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Bizarre Matt O’Donnell saga ends in predictable fashion

Remember that Matt O'Donnell fellow? The 6'11, 340-pound offensive lineman from the Queen's Golden Gaels was selected in the second round of the 2011 CFL draft by Saskatchewan, but declined to sign a contract with them, opting instead for workouts with the NBA's Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors (despite never playing varsity basketball at the university level). However, his saga has wrapped up in a much more expected way, thanks to Tuesday's news that he signed a free-agent deal with the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals.

The NFL always seemed like a much more plausible fit for O'Donnell (seen above in the 2009 Vanier Cup against theCalgary Dinos) than the NBA. His size made him very attractive from a football perspective, as potential left tackles with NFL size and mobility aren't easy to find, and his experience at the CIS level is also valuable. It's worth noting that there were significant rumours of NFL interest in him long before the CFL draft, and his choice of Washington, D.C.-based agent Johnathon Hardaway suggested further NFL interest; Hardaway helped CIS product (and 2010 CFL draft pick) Cory Greenwood land a free agent slot with the Kansas City Chiefs before the 2010 season, and was also involved in the Henoc Muamba contract talks.

Why did it take so long for O'Donnell's true intentions to come out? Well, it didn't, really. Back when the whole saga began, his father told The Kingston Whig-Standard that the NFL was likely O'Donnell's preferred landing spot, saying "He'd really love to have an opportunity to showcase himself down there." Like every other undrafted free agent, though, O'Donnell couldn't sign a contract before the NFL lockout ended earlier this week, so he had to wait to be snapped up in the signing frenzy that followed. In the meantime, he had to keep busy doing something, and he didn't want to sign a CFL deal for very good reasons; the CFL's new contract rules commit players to stay north of the border for at least two seasons, and the pay is nowhere near as good (especially at the entry level). The NBA tryouts weren't completely ridiculous, as size is valuable there too and many players have gone back and forth between multiple sports, but they appear to have been more of a convenient smokescreen to explain why he wasn't signing with Saskatchewan then a real plan.

O'Donnell's CFL history may not be over, though. If he gets cut by the Bengals in this training camp and isn't able to catch on with another team or snag a practice roster job, there's a chance he might take another look at the CFL this year. It's more likely that he'll find something in the NFL for at least this year and maybe a few more, then perhaps wind up on the outs and give the CFL a try. He's certainly not doomed to NFL failure, though: O'Donnell's got the size and the athleticism to succeed there in the right situation and with the right developmental help from coaches. He can even find some inspiration from another former Queen's star offensive lineman, Mike Schad, the only CIS player to date to go in the first round of the NFL draft. O'Donnell's pedigree is nowhere near as high as Schad's was, and he may not be able to repeat Schad's NFL success, but you never know. The only thing for sure at the moment is that he's finally found the landing place he seemed set for all along.

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