June 06, 2011
If you look at their roster heading into this past week's training camp, the Montreal Alouettes had plenty of players with NFL experience of one sort or another. New cornerback Dwight Anderson had previously been a member of the St. Louis Rams and Carolina Panthers before spending the last four seasons in the CFL, while linebacker Chip Cox had spent time with the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins and slotback Jamal Richardson was briefly with the Dallas Cowboys in 2007. Unlike those players, though, the man in camp with the most NFL experience and success is no longer an Alouette, as the team announced Sunday that they'd released former Green Bay Packers' star running back Ahman Green, who they'd signed earlier this offseason. Green reportedly sustained a hamstring injury in camp, and the Alouettes didn't want to wait for him to heal.
The Alouettes' decision to release Green (pictured at right carrying the ball for the UFL's Omaha Nighthawks in 2010) appears to be yet one more indication that four-down football pedigrees don't necessarily translate into CFL success. We've seen this throughout the CFL; many big-name guys like Jared Zabransky and Chris Leak haven't found the most success, while players with less stellar south-of-the-border careers like Anthony Calvillo and Ricky Ray have gone on to long-term success in the three-down game. There's a sizeable body of evidence that it takes a while to adapt to the CFL's very different rules (particularly the bigger fields and the extra men in each huddle), and that's often allowed older CFL players to prevail over more athletic young guns. That historical lack of success for famed four-down players is one of the reasons it probably doesn't make sense for the likes of Terrelle Pryor to come north, despite mounting scandals making it difficult for him to continue at Ohio State.
Green did have age, having turned 34 this February, but he didn't have that often-essential CFL experience. He was in the NFL through 2009, piling up 9,205 career yards and 60 touchdowns, then played in the UFL last season, so this would have been his first year in the CFL. There's a reason you don't see too many 34-year-old CFL rookies; players of that age don't have much time to adapt to the game, and there's less potential upside to developing them, as they're not likely to become key contributors for seasons to come. Bringing in Green wasn't necessarily a bad idea, as if he'd blown the competition away at training camp, he could perhaps have walked away with the starting job, but it's not like the Alouettes are short of depth at running back despite the free-agent departure of Avon Cobourne. Their top three options are probably Brandon Whitaker (the presumed starter, according to head coach Marc Trestman), Yvenson Bernard and DeAndra Cobb, and all have proven to be capable in the past. They're also all younger and have more CFL experience than Green, a potent combination.
This is just the latest move in the Alouettes' history of bringing in former NFL players. Some, like Robert Edwards, Lawrence Phillips and Jarrett Payton, turned out to be quite productive in the CFL. Edwards was the team's featured running back from 2005-2007, while Payton was serviceable for the 2007 Alouettes and Phillips was a key part of Montreal's legendary 2002 Grey Cup team (both on and off the field, where he reportedly led late-night hallway cursing sessions in his underwear during Grey Cup Week), even if he didn't last with the organization long and later ran into very serious legal trouble. Most of the others never made much of an impact north of the border, though, including former Cleveland Browns' receiver JaJuan Dawson and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Quincy Carter. Unless he catches on with another team, we can file Green under that latter category.
There's one more NFL veteran who has a chance to make an impact for the Alouettes this year, though; former Oakland Raiders' receiver Jerry Porter, who (claims by The Canadian Press to the contrary) did not win the 2002 Super Bowl (which the Raiders weren't even in), but was on the losing side in the 2003 Super Bowl when Trestman was the Raiders' offensive coordinator. Despite being out of football for a few years, the 32-year-old Porter has reportedly been playing well in camp, and there's no news that he's been cut yet; his history with Trestman's offensive schemes may also help. If he works out, he could be a great addition for the Alouettes, but Green's release proves that a NFL background doesn't necessarily mean much north of the 49. Green had the reputation, but was evaluated as coming up short on his own merits; we'll see if Porter can do better than that.