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CFL’s new expanded practice rosters could help teams develop Canadian content in-house

Andrew Bucholtz
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Expanded practice rosters could see more Canadians like Akeem Foster work their way up from there.

There's more and more evidence that the depth of Canadian football talent is rising. The expansion of the draft to a seventh round this year and the addition of regional combines have helped teams take advantage of the surplus of Canadian talent out there that analysts like TSN's Duane Forde have been discussing for years, and Friday's move to expand teams' practice rosters with two extra slots for non-imports should allow teams to keep more of that talent around and let Canadian players develop. From CFL director of communications Jamie Dykstra:

Expanding practice rosters was a logical move considering that each team drafted an extra non-import this year thanks to the draft's seven rounds, but the league's smart to expand them by two slots instead of merely one. Year after year, we hear tons of stories about talented Canadian players who teams just can't find roster spots for. Moreover, while the quality of CIS football has dramatically improved, going to the pros is still a big adjustment for many CIS players (as it is for junior football players). Adapting to the CFL can be a challenge for Canadian players coming in from the NCAA, too: those from big football schools may be more used to a weekly routine like the CFL's than CIS or CJFL grads, but these players still need to adjust to 12-a-side football, the three-down game and the bigger field.

Some top Canadian players have worked their way up from the practice squad over time, including Winnipeg safety Cauchy Muamba and B.C. receiver Akeem Foster, both who were assigned to the Lions' practice roster at the start of the 2010 season. Thus, these practice rosters can be an effective way to develop talent. However, it often takes quite a while for players to become used to the CFL. That's one of the reasons veterans can be so important in this league. Teams can only keep so many guys around to develop, though, so those practice roster spots were very tough to come by for many. This expansion should let teams keep more Canadians around to develop their skills, and that seems positive for the CFL.

It's interesting too that we've often seen Canadian players spend time out of the league and bounce around from team to team. Part of that's obviously thanks to roster limits, as there are guys who have enough talent to be brought in when someone else goes down with an injury but can't necessarily stick around when everyone's healthy. However, that's often far from the best for their development as players, and it's far from the best for the teams that employ them, particularly when you consider that bringing a player in from out of the league means teaching him a playbook and system, but a player on the practice roster can be studying those and ready to go when called upon. Expanding practice rosters will cost teams a little more in salary (but not much: a practice roster salary has been estimated at $500 a week, peanuts next to the CFL's new TV deal), but it should let them develop more talent in-house and put forward a better on-field product.

The stipulation that these extra spots will be used for non-imports is also critical, as practice roster slots generally haven't been limited to imports or non-imports before. That's an interesting change, and it's notable that the CFLPA agreed to it; they've been criticized for favouring American players over Canadian ones in the past, so this might be a sign that they're willing to change that stance. That could be particularly important when you consider that they'll be negotiating a new CBA with the league after this year, and that could potentially include changes to the current American-favouring ratio, whether those changes include help for Canadian quarterbacks or not. However, it may not mean anything beyond this very specific issue; the sheer numbers of experienced American players looking for CFL jobs means it can be a lot easier to find import talent that's close to ready to step in. While the depth of Canadian talent is improving, it's still not at that level where you can just go out and easily grab CFL-ready players from anywhere. Expanded practice squads should help teams develop more of their non-import content in-house, and that could be very beneficial for Canadian football.

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