Fri Jun 24 06:44pm EDT
It's not particularly surprising that the Toronto Argonauts released Canadian quarterback Danny Brannagan today; coach and general manager Jim Barker said before camp Brannagan would have to demonstrate substantial progress to hang on to a job, and apparently he didn't do enough to beat out newcomer B.J. Hall for the team's third quarterback slot (really their fourth slot, considering that Steven Jyles is still injured). For those of us who would love to see a Canadian quarterback succeed in this league, though, it is disappointing. What's particularly unfortunate is that in a league that emphasizes the importance of Canadian content at every other position on the field, the current rules still offer no incentive for teams to develop non-import quarterbacks. A different rule may or may not have made enough of a difference in Brannagan's particular case, but that doesn't mean the CFL shouldn't look at changing the rules. If they don't, Brannagan (seen above in game action last year) is likely to be just the first in another series of Canadian quarterbacks never given much of a chance.
It's quite odd that a league that prides itself on Canadian talent and goes to strong lengths to protect the place of Canadians in the game via the import ratio purposefully excludes the most important position on the field from that ratio. Basically, teams' final 42-man active rosters (they can keep 46 guys overall, but only 42 players can be active on game day) have to keep at least 20 non-import players (or players who spent at least seven years in Canada before age 15 if not a citizen or five years before age 18 if a citizen), 19 import players and three quarterbacks. The quarterbacks can be of any nationality, though, which means that a team that opts to keep a Canadian quarterback (as the Argonauts did last year with Brannagan) is essentially replacing one of their import players with a non-import; they receive no benefits at all for doing so (except waves of good publicity, of course).
The fix to this would be quite easy. Simply remove the "quarterback" classification, and increase the mandated active roster numbers of non-imports by one and imports by two. You then wind up with a roster that has to have (at least) 21 non-imports and (as many as) 21 imports, regardless of position. Teams that want to keep three American quarterbacks on their active roster, as most will probably do, are still welcome to do that, and their total number of available import slots will only drop by one (19 imports plus three import quarterbacks to 22 overall quarterbacks). This is only a minor loss for teams that don't want to try and develop a Canadian quarterback, but teams that opt to keep and develop a Canadian quarterback would be rewarded for doing so by being allowed to keep another import at another position This tweak also would allow teams to keep four quarterbacks on their active roster if they wished; at the moment, fourth quarterbacks have to be on the injured lists or practice roster.
Of course, we may still see a Canadian quarterback find success in the CFL without modifying the rules. The quality of the CIS game is constantly improving, making the transition to the pros easier, and players like Brad Sinopoli (still on the roster in Calgary and likely to stay there for the moment) and Marc Mueller (returning to the Regina Rams for another year, then hopefully headed back to Edmonton afterwards) still have good shots. Even Brannagan may catch on elsewhere; the Argonauts indicated they're not looking to add him to their practice roster, but another team may pick him up there.
I'm not arguing that all teams should have to develop Canadian quarterbacks, or that Canadian quarterbacks should never be released. Football is a meritocracy to some extent, and players have to be judged on their merits. However, the CFL isn't a strict meritocracy, as the league rightly includes mandatory numbers of non-import players; many non-imports (such as 2010 league-leading receiver Andy Fantuz) go on to become huge stars, but they might not get much of a look at first if teams were allowed to just completely stock their rosters with Americans. It would be nice to see that principle applied consistently, rewarding teams that actually try and develop Canadian quarterbacks with an extra import slot elsewhere instead of punishing them by having to treat a non-import player as an import. The Canadian Football League's slogan is "This Is Our League", after all, not "This Is Our League, Unless You Want To Play Quarterback."