The NFL's Carolina Panthers have ventured north of the border again, announcing Friday that they've signed defensive end Alex Hall. Hall spent the last two seasons in the CFL, playing first with Winnipeg, then with Saskatchewan following a mid-season trade last year, and the 16 sacks he accumulated in 2013 was the league's second-highest total. While he was more productive with the Blue Bombers than the Roughriders (15 of his sacks came before the October trade) during the regular season, he rounded into form in the playoffs, generating plenty of pressure and recovering a crucial fumble in the Grey Cup. The NFL will be an adjustment for him, but he has great pass-rushing skills and could potentially be a big addition for the Panthers. He'll definitely be a substantial loss for the Roughriders and the CFL.
Hall is the third player Saskatchewan's lost to the NFL this offseason, following the departures of running back Kory Sheets (for the Oakland Raiders) and slotback Weston Dressler (for the Kansas City Chiefs). That's substantial attrition to say the least, and that's before you discuss how many Roughriders' players have left for other CFL teams. Of course, this departure wasn't completely unexpected; Hall was a CFL free agent (the main reason why the rebuilding Bombers traded him in the middle of the season), so it's quite possible he might have left Saskatchewan even without interest from the NFL. Still, the NFL is certainly taking a toll on the Riders at the moment.
Is that a wholly bad thing? Not necessarily. Top-tier CFL players who draw NFL interest are generally going to leave at some point, given the American league's vastly higher profile and salaries, and putting a substantial number of your former players in the NFL can be a positive thing. That leads to more discussion of your team in American football circles, and that can lead to more top talents seeking you out at free-agent camps and trying to become the next member of the Roughriders. The circle goes on, and newly-extended Saskatchewan general manager Brendan Taman is already on the hunt for prospects to replace his losses. His job is tougher given the sheer magnitude of the losses the Riders have suffered this offseason, though.
Meanwhile, what are Hall's chances in the NFL? Well, he certainly has an ability to get to the passer. He's accumulated 25 sacks over the last two years and has put plenty of pressure on CFL quarterbacks. He also has NFL experience, as he had brief stints in the league from 2008-2010 with the Browns, Eagles, Cardinals and Giants. A question is if he'll shift into a linebacking role in the NFL, though; he's listed as 6'6'' and 256 pounds, which would make him very small for a NFL defensive end. (Granted, Hall beat plenty of 300-pound-plus tackles in the CFL, but the NFL's OTs tend to be even bigger and more athletic.) Hall could prove to be an excellent pass rusher as an outside linebacker, but that would be another transition to deal with. (It's also notable that the CFL-NFL jump can be very difficult for linemen, given differences in line play that include the CFL's expanded neutral zone and emphasis on pass-blocking.) Still, numerous CFL pass rushers have found success south of the border, including Dolphins' Pro Bowler Cameron Wake (who went from CFL DE to NFL LB to NFL DE), and Hall will even be on the same team as another CFL prospect (fellow defensive lineman Linden Gaydosh, the top pick in the 2013 CFL draft by Calgary, is also still with the Panthers). We'll see how well Hall adapts to the NFL, but given his CFL success, betting against him might not be smart.