The 2023 CFL Free Agent frenzy is slowing down to a trickle. My team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats were active players in the FA market this year. But this topic is not about that.
Two weeks ago I was very surprised to learn that the Ti-Cats were rumoured to have set aside a portion of their budgeted Salary Cap funds to pursue James Butler [Iowa], formerly of the BC Lions. There is only so much money to spend under the cap, and it was not that long ago that CFL GM's would find much better value at that position by signing 2 or 3 American RB's from their Neg List to compete for the starting HB position, instead of using a lucrative contract offer to lure a RB from another team.
This would generally be true of all teams in the CFL, but in Hamilton there is the additional factor, that their Offensive gameplans have not really featured a true running game since Tommy Condell arrived on the scene with Kent Austin in 2013. I recall that Kent Austin once commented on the fact that CJ Gable [USC], was the most reliable "blitz pickup" RB that he had ever seen in the CFL . . . that was what CJ was expected to contribute to the offence. I have not confirmed this, but I don't think the Tiger-Cats have had a player record 1000 yds. rushing since Troy Davis [Iowa St.] achieved that milestone several times about 20 years ago.
Shortly after Troy Davis' move to the Eskimos, the 'Cats thought they had a star RB in Jesse Lumsden [McMaster], unfortunately his promising career was derailed by a series of injuries.
But the greater CFL has not abandoned the running game as a whole. Of course, I don't think any teams are as dedicated to the running game like the Mike Pringle era Montreal Alouettes were, but the running game has not disappeared from the CFL altogether. Even though passing has become much more prevalent in both the CFL & the NFL, the two most recent examples of "dominant" CFL running attacks would be the Andrew Harris Winnipeg Blue Bombers, & the Jon Cornish Calgary Stampeders before that. In both cases, the running attacks featured Canadian RB's, and they each lead the CFL in rushing for several years in a row.
So getting back to the original topic, of why the Tiger-Cats would feel the need to lure a RB away from the BC Lions :
- first of all, clearly, the Tiger-Cats intend to reintroduce a Running attack to their Offence in 2023; and
- perhaps equally clearly, they were not confident that they would be able to recruit such a talent from south of border. But why would that be?? What has changed ??
A couple of things that are contributing, might be:
- the CFL now finds itself in a position where it is competing with the XFL & the USFL for American football players. In a recent press conference, Orlondo Steinauer admitted that it has been more of a challenge to attract new American talent to the CFL this year.
- the NFL attitude towards RB's seems to have changed; of course there are exceptions like the Tennessee Titans w/ Derrick Henry, & NY Giants w/ Soquan Barkley, but most NFL teams are moving away from an offence that depends upon a single "feature" back, and have moved to a 2 back system, where the carries are split between 2 RB's. And then to compound matters further, many teams believe offering a big contract to a RB after 5 years in the NFL, is a poor business decision. When these 2 factors are combined, it means the NFL is churning thru RB's with greater frequency than in years past.
I believe all of this combined means the CFL is having a harder time attracting talented RB's to come North to the CFL.
Curious to hear your thoughts . . . perhaps the RB position will more commonly be handled by Canadians ??