have happier players but ones with more time to become further ingrained in the community. So when it comes time to re-sign, the player has more reason to remain.

“That’s exactly why you’re seeing these players get more money in their first year,” Barker said. “You could give them the minimum and they’re out of there in two years.

“You just have a little bit better chance with a longer term than two years.”

However, clubs still must ante up once a promising Canadian offensive lineman’s rookie deal expires. That could happen with an extension as the player heads into his final year, or new deal before becomes a free agent.

Allowing the player to hit free agency could result in having to overpay to keep him or lose him outright. In that scenario, another franchise benefits from the money and time the original club invested in the player.

“You try and find out if he can play and if he’s not playing much you’re just going to play it out,” Barker said. “But if he’s playing a lot then you’re going to try to redo the contract and get him extended because you don’t want it to go to free agency.”

Many CFL officials feel there’s not enough quality Canadian talent currently. That could become a real issue if and when the CFL expands into Halifax but it would also allow some Canadian offensive linemen to either kick-start or extend their careers.

“When Ottawa came into the league (in 2014), there was talk there wouldn’t be enough players to go around and that didn’t turn out to be the case,” Barker said. “I look at what’s going on in U Sports and I think their funding is better, the players are coming out more prepared, they’re more tuned into the CFL types of schemes.

“It just comes down to supply and demand and will the quality of play be high enough to continue to keep things escalating up so players want to play for 10-to-15 years? That’s always been an issue . . . but it’s hard for a guy to turn his back on making $200,000 a year for six months. We can say the money in the CFL isn’t great but I know those top offensive linemen are making a lot of money.”

– CP

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31 Comments on Big guys with fat wallets: CFL salary cap has been good to offensive lineman

  1. Sucks all the money goes to Canadian offensive linemen while other guys who deserve imoremoney at other positions don’t get anywhere near the same. If there is a group of entitled & coddled players it’s Canadian offensive linemen. Plus they control the CFLPA.

    • Excellent point about the useless short-armed fatties who run the CFLPA.

      There hasn’t been a more incompetent player’s union since Al Eagleson was screwing over the NHLPA.

    • Hey you think it’s easy….strap on some pads and ask for a tryout…

  2. Edward Leslie // June 13, 2018 at 8:03 pm // Reply

    Just because the (mostly) American coaches or General Managers don’t have enough faith in the Canadian players, doesn’t mean that they can’t play.
    I see teams stick with the same old veteran players, including 3 or 4 O-linemen among the seven mandated starters. This leaves very few openings for new players.
    This is why good prospects like Behar, McGough, Vandervoort, Onyeka and others languish as backups or playing special teams. Plus CFL teams only seem to care about RIGHT NOW. They don’t seem to have patience to develop players, like they used to.

    I think that the ratio of seven Canadian starters is actually too low. This only adds up to 63 Canadians starting in the CFL, of which about 30 are O-linemen. It doesn’t leave much room for others to rise above being backups.

    • Interesting perspective. I defend the ratio and never thought of the positives of raising it

    • It’s tough to play patience when the salary cap is breathing down your neck. You can’t afford to tie up a position to develop a player or many of them when money and personnel limits say you can’t.

    • Behar, Vandervoort are not playing because they aren’t good enough for the pros yet.
      Ekakate was the first round draft pick last year, they paid him big money and a big bust.
      We are paying O-linemen more money than the running backs they are protecting.
      The ratio is not working – with fewer Canadians playing football and fewer talented players coming out of the CIS the ratio has to be changed.

      A fair number would be TWO Canadian starters per team down from seven. Teams could still start more Canadians if they are good enough.
      I don’t buy the excuse that coaches are Americans therefore they give them preference, coaches look at the talent on the field and evaluate based upon performance.
      The coaches know that they must give preference to Canadians to meet the ratio.
      Harris in Winnipeg is the starting RB because he is one of the best and has earned that starting position, if it’s American bias like you say, the he wouldn’t be starting would he? your argument is baseless

    • Jeffrey Pedler // June 14, 2018 at 11:29 am // Reply

      I agree! Look at Cappicotti snd Evans for example, both of these guys didn’t get chance till they got to Ottawa.

      Pruneau started as a rookie at strong-side linebacker. You never see a Canadian start at a position. Maybe once a decade.

      BC has so many guys who are natural tackles, yet they are stuck playing guard.

      I think that once Halifax gets a team, we will see some of those guys who were second stringers get a chance to play. The best way to develop a prosepect is to play them.

    • Totally agree…all great points!

  3. Interesting article!

  4. Look at it more positively… There is value to being a lineman in high school and college… And if you want to play elsewhere, realize there is going to be a lot of work needed. And, also realize that these Canucks tend to stay in their communities after CFL and coach high school or college ball. Kids listen to the trenches more because they have the battle scars… Eventually when we are ready to pay $200/game for tickets and $2,000/Grey Cup tix we may have even better players, but maybe the game won’t be as connected to our communities. Having a CFL team within driving distance I’d still more affordable and more fun than either NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB…

  5. Take a guy in the first round or make a trade to move up, that guy better play for you. Old Coach once said. When team was losing. Whose selecting those players. ? Always evaluate the evaluator. Knucklehead

  6. Many earning north of 200K? (Perhaps a handful at most, methinks).

    • Definitely more than just a “handful”.

      Toronto’s starting OLine which has four NIs was making over $1 MILLION between the five starters.

  7. Coaches view the OLine as being the best place to hide a mediocre short-armed fattie in order to meet the NI ratio requirements.

    DLinemen are one yard off the ball and the QB is always in the gun so that’s about 7yds if separation.

    With a three step drop and throw immediately, it’s virtually impossible for any DLineman to get to the QB. Anything under 2.5 seconds from the time the ball is snapped until it’s out of the QB’s hand and there’s no chance of any pressure getting to the QB.

    The short-armed fatties basically just have to get in the way of the pass rushers.

  8. Not so sure; Van Zeyl at 230K fine, but the others would be rather less than this (especially the ‘Internationals’.

    • Look at what other NIs are being paid – – Westerman’s at $218k, Teddy Laurent is over $200k, Zack Evans is getting $170k. Even a guy like Nic Dumpski is getting $150k. Hamilton inexplicably gave Liram Hajrullahu $145k.

  9. Easiest place to hide a NI would be wide side CB.

    They’re going to be matched up against a token NI WR and with the field being 15yds wider it takes forever for the throws to get out to the far sideline.

    It defies logic why CFL coaches would be too dumb to realize this.

    • dangnabbit // June 13, 2018 at 11:55 pm // Reply

      You might get away with that in man coverage, but you’d probably find other teams are able to more easily exploit your zone schemes by overloading a weak CB. It’s also worth noting that the potential risk is pretty high, because if your guy routinely gets burned, and what would be a ten-yard pickup becomes twenty-five before the safety sorts things out, you’ll surrender a lot of field position over the course of a season.

    • Yeah, CFL coaches are dumb but you have all the answers . Please !

  10. The reason they get paid more is that the CFL is all about QB1 and your offensive line. If your top tier at those positions, you can have an average roster and rotate guys at other positions every year and have consistent success.

  11. Edward Leslie // June 14, 2018 at 12:08 am // Reply

    Area 51:
    You have issues, my friend.

    First of all, you have a serious inferiority complex about Canadian players, especially Canadian quarterbacks. You act like it’s beyond the realm of reason that a person from north of the U.S. border can actually throw a ball!

    Now, you seem to have a deep hatred for fat people.
    You even trashed Nik Lewis. You know, the guy who is the all time receptions leader.

    Yes, the Offensive linemen are big dudes, you’re right about that. But would you rather have some tall skinny guys or Brandon Banks-body types defending the wuarterbacks against the D-line or Linebackers?
    Those guys are beasts who only want to obliterate the Quarterbacks.

    You really ought to rethink your philosophy regarding football.

    • You won’t find a bigger advocate of Canadian players than I am, my friend.

      When there’s multiple Canadian QBs starting at big time D1 schools in the NCAA, then we can start to take Canadian QBs seriously. Until that happens, it’s an absolute farce.

      I stand by my comments that Fatty Lewis is a cheap shot puss. What he did to Kelly Wiltshire was about as cowardly as it gets. You don’t remember that little incident, do you?

      No idea WTF you’re rambling on about with 170lb OLinemen. Are your sensibilities offended by my use of the term “short-armed fatties”?

      Educate yourself on the importance of arm length for an OLinemen and let me know if you feel there’s a difference between an OLineman with a 30″ reach compared to one with a 36″ reach.

      • Area. We think that the issue is your small hands not their short arms. You can make your points without the personal attacks and abusive name calling.

  12. Ron Tuthill // June 14, 2018 at 12:38 am // Reply

    Guy’s if you where a QB with a defence breathing fire and brimstone at you don’t you think you would want someone to protect you. That protection costs money. Also in the NFL the second most paid player is the left tackle as he protects the QB’s blindside.

  13. The old saying goes you build a team from the front going back on both sides of the ball. Without a top notch OL and DL your dead in the water. Now where the BEST PLAYERS to fill those positions come from is up for debate due to the ratio guidelines. I’d thing a team COULD spread those required 7 Canadian starters out based on who is the BEST at a given position but it all comes down to how a team drafts and develops those guys in the long run.

  14. Edward Leslie // June 14, 2018 at 5:22 am // Reply

    Area 51:
    Of course it’s offensive to diss the O-linemen calling them “Short armed fatties”. I’m not even a fan of the accepted O-line slang “Hogs”.
    I think nowadays people are condemned if they make nasty remarks about someone because of their skin color, sexual preference or religious beliefs. Fat people are the last people it’s okay to discriminate against. Not good.

    One of the good things about football, in comparison to other sports, is that all are welcome. Short, tall, in between, thin, fat. All have a possible place. Maybe even Canadian quarterbacks, thanks to Brandon Bridge.

    • You’re trying way too hard to be a sensitive snowflake if you’re offended by the reference to OLinemen as “hogs”.

      How long until you petition to change the term OLineperson and DLineperson?

  15. A51 is a dbag // June 14, 2018 at 7:35 am // Reply

    A51, always the smartest guy in the room but, rarely is there anyone else in his mother’s basement.
    Go easy on him— he’s just back from a national tour, advising the GMs on their final rosters.
    So, so well informed.

  16. Paul Bomber // June 14, 2018 at 9:26 am // Reply

    There was a year or two under Joe Mack and/or Mike Smelly where Wpg had I think 4 or 5 Americans on the O line and they sucked! Montreal owned the East for years and years with 5 Canadians. My point? I don’t have one, but no high end O’Lin means no dates in the playoffs.

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