One of the CFL stories that picked up a fair bit of buzz this week was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' decision to release Canadian receiver Chris Bauman (pictured above being tackled by Calgary's Milt Collins in an Oct. 29 game). Bauman would have been a free agent by the regular mid-February deadline if not resigned, and Drew Edwards writes they made the move to let him go early after determining they were unlikely to be able to bring him back. The release means that teams have the chance to claim him through the waiver process, essentially assuring themselves exclusive negotiation rights with Bauman before he hits the open market (but nothing more).
Winnipeg would have the first crack at Bauman in that waiver process, and they certainly seem to be interested; Ed Tait writes that the Bombers are seriously considering trying to land the Brandon, Manitoba native. However, they have to ponder if it's worth trying to grab him off waivers this close to free agency; exclusive negotiation windows are all well and good, but it's pretty easy for a player to wait a week and see if another team makes a better offer. With perhaps up to six of the eight CFL teams interested in grabbing Bauman (one exception is obviously Hamilton, but it's unclear who the other one is), and strong interest expressed by teams like Edmonton, market forces could play a significant role in determining where Bauman ends up. He very well could ignite a bidding war, making his services very expensive for whoever winds up winning.
On one hand, it's not difficult to see why there's so much interest in Bauman. He's only 26, and he's listed at 6'4'' and 212 pounds. He has decent speed, good hands and pretty solid agility. He had a strong CIS career with the Regina Rams and was selected first overall in the 2007 CFL draft. There's obviously a lot of potential there, and in a league where a star Canadian receiver can both bring you significant production and help you balance your import ratio, teams are always going to be interested in Canadian players with Bauman's attributes.
On the other hand, though, Bauman really hasn't achieved all that much in his CFL career so far. In four seasons, he's recorded a total of 114 catches for 1,511 yards (a 13.3 yard per reception average) and six touchdowns. Those aren't awful numbers, but they're certainly not spectacular either; that works out to an average of 378 yards per season. Bauman's best year came in 2008, when he hauled in 48 passes for 588 yards. The last two seasons, he hasn't broken 20 catches or 300 yards. He's still young and he still has plenty of skill, but his numbers aren't exactly what you'd expect from a receiver about to potentially ignite a bidding war.
Part of the reason the interest in Bauman appears to outweigh his production thus far is likely thanks to the perceived scarcity of Canadian talent. There's long been a belief amongst many of the personnel guys and executives in this game that the Canadian talent pool isn't all that deep. This view holds that there are a few potential Canadian stars like the recently-decamped Andy Fantuz and then a slightly larger pool of serviceable guys, but not one that extends to the point where it's easy to find replacements or new talent. In this view, you do what you have to to find acceptable Canadians to fill out your roster, and then focus your energies on finding American stars from the indisputably much larger pool of players south of the border. That's why a lot of CFL teams didn't really take the later rounds of the Canadian draft as seriously for years. This view is starting to change a bit, but elements of it still persist, and that's reflected in the intense interest in a player like Bauman who hasn't accomplished all that much; he hasn't become a star yet, but he's a serviceable Canadian receiver with upside, and it appears many teams seem to view those as a reasonably scarce commodity.
I'm not sure that's really the case any more, though. Historically, there were good reasons for the top-heavy view of the Canadian talent pool and the focus on grabbing the top guys out there at all cost. However, I think the depth of that pool has expanded substantially over the years. The calibre of CIS play now is generally seen as significantly better than it was a decade ago, particularly from those who follow the game closely, and a large part of that improved reputation is thanks to more and more programs making substantial investments in elite facilities, professional coaching and training staffs and athletic scholarships, among other things. We're also seeing plenty of top Canadian prospects not only take the NCAA route, like Michigan State commit Arjen Colquhuon (who I wrote about here), but excel there, like Oregon's Bo Lokombo (who I covered here) and Baylor's Danny Watkins (who Doug Farrar wrote about here and here).
Moreover, as Kent Ridley told me last year, we're seeing more and more talented Canadian players coming out of the high school ranks all the time, even if many of them aren't given a ton of recruiting attention. The same holds true at the CIS level and the CFL draft; there are plenty of players who tear up the university ranks, but are passed over at the draft or selected late and then never really given a chance to shine at the next level. Even some of the CIS stars who do wind up on CFL teams are often given quite limited roles, like Daryl Stephenson and Mike Giffin. The point is, I think it's quite possible to find any number of Canadian receivers either currently on CFL rosters or coming out of college this year who offer similar potential to Bauman despite not carrying the top-pick label; they also don't carry the risk of a bidding war and an inflated price tag. It's not that teams shouldn't pursue Bauman; it's that they should recognize that there are far more talented Canadians out there than there have been in past years. The talent pool has been deepened and the "No Diving" signs have been removed, so CFL teams should feel free to take the plunge.