TORONTO — The CFL's decision to shelve its remaining combines has forced agents like Darren Gill and Rob Fry to be innovative in getting general managers pertinent information about their draft-eligible clients.
The CFL cancelled its remaining combines — including its national gathering March 26-28 in Toronto — amid the COVID-19 pandemic Thursday. The decision came after the league's Ontario regional event began.
The 63 players who'd been invited to the national combine — including 24 global participants — won't get the chance to showcase their skills. They lost the chance to speak with and perform in front of CFL GMs, coaches and scouts leading up to the league's global draft April 16 and national draft April 30.
"These are obviously pretty unique times and I think you're going to find unique solutions as well," said Gill. "I'm trying to encourage many of my clients or even coaches I know to host their own closed pro days . . . verify the results and get that out to the teams.
"Phone interviews can still be done so getting to know the player and kind of peeling back the onion a little bit can still happen. Game film is there and most of these (draft-eligible) guys are pretty well-known commodities and many tested (last year) at the East-West (Canadian university showcase) game so there's kind of a semi baseline for testing."
Fry also is investigating video testing.
"Teams want to get those results themselves, they don't necessarily want take to the bank what a trainer or player will say," he said. "But at least there's something physical teams could look at and say, 'Well this guy has stayed in shape. Here's what he looks like moving.'
"I'm staying in constant communication with my guys just because this has been a big change on what they were expecting. We're looking at different ways to maximize this opportunity for them . . . and doing everything we can to help clubs evaluate them properly. It's maybe going to be more of an old-school approach on really prioritizing game film."
Both Gill and Fry have stakes in the national draft.
Gill's stable includes McMaster defensive back Noah Hallett (a '19 second-team All-Canadian) and British Columbia receiver Trivel Pinto, a two-time All-Canadian who was bumped to this year's draft after a positive drug test in February 2019.
Fry has approximately 10 draft-eligible clients, including Alberta offensive tackle Carter O'Donnell, who's been mentioned as a potential first-overall selection.
The Canadian Press contacted two CFL general managers regarding how the cancellation of the combines has impacted their draft preparation. Both declined comment, referring any COVID-19 related questions to the league.
In an email, the CFL said it's taking the necessary steps to help clubs with their draft preparations. Teams can review video of each global combine and have access to all testing results.
Greg Quick, the CFL's global scouting director, has shared his evaluations with GMs. The league is also facilitating interviews between league officials and foreign players and teams can access questionnaires completed by prospects.
As for the CFL draft, teams also share a video database of prospect tape. The league is also facilitating interviews between clubs and players while collecting test results from sessions held by each school.
And just like with global players, CFL teams can access survey questionnaires completed by national prospects.
Gill feels solid football players won't be negatively impacted by the cancellation of the combines.
"I think the guy who looks good on film, he's going to be found," Gill said. "If there's anybody you'd assume will be affected by this it's the combine junkie, the guy that goes there and does something people don't expect.
"It's the looks-like-Tarzan, plays-like-Jane guy who frankly is at a disadvantage here because he won't be seen. But in reality, the football player who shows up well on film, he's obviously the guy who won't get hurt here."
Fry could see late bloomers or players coming off injury being negatively impacted by the CFL's decision.
"I think there's a way to effectively communicate with coaching staffs at the universities and agents and get things on film," Fry said. "Hopefully these guys who're diamonds in the rough athletically can still get the information to teams to help with the process."
Gill doesn't believe the absence of the national combine will hurt a CFL GM's preparation for the league draft. But the question remains whether foreign players will be allowed into Canada because of the coronavirus outbreak.
"I think there are still far too many unknowns regarding where (novel) coronavirus will be in six, eight, 12 or 40 weeks to really understand what that should mean for (CFL 2.0)," Gill said.
The bigger challenge for CFL teams, Gill said, teams trying to get scouting information on American players.
"Yes, the NFL combine has happened but those usually aren't the guys you're targeting," he said. "You're actually usually targeting the smaller schools or even the bigger schools but unknown guys who're going to hopefully show well at their pro days.
"There's a chance to meet them, make an impression and talk to them about the CFL and that's the piece that's going to be a little more difficult. I'd be most concerned about that if I were a CFL GM versus worrying about the Canadian talent."
Fry said with no combines to attend, some CFL GMs will have to rely upon their scouting staff for information.
"GMs will have to lean on the scouts who've been assigned the task of digging for the whole year on these Canadian prospects," he said. "Certainly they'll really have to dive into the reports and put trust in their scouts."
Fry added while a GM's draft preparation this year might be tougher, it's certainly not impossible.
"I think teams that have been the most thorough to this moment will be rewarded in the draft," he said. "If a team was planning to just come to the combine and start from there, well, they'll be behind.
"But I'm hopeful that's not the case for anybody."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020.
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press