Wednesday saw some notable personnel moves in the CFL, including the Calgary Stampeders' decision to send defensive lineman Torrey Davis to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for future considerations, but the most interesting trade came from the Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders. Edmonton elected to give Saskatchewan wide receiver Greg Carr, one of their highest-profile free agent signings this past offseason following the career year he put up with Winnipeg in 2011, but a guy who hadn't featured much in their offence this year. In return, the Eskimos acquired the CFL rights to Matt O'Donnell, one of the league's most unusual stories, but a player who's never played a down in the CFL and may never do so; they also acquired the Riders' fourth-round draft pick in 2013 while giving up their own fifth-round pick. Both Carr and O'Donnell are high-risk, high-reward players, and it's going to take a while to see which team comes out on top in this one.
In the short term, the Riders likely have the edge in this deal. Carr is an intriguing addition to their receiving corps, and his 6'6'', 214-pound frame could help to create favourable matchups against opposing defenders. That's particularly notable when you consider that Saskatchewan's top two receivers this year, Weston Dressler and Chris Getzlaf, stand just 5'7'' and 6'1'' respectively; if Carr's in the lineup, he'll likely draw the tallest defender on many occasions, giving Dressler and Getzlaf defenders closer to their height. The Riders do have other big bodies, including recently-signed Canadian Aaron Hargreaves (6'4'', 233 pounds) and practice-squad import Justin Harper (6'4'', 213 pounds), but Carr gives them a receiver with substantial recent CFL success. That's also important; beyond Dressler and Getzlaf, the Riders' receiving lineup hasn't exactly shone this season.
While this season hasn't been a great one for Carr, either, as he has just 19 receptions for 214 yards and a touchdown at the midway point, a big part of the problem there has been the inefficiency of Edmonton quarterbacks Steven Jyles and Kerry Joseph. Heading into Week 9's action, the Eskimos had the league's worst passing game by almost every conceivable metric, including total yards (1916, 239.5 per game), completion rate (58.9 per cent, the only team below 60 per cent), passing touchdowns (just seven) and quarterback rating (79.0). They were second in interceptions with nine and tied for second-worst with 8.1 yards per attempt. It's tough for any receiver to put up stats when your passing offence is that bad (and also when you're attempting the fewest passes in the league; Edmonton had only thrown the ball 236 times heading into Monday's game against Calgary, an average of just 29.8 passes per game).
Carr's 2011 performance in Winnipeg, another offence that wasn't all that great through the air in general, is probably more indicative of what he can do; even though the team didn't put up terrific aerial numbers and Carr wasn't heavily utilized until later in the season, he recorded 46 catches for 648 yards and four touchdowns.It wasn't a one-off, either; in his debut CFL season in 2010, Carr picked up 568 yards and four touchdowns on 31 receptions with the Bombers. However, he hasn't been able to really break through into the territory of an elite CFL receiver just yet, and the Riders are gambling that his poor production in Edmonton was more thanks to that offence than a downgrade in his skills. They've likely picked up at least a useful depth receiver, though (helpful considering that they have four receivers on the nine-game injured list), and they may have even found a star in the making.
For the Eskimos, this is an even more substantial gamble. They're giving away a proven CFL contributor, albeit one who's having a down year, and they're getting a guy in return who's never played a CFL snap. O'Donnell's potential is extremely intriguing, though. Yes, his NBA workouts with the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics were probably more about stalling the Roughriders through the NFL lockout until he could sign with that league as an undrafted free agent than they were about his basketball potential, but the fact that he landed those workouts at all indicates he has more athletic ability than some have given him credit for. It's no secret that he was a terrific lineman for Queen's at the CIS level, earning two first-team All-Canadian nods, and he played a substantial role in the Golden Gaels' 2009 Vanier Cup championship. What's also interesting about him is his raw size; he's listed at 6'9'', 340 pounds, which makes him a natural fit at tackle. There aren't many athletic guys with that kind of size in general, and there really aren't many Canadian players who stand out at tackle; O'Donnell's size and ability could make him a ratio-buster.
O'Donnell's certainly shown off some of that ability, but that's part of what makes him a risky acquisition. After signing with the NFL's Bengals last July, O'Donnell impressed enough to stick around on their practice squad all year and earned a two-year extension that fall. Given the scarcity of players with his kind of size and the time and money already invested in him, they may want to keep him around until they're absolutely convinced he can't help their team. There's a chance he could break through and become an active-roster player for the Bengals this year, and there's also a chance that if they cut him, another NFL team may pick him up. Thus, O'Donnell isn't necessarily destined for the CFL any time soon, if at all.
Overall, this looks like a trade that could be beneficial for both teams. O'Donnell burned some bridges in Saskatchewan with his decision to try the NBA and then the NFL before the CFL, and there's speculation that his selection in the 2011 draft was more thanks to vice-president (football operations) Ken Miller (who's since retired) than then-and-current general manager Brendan Taman. Thus, the Riders may value him less than other CFL teams do, and they've traded a potential down-the-road prospect in O'Donnell for a promising contributor who can immediately help in an area of need in Carr. While Edmonton loses Carr, that could open up more playing time for Canadian receiver Shamawd Chambers, who's impressed in limited opportunities following his sixth-overall selection in the 2012 CFL draft. The Eskimos also move up from the fifth round to the fourth round in the 2013 draft, and that's not inconsequential. The key for the Eskimos is O'Donnell, though, and although their gamble may not pay off, they could also hit a jackpot with him. The full trade can't be evaluated for some years, as much of it depends on what O'Donnell does, but it's an intriguing move for both teams, and one that gives them both players with a lot of upside. It's going to be interesting to see how this one plays out.