CFL Strike Update: CFL Naturalized Canadian Compromise Could Have Big On-Field Implications

Written By Andrew Bucholtz on June 7, 2022
Canadian Football League CFL USFL Competition

A large part of the discussion around the collective bargaining agreement with the Canadian Football League Players Association (CFLPA) was what it meant for “nationalized Americans.”

That agreement was initially rejected by the CFLPA membership on May 23, but an agreement was made on May 31. The CFL regular season will start June 9, which means your CFL bets on Ontario sportsbooks should be good to go.

The final version of that agreement includes eight national (Canadian) starters.

  • One can be a nationalized American.
  • Two naturalized Americans can replace Canadian starters for up to 49% of plays over the course of a season (This could be three by 2024.).

Previously, nationalized Americans were in their own category rather than replacing national players. They were defined as either in their third season with the same team or their fourth season overall in the CFL. Now, that category is set to play a larger role in the CFL’s ratio.

CFL can recruit specialized players

A notable implication is that teams can focus on recruiting specialized players. This frequently occurs within the NFL and NCAA football; however, this is a little different from Canadian football.

There, the analogue is subbing players off in second and long. And that historically hasn’t been done all that much; it’s harder to find value for a non-passing-situation player when they might only see one down in a series, and the CFL’s roster restrictions have also made it difficult for passing-situation-only players to earn a roster spot.

That might change a bit after this nationalized American shift.

Part of what’s appealing from a consumer perspective is the “nationalized American” substitutes sliding in for national players don’t have to be playing the same position. And, they only need to slide in for 49% of the snaps.

Perhaps this offers some additional flexibility for CFL coaches and general managers on both the offence and defence. There’s also an incentive for playing actual nationals, as the two teams that play the highest percentage of nationals will receive a second-round draft pick in 2023.

Beyond that, though, there’s some appeal for CFL coaches and general managers to recruit veteran Americans who are particularly good at one situation.

On defence, that may include either a standard defence that includes shutting down the run or a pass defence package that focuses on covering receivers downfield. On offence, that might include both those who shine in a package with fewer receivers on the first down or in a package with more receivers on the second down. It may become easier to work those players in without having them count against the ratio.

Similarly, it’s now possible for teams to recruit more specialized Canadians, as they can now take up a “starter” spot while only playing 5% of snaps. That may pave the way for CFL careers for either pass-rushing specialists or coverage specialists.

This may hurt both American and Canadian players who had previously claimed roster spots due to their versatility. For Americans, there are still a lot of general roster spots where versatility will help. And, for Canadians, versatility will still be an argument in a player’s favour. The big takeaway may be the benefit for players previously seen as specialized, though; with this new approach for 51%/49% of players, specialists become a lot more appealing.

Thoughts from CFL’s Ambrosie

This compromise doesn’t fully endorse what CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said about Canadian players in the league.

In April, Ambrosie claimed that “the decline in participation rates in football in Canada is having an effect on the size of the talent pool,” despite no evidence that participation rates were falling at elite levels.

At that point, Ambrosie also threw out inaccurate information on the percentage of U SPORTS players who go on to the CFL and NCAA players who go on to the NFL. He suggested that Canadian players somehow receive a fair shot from largely-American coaches and executives if that wasn’t mandated by the ratio. There’s evidence to suggest that that isn’t the case.

The CFL has long restricted compensation to rookies, which has hurt efforts to nab prominent Canadian players no longer wanted by the NFL. That’s an improvement in the new agreement. Overall, this new agreement should provide options for clever front offices. There are more opportunities to bring in specialized players, either American or Canadian.

The season opener will see the Montreal Alouettes face the Calgary Stampeders on June 9.

Photo by AP file photo
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Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz covered the CFL from 2010-16 for Yahoo Canada Sports. He currently works as a news editor for Awful Announcing.

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