There are still many hurdles to be cleared before a CFL team begins playing in Ottawa again, but one particular question mark was addressed today with the league's official release of their detailed plans for an expansion draft (most of which were accidentally leaked early). As I wrote back in September, getting the expansion draft right is crucial; one of the most important factors in the financial success or failure of new professional sports teams is their on-field record, and a lot of that depends on the players they're able to get. A limited expansion draft might protect existing franchises' talent, but an overly-weak new franchise hurts the league as a whole.
Fortunately, the process set up for this draft seems to strike a nice balance between helping Ottawa get off the ground while not damaging existing teams too severely. It took a while to get here, but Jeff Hunt (pictured above with CFL commissioner Mark Cohon at a 2008 press conference), the key member of the prospective Ottawa ownership group, appears reasonably happy with the proposed solution:
The plan is superior to the ones provided to Ottawa's last entry in the league, and that bodes well for the team's future, said Jeff Hunt, a member of the prospective ownership group in Ottawa.
"The expansion draft is just one part of our plan to build a team our fans can be proud of, but it will provide the foundation on which we build," Hunt said.
Looking at the draft regulations, it's easy to understand that optimism. On the surface, the total of 24 players is lower than the 32 Ottawa was allowed to grab in the last expansion draft, but the lesser numbers of protected players should help the new franchise pick up more talent than the Renegades started with, particularly in terms of quarterbacks and Canadian players . Moreover, the draft appears well-designed to spread the relative impact across the league's other franchises; it shouldn't cripple any one team, but it should also give Ottawa a good starting position in terms of both non-Canadian and Canadian players. Here are the key details:
— It will be a three-round draft, with one round of selecting import players and two rounds of picking non-import players.
— In total, the new team will select eight import players and 16 non-import players through the expansion draft.
— All positions are treated as equal except for quarterbacks, kickers and punters. Ottawa is allowed to choose two quarterbacks and one kicker or punter (they can't take a kicker and a punter, but presumably could choose one player capable of filling both roles). They can't take more than one quarterback from any given club, and they can't take both a quarterback and a kicker or punter from any given club.
— In the first (import) round, teams can protect one of their quarterbacks and 10 other import players (including kickers and punters). Ottawa will then choose one import player from each team. If they choose a quarterback from a team, that team then gets to protect two extra players in the first round of the non-import draft. If they take a kicker or punter from a team, that team gets to protect one extra player in the first round of the non-import draft.
— In the second (non-import) round, teams can protect six non-import players (or more if they've lost an import quarterback, kicker or punter, as described above). Ottawa then gets to choose one non-import player from each team. This can include non-import quarterbacks, kickers or punters, but only pursuant to the regulations described above.
— In the third (non-import) round, teams get to protect an additional eight non-import players (plus two more if they lost a non-import punter or kicker in the second round; non-import quarterbacks aren't specifically discussed, but it would seem logical that they would carry the same status in the rare event one was chosen in the second round). Ottawa then picks one non-import player from each team.
For a hypothetical example of how that might play out for a particular team, let's imagine the draft was conducted right now under these regulations. We'll take a look at how it might affect the Winnipeg roster, as the Blue Bombers would seem to be the most logical team to pick a quarterback from at the moment.
—Round One: Import The Bombers protect quarterback Steven Jyles and 10 other players. Ottawa selects quarterback Buck Pierce.
—Round Two: Non-Import: Because Ottawa picked Pierce, Winnipeg gets to protect eight non-import players here instead of six. We'll say they protect safeties Ian Logan and Brady Browne, offensive linemen Brendon LaBatte and Ibrahim Khan, receivers Cory Watson and Aaron Hargreaves, linebacker Chris Smith and defensive lineman Doug Brown. Ottawa then takes offensive lineman Luke Fritz.
—Round Three: Non-Import The Bombers now get to protect six extra players. We'll say they go with defensive linemen Don Oramasionwu, Deji Oduwole and Fernand Kashama, offensive linemen Steve Morley and Chris Kowalczuk and fullback Andre Sadeghian. Ottawa then takes receiver Josh Bishop.
This theoretical draft doesn't look too bad for either side. Ottawa gets a capable, proven quarterback (and has more options at that position than in 2002, when each team could protect two quarterbacks instead of one), but their non-import options from Winnipeg are significantly limited. Obviously, I don't know who the Bombers would definitely protect, but I tried to project that based on current accomplishments, draft pick status and organizational investment. Fritz and Bishop aren't bad acquisitions, but neither's a real star at this point; Fritz is a veteran tackle, while Bishop's an unproven receiver with solid potential. Ottawa would be able to get more established Canadian talent from other teams, as they wouldn't be able to protect as many players thanks to not losing a quarterback.
The other player acquisition options outlined in the release would also definitely help. According to that document, Ottawa would receive four picks in the CFL's regular non-import draft the year before they return (2012, if the projected return date of 2013 comes true). They would choose at the end of the first, second, third and fourth rounds, and would only be able to select NCAA redshirt juniors (as those players would stay in school for the next year). That should give them four players who would have a chance at making the team in 2013. Ottawa would also pick first in each round in the non-import draft of the year they're set to begin play (perhaps 2013), giving them the first, 10th, 19th, 28th, 37th and 45th overall picks, which could be used on CIS or NCAA players. They would also receive two extra picks at the end of the draft (55th and 56th overall), and they would be able to develop a 25-man negotiation list.
Between the expansion draft, the two non-import drafts and the negotiation list, if capably managed, Ottawa should come into the league with both a decent initial lineup and solid future prospects. Ottawa's appearance also shouldn't prove particularly damaging to any of the existing franchises, as they should all be hurt reasonably equally. That bodes well for the success of both the new team and the rest of the league.