If you’re an aspiring quarterback cruncher, the most persuasive argument in favour of a northward move to the Canadian Football League lives in South Florida.
His name is Cameron Wake. Formerly of the B.C. Lions and now of the Miami Dolphins, he is a prototypical “tweener” defensive lineman/linebacker and was a college standout at Penn State, yet he went undrafted by NFL teams in 2005. The Lions came calling in 2007 and Wake became a star in the CFL. Two seasons later, he signed with the Dolphins and now he’s a Pro Bowler with a four-year, $33.2-million (U.S.) contract.
Someone should whisper to pass-rusher Michael Sam, recently released by the St. Louis Rams and now getting the once-over from the Dallas Cowboys (and World Wrestling Entertainment, which has invited him to do a guest shot), that there are worse places to end up than the CFL.
In fact, while a practice-roster spot in Texas certainly has its enticements, Sam will have other options that are arguably better for his development as a pro if it doesn’t work out in Big D.
Were the 24-year-old Sam to move to Canada, it would mean pitching up in Montreal with the 2-7 Alouettes, a team that needs a spark and could probably use the added draw of fielding the only active player in pro football who is openly gay. The club has confirmed Sam is on its negotiating list.
General manager Jim Popp told RDS on the weekend the Als have made overtures to Sam’s representatives, and while Popp, an affable North Carolinian, doesn’t need tips on how to make a sales pitch, there are some decent arguments to muster.
For one, landing in a city that’s famous for being socially laid-back – Tourism Montreal boasts on its website that it is “one of the world’s most gay-friendly cities” – might have a certain allure.
Former NFL players such as Chad Johnson and Troy Smith have had middling success in Montreal, but the fact that NFL eyes are constantly being trained on players such as wideout Duron Carter is a mitigating factor.
It bears repeating that richer NFL salaries, even on the practice squad, make it highly unlikely he’ll make the jump any time soon.
And CFL rookies must sign for two years, which is also a strike against the Als: Try telling a drafted U.S. player, even if he’s a seventh-rounder, that his next NFL shot won’t come until 2016.
But there are strong football reasons for why Sam should at least consider a Canadian sojourn. The knock on Sam is his athleticism, but he might find the three-down game a hospitable environment for his development.
Rushing the quarterback against plus-sized NFL offensive tackles is a hard ticket, whereas in the CFL, offensive lineman still tend to be built more like actual mortals. If Sam is to prove he has the quickness to succeed in the big time, demonstrating it in a league that functions on speed and agility would be a worthwhile endeavour.
There is, of course, only one Cam Wake, and the road to the NFL is littered with players who ended up returning to Canada (such as Saskatchewan’s John Chick and Ricky Foley), and washouts who briefly dominated before suddenly finding themselves out of football (such as former CFL star Stevie Baggs).
Like Wake, Sam is undersized for the NFL (at 6-foot-2 he’s an inch shorter than Wake, but at 261 is a few pounds heavier), and like Wake, he showed great promise in a tough collegiate conference. Wake played in the Big Ten at Penn State; Sam was the SEC’s defensive player of the year last season while attending Missouri.
Given the Als are in the bottom half of the league in terms of quarterback sacks, a pass-rusher of Sam’s ilk might be just the ticket.
B.C. Lions’ general manager Wally Buono said Sam has the physical goods, but he wondered if Sam, because of his celebrity, would end up like other ballyhooed imports who came north and didn’t pan out. “The Alouettes brought in Johnny Rodgers, Tom Cousineau, Vince Ferragamo, and they all had a label,” Buono said of the former U.S. star players. “So you say to yourself, ‘Is that attention worth the return?’”
At this stage, Montreal needs Sam more than the player needs a football job. His ambitions, like those of another buzzy former NFL player whose rights are owned by the Als – Tim Tebow – appear to lie south of the border.
That’s not likely to change in the coming weeks, but that isn’t to say the Als should call off their charm offensive.