It's been 14 months since the Edmonton Eskimos traded franchise quarterback Ricky Ray to the Toronto Argonauts, a move that altered the destinies of both franchises; Ray led the Argonauts to the 2012 Grey Cup, while the Eskimos struggled to a 7-11 record, fired general manager Eric Tillman and brought in Ed Hervey to replace him. Hervey appears set to follow in Tillman's footsteps in terms of controversial trades, though, sending Canadian running back Jerome Messam to the Montreal Alouettes for just a sixth-round draft pick. The question is if this sequel will work out any better for the Eskimos than the Ray deal did. From this corner, the signs aren't optimistic.
Yes, Messam struggled in 2012 following his mid-season return from the NFL, collecting just 168 rushing yards on 42 carries (a 4.0 yards per carry average). Keep in mind, though, this is the same player who picked up 1,057 rushing yards the previous season (with a 5.4 YPC average) and was named the CFL's Most Outstanding Canadian. His loss to injury was a crucial factor in the Eskimos' eventual playoff exit that season. Messam's only 27, he's already proven he can be a successful running back at the CFL level, and his Canadian passport makes him an incredibly valuable commodity. Typically, hot commodities aren't traded for sixth-round picks.
What's Edmonton's rationale for dumping Messam? Part of it might be his contract, but it's not a ridiculous number; he's estimated to make $100,000 a year through 2014. Another part of it might be the lack of success their three-headed running back tandem (Messam, Cory Boyd and Hugh Charles) found in 2013. Boyd has already been released, so perhaps the Eskimos' belief is that giving Charles (the most successful of the three in 2012) the clear starting role heading into camp will push him to greater heights. Based solely on what happened in 2012, Charles would be the logical starter, as Boyd and Messam both had poor years; however, part of that has to be put on coach Kavis Reed and his man-management decisions. The way Reed handled his running backs didn't allow any of them to get into a rhythm. That doesn't completely excuse the poor play of Boyd and Messam, but it might suggest that they could thrive elsewhere.
If the idea here is to clear up the Eskimos' backfield situation, it's notable that the other team in the trade approaches things from the opposite perspective. At first glance, the Alouettes don't need a lot of help in the backfield. Star running back Brandon Whitaker may be a pending free agent, but even if Montreal can't sign a new deal with him, they still have a bunch of promising talent in Victor Anderson, Chris Jennings and Noel Devine, amongst others. Alouettes' general manager Jim Popp has built a dynasty by stockpiling depth, though, and this looks like a potentially brilliant move along those lines. If Whitaker comes back, Messam might be a nice change of pace option. His size (6'3'', 245 pounds) and punishing between-the-tackles running style would be a good contrast to the quick and nimble approach of the 5'10'', 200-pound Whitaker. If Whitaker goes elsewhere, though, Messam could well be in the mix to start for Montreal, and that would give them a proven talent who could also provide ratio flexibility thanks to his non-import status.
What's particularly interesting about this trade is the lopsided stakes. If Messam doesn't work out in Montreal, the Alouettes' only loss is a 2013 sixth-round pick (which generally doesn't turn into much; of the Class of 2010, only one sixth-round pick is currently a starter). The Eskimos don't really gain a lot even if Messam's a Montreal flop. If he regains his 2011 form, though, the Alouettes have nabbed one of the league's top Canadian players at an incredibly low cost. Hervey may have spent much of his introductory press remarks bashing Tillman, but this trade bears plenty of similarities to the Ray deal Hervey disliked so much, and the Eskimos are getting even less in return out of it. It will take a while to fully evaluate this, but the best-case scenario for Edmonton is that Messam struggles with the Alouettes and that they find a decent player with that sixth-round pick. The worst-case scenario? Messam goes on to shine in Montreal, and everyone starts asking why the Eskimos' new general manager did the same thing as the old one.