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Saskatchewan Roughriders' Andy Fantuz is among several CFLers hoping to make the grade in the NFL. (CP PHOTO/Troy Fleece) (Troy Fleece/CP)
Saskatchewan Roughriders' Andy Fantuz is among several CFLers hoping to make the grade in the NFL. (CP PHOTO/Troy Fleece) (Troy Fleece/CP)

Matthew Sekeres

Crunch time for CFLers in NFL camps Add to ...

The conventional wisdom was CFL veterans trying their hand in the NFL this summer were at a disadvantage.

With lockout conditions governing the NFL’s off-season, CFLers who signed down south this winter did not have organized team activities, mini-camps and open dialogues with coaches, meaning they were further behind when training camps finally began last month. But while at least one impact player is poised to return to the CFL, several others have made their marks and may remain on rosters come the NFL regular season.

NFL teams must trim down to 80 players by Tuesday, and to 53 players by Sept. 3. Each team is also allowed an eight-man practice squad.

Here’s a look at the CFL contingent heading into the final days of NFL camps:

FANTUZ’S GAMBLE

Apparently, Andy Fantuz didn’t need the money. With the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Canadian slotback makes $9,000 per game. He has missed his first eight CFL cheques in 2011 while trying out with the Chicago Bears, and stands to lose more money should the Bears keep him until Sept. 3. (Saskatchewan’s next game is Sept. 4.) Fantuz took a flier on an NFL opportunity for a measly $5,000 (U.S.) signing bonus, but is buried on the depth chart and isn’t garnering attention in games or practice. He was always an awkward fit for the NFL, because he’s too slow to play wide receiver and not big enough to play tight end. Barring an 11th-hour impression, his return to Canada is a matter of when, not if. Fantuz’s foray in the NFL has been costly for the Riders, too. Their passing game has been longing for the all-star slotback throughout a 1-7 start. The all-star is riding back to town on his white horse, but is it too late to save the season?

THE FREE AGENTS

The big name is former Roughriders defensive end John Chick, the 2009 CFL most outstanding defensive player. Chick may get caught in a numbers game with the Indianapolis Colts, but he could also end up with another NFL outfit. If not, Chick would be favoured to land in Regina, with the B.C. Lions and other CFL teams showing interest. Defensive back Brandon Browner is looking like a good bet to make the Seattle Seahawks, and Tom Johnson was in a four-man rotation at defensive tackle with the New Orleans Saints before a calf injury cost him evaluation time. If either player returns to the CFL, it won’t be with the Calgary Stampeders, who released both after they signed NFL deals. Andrew Hawkins, a running back and return specialist formerly with the Montreal Alouettes, had a strong preseason game last week for the Cincinnati Bengals. The CFL market for running backs is usually slow, but Hawkins brings versatility at a position where injuries are known to accumulate.

THE RICH GETTING RICHER

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have 29 sacks to lead the league, while the Hamilton Tiger-Cats are secure with defensive ends Stevie Baggs and Justin Hickman. But both franchises could add strength at already strong positions should Phillip Hunt and Garrett McIntyre be released. Hunt, who led the CFL with 16 sacks in 2010, is reportedly battling for the final roster spot with the Philadelphia Eagles. If he returns to Winnipeg, bookending Odell Willis, the Bombers D will be downright scary. McIntyre is impressing with the New York Jets, who are using him at outside linebacker. If he heads back to Hamilton, the Ticats would likely keep him and employ a three-man system. Hickman wants to explore his NFL options next year, which makes McIntyre an important piece to the 2012 campaign. Arland Bruce III has been a boost to B.C.’s receiving corps, but getting Emmanuel Arceneaux back would give young quarterback Travis Lulay another toy. Arceneaux is on the bubble in Minnesota, but having received a $75,000 signing bonus, the Vikings have made an investment, and may be inclined to keep him.

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