You might have heard that former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel signed a 2-year contract with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL on May 19.
Manziel's troubled past is a part of the story as to why he is in Hamilton. Unlike the Cleveland Browns, Manziel will have to learn the playbook from coach June Jones, who is staying in Hamilton after taking over as interim coach last season.
The CFL will be tougher for Manziel to conquer than he might think the league will be. The speed difference has overwhelmed QBs with more focus than Manziel has shown. Fellow Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith learned that in Montréal.
The 2018 CFL season now has a 21-week regular season. There will be no 5-game week: great news for Toronto and Ottawa. There will be 3 weeks in the season where 3 teams will have a bye in the same week, so only 3 games on those weeks. Toronto and Saskatchewan have 2 of their 3 byes on those 3 bye weeks. The Roughriders draw the last bye of the season while Ottawa draws the first bye of the year.
The CFL schedule has 4 autumn Saturday tripleheaders to avoid the need for a Sunday game.
The Johnny Manziel signing in Hamilton to a 2-year contract on May 19 might have been the loudest QB move but far from the most significant. There were a few quarterback shuffles in the off-season. Zach Collaros switched division from Hamilton to Saskatchewan. Kevin Glenn gravitated to the only club he hasn't been a part of by going to Edmonton. James Franklin left Edmonton to hopefully get more playing time in Toronto. Vernon Adams Jr. went through another trade, this time from Saskatchewan to Hamilton.
Some quarterbacks did not move: Ricky Ray remains in Toronto with Jeremiah Masoli staying in Hamilton.
Backup QBs have been disappearing. Darian Durant retired but only after signing with Winnipeg and collecting a $70,000 bonus. Drew Tate retired to be a coach at Coastal Carolina. Dan LeFevour has retired after five CFL seasons, finishing with Winnipeg. Andrew Buckley could use that kind of money as he retires from Calgary to go to medical school. This leaves Brandon Bridge as the only major Canadian QB in the CFL.
Josh Freeman (61 NFL starts, 59 in Tampa Bay) was brought in to be the next QB saviour in Montréal under new head coach Mike Sherman. Unfortunately for the Alouettes, Freeman retired before the exhibition season started. Sherman has no CFL experience; Alouettes fans are hoping he is better than the last head coach hire without CFL experience in Dan Hawkins.
Anthony Calvillo started his off-season by announcing he would take a year off from coaching in Montréal. Later in the off-season, Calvillo was hired in Toronto as the new quarterbacks coach under Marc Trestman and Jim Popp.
Wally Buono will be in his final season as BC Lions coach but without offensive coordinator Khari Jones, special teams coordinator Marcello Simmons, and defensive line coach Robin Ross.
We don't talk as often about defence stars, but we have to mention 2 colourful characters who were on 3 different teams in 1 day.
Charleston Hughes is strong on the run and pass for Calgary. The Stampeders traded Hughes to Hamilton with the 34th overall pick (2018) for the 28th overall pick (2018) and a 2019 4th-round pick. 3 hours later, Hamilton dealt Hughes to Saskatchewan for QB Vernon Adams Jr.
Odell Willis has been a defence standout for Edmonton. But the Esks sent Willis packing to Ottawa for defensive lineman Jake Ceresna. 17 minutes later, the RedBlacks sent Willis to the BC Lions for a 4th round draft pick (2018) and rights to a negotiation list player.
Clearly, these deals were about salary dumps and trading Western players to Eastern teams. Then the Eastern teams trade them to another Western team. Winnipeg was the only West team not involved in these deals.
These defence players are getting older but you have to think that Hamilton and Ottawa could use these players on defence. The Tiger-Cats did see a need to get Adams but the RedBlacks traded more than they got.
The Ottawa-Montréal rivalry will get more interesting as Patrick Lavoie will take his offence versatility from Ottawa to Montréal. Veteran linebacker Kyries Hebert signed with Ottawa just hours after being released by Montréal Alouettes at his request.
Other notable retirements included Nik Lewis from Montréal. Lewis owns the mark for most CFL catches in a career. The heralded wide receiver Chris Getzlaf retired from Saskatchewan.
Kicking in Hamilton is even more crucial given the wind patterns at Tim Hortons Field. The Tiger-Cats signed Canadian kicker/punter Lirim Hajrullahu.
Calgary put running back and kick returner Roy Finch on the retired list following his arrest in April in Edmond, Oklahoma for allegedly assaulting a police officer.
Montréal is holding its 2018 training camp at Olympic Stadium for the first time ever. They were supposed to have a regular-season game at Olympic Stadium this season but the roof issues might have something to do with why we haven't heard a thing on that move.
The early start can mean more CFL games on U.S. television. As we noted, any games not on TV in the States will be on ESPN+, a new pay service replacing ESPN3. All games will air in Canada on TSN with the U.S. feeds being a simsub of the TSN feed.
The U.S. TV schedule calls for 16 games in the first half of the season, 1 late season game, and all the playoffs.
As for the TSN coverage, SportsCentre anchor Kate Beirness will host Thursday Night Football. Rod Smith will anchor the desk on other days.
Former CFL player Davis Sanchez, who you can hear on The Waggle CFL podcast, will be in the mix on the TSN panel that will include Jock Climie, Milt Stegall, Matt Dunigan, and Henry Burris. We don't have word on Chris Schultz, who has been on the panel early in the season but has disappeared for most of the season.
Chris Cuthbert, Rod Black, and Gord Miller will handle most of the play-by-play with Glen Suitor, Duane Forde, and Matt Dunigan as primary colour analysts.
Canadians can cut the cable cord and go direct with the CFL and more with TSN Direct and RDS Direct for $24.99/month.
The 2018 Grey Cup will be at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton on November 25. The 2019 Grey Cup will be in Calgary.
photo credit: CFL
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