Flexible Alouettes can usher in new identity with early-round picks at CFL Draft

·4 min read

Montreal Alouettes general manager Danny Maciocia says the difference in his job entering the 2023 CFL draft compared to free agency is night and day thanks to new ownership.

“First of all, I’m sleeping much better. I don’t think I’ve slept really well for the last two years,” Maciocia told reporters at Olympic Stadium on Monday, referring to Quebec businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau’s purchase of the franchise in March after years of instability. “All I worry about now is football, all my focus, all my energy, all my thoughts are on football.

“I’m at a totally different place. It’s a great place.”

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The well-rested Maciocia now has the opportunity to usher in a new identity for the franchise at Tuesday's draft after a free agency where he was handcuffed by the ownership uncertainty and lost key players.

The Alouettes own eight selections, including two in the first round and one in the second round at fifth, seventh and 13th overall.

Montreal is the only team with two first-round picks heading into the draft after landing a first from the B.C. Lions back in August in exchange for quarterback Vernon Adams Jr.

Maciocia says having three picks so early in the draft gives the Alouettes a lot of options, both in how they might draft and what moves they can make. For now, though, Montreal expects to hang on to its picks.

“We have a lot of flexibility,” Maciocia said. “Of course, the phone is ringing because other teams would like to know our attitude toward the two first-round picks in particular. But for now, I think we’re going to keep our fifth, seventh and 13th-overall picks.”

As far as how they’ll approach each selection, Maciocia says they intend to take the best player available at each spot instead of drafting for need. That said, Maciocia has a certain culture and attitude in mind with each selection — and part of that is to have local players on the roster.

He used Montreal Canadiens forward Rafael Harvey-Pinard, of Saguenay, Que., as an example.

“The very, very important thing with the example I gave using Rafael (Harvey-Pinard) is about having local players,” Maciocia, a Montreal native, said. “There’s a certain pride in wearing a Canadiens or Alouettes jersey. When you have the chance to play in your home city, it’s completely different. Just like it’s completely different to manage the Alouettes today compared to when I managed Edmonton back in the day.

“So that pride is extremely important.”

A record five Canadians were selected in the NFL draft last week, including two Quebecers. Syracuse offensive tackle Matthew Bergeron, of Victoriaville, Que, and Eastern Michigan offensive lineman Sidy Sow, of Bromont, Que, were chosen by the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, respectively.

Maciocia says players drafted to the NFL, and those who’ve signed tryouts with an NFL team, are prospects he and his brass will have to evaluate differently, considering some may never play in the CFL or won’t consider the league for two to three years.

Still, Maciocia says having three early picks could allow the team to make a riskier selection on what he calls a “future pick” — someone who may not join the team right away.

“We’re on the phone with NFL teams today concerning the players who were selected to find out how they view them in their team,” he said. “Will they be on the 53-man roster? Will they be on the practice roster? Who are they competing against? What are the odds they’ll keep them?

“We’re going to retrieve all that information to make a little more of an informed decision tomorrow night.”

Francis Bemiy, a defensive lineman out of Southern Utah from Montreal, and University of Montreal linebacker Michael Brodrique of Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, Que., are two players from Quebec projected to go in the first round who don’t yet have ties to the NFL. Maciocia coached the UdeM Carabins from 2011-2019.

On top of their early-round picks, Montreal has one fourth-round pick (32), two fifth-round picks (39, 41), one seventh-round pick (59) and one eighth-round pick (68).

Maciocia says the draft isn’t as deep as in past years.

“It’s far from being the best draft I’ve been a part of since I’ve been in the CFL,” said Maciocia, adding that there’s a drop-off after the second and third rounds. “In 2020 we drafted (Brock) Gowanlock in the eighth round, last year we got (Zach) Lidley in the eighth round. We have a lot of pride in picking players who other teams aren’t convinced by.

“But it’s a little more difficult this year, those players who used to be available in the eighth round might be available in the sixth round.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2023.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press