CFL to NFL migration at high recent point, with 15 players making jump so far

Andrew Bucholtz
Toronto Argonauts kicker Swayze Waters kicks a field goal with place holder Trevor Harris (L) against the Calgary Stampeders during the first half of their CFL football game in Toronto, July 12, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Blinch (CANADA - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

The CFL has seen the highest number of players head to the NFL this offseason in quite some time, with Lions' defensive back Josh Johnson (to the Jacksonville Jaguars), Eskimos' defensive back Aaron Grymes (to the Philadelphia Eagles), Argonauts' defensive end Tristan Okpalaugo (to the Arizona Cardinals), Argonauts' defensive tackle Cleyon Laing (to the Miami Dolphins), and Argonauts' kicker Swayze Waters (to the Carolina Panthers) in the most recent group. As Lowell Ullrich writes at 3 Down Nation, they're amongst the 15 players who have gone from the CFL to the NFL so far this offseason (and others could join them; players like Henoc Muamba are still out there), which is above the numbers we've seen in other recent years:

The announcement on the weekend of the signing by the Arizona Cardinals of Toronto Argonauts defensive lineman Tristan Okapalaugo represents something of a new standard for recent football migration. Okapalaugo is the 15th CFL player to sign an NFL contract this off-season, one more than the previous high in 2013 and in the top three in the last couple of decades, when the now-defunct option-year clause was the primary method of escape.

As Ullrich goes on to write, this kind of talent drain is actually beneficial for the CFL's talent level in the long run thanks to it making the league seem like a viable path to the NFL (an argument we've made here many times before). Moreover, numerous numbers of these players aren't lost permanently; only a few stick in the NFL long-term, with many others returning to the CFL either during the year (Andy Fantuz, Weston Dressler and Cory Greenwood are some examples) and others coming back during the offseason (Chris Williams and Duron Carter are amongst the recent examples). Thus, this is a good thing for the league in the long term.

However, these losses will be felt by the CFL in the short term, and by some teams more than others. It's interesting to take a look at how Ullrich's list breaks down by team:

The players each CFL team lost to the NFL in the 2015-16 offseason, as of February 21. (Andrew Bucholtz.)
The players each CFL team lost to the NFL in the 2015-16 offseason, as of February 21. (Andrew Bucholtz.)

Of course, this doesn't mean that these players would all have remained with their teams if they hadn't gone to the NFL; they were free agents, so they could have landed elsewhere in the CFL. Still, current teams have often had an advantage at retaining their talent in free agency (if offers are equal or close to equal, many opt to stay in a city and situation they're familiar with), so Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto may be harder-hit than others by these moves to the NFL (and Saskatchewan and Montreal may have been less hard-hit, as they don't have anyone on this list). Fans in the cities that have lost the most guys may not be thrilled, either, as these players were all key parts for their teams. Still, on the whole, the amount of CFL to NFL movement we're seeing this year is likely very good for the long-term health of Canadian football.