Sunday, June 5, 2011

Why Terrelle Pryor isn't coming north, but Mitch Mustain is

Joe Fortenbaugh of the National Football Post had an interesting piece today that asked the question, "Should Terrelle Pryor head for Canada?" (For those unfamiliar, Pryor is currently the quarterback at Ohio State and he's become prominently embroiled in the scandal that's already led to the resignation of head coach Jim Tressel, pictured above right talking to Pryor during a 2010 game against Eastern Michigan.) Pryor already is set to miss the first five games of the 2011 NCAA season as a penalty for accepting improper benefits, but he could wind up missing the whole year depending on what the separate NCAA probe into his actions (including his car and license issues) finds. As Fortenbaugh writes, "It's time to get the hell out of Dodge."

Pryor's options for doing that are limited, though. He's missed the NFL's regular draft, and although he could declare for a supplemental draft, teams are often unwilling to concede high picks in the regular April draft to claim prospects in a supplemental draft. Given that Pryor has never really blown people away at the NCAA level, Fortenbaugh's quite right that he probably isn't going to be a high pick at the moment and that he could probably stand to improve his skills further to try and stay in the NFL long-term. However, there are several factors that make him unlikely to do so in the CFL.

The first, and perhaps most important, is the elimination of the NFL option window in the 2010 CFL collective bargaining agreement (something that's already been an issue in some contract negotiations). Before that came in, players could sign a one-year CFL deal with a team option for a second year, but even if the team exercised that option, they had the chance to go try out for the NFL before it kicked in. That led to players like Stefan Logan only spending one year north of the border before heading to the NFL's greener pastures. With that window now closed, players have to commit to the CFL for a minimum of two years, which makes it harder to sign NFL hopefuls like Pryor. If that window was still around, we'd probably see more of the current undrafted free agents who can't sign NFL deals (thanks to the lockout) coming north; as it stands, it's only the real bubble guys who are willing to put their NFL dreams on hold for at least two years who are signing north of the border.

However, what's almost as important is that the quarterback position is notably different in the CFL than any other position. At receiver, running back, linebacker, defensive end or almost anywhere else, a raw, athletic prospect with NFL potential can step in and likely at least see some snaps. It takes time to fully adjust to the CFL game, so many don't necessarily dominate right away, but they can at least get on the field. That's generally not the case at quarterback. Keep in mind that the CFL only has eight teams, and six of those teams have firmly established and talented veterans starting at quarterback heading into training camp. The exceptions are Winnipeg and Toronto, but their situations aren't all that bleak, either; Winnipeg does have an experienced if injury-prone starter in Buck Pierce and a high-potential backup in Joey Elliott, while Toronto has two guys with notable experience (Steven Jyles and Cleo Lemon) competing for the starting job. There's nowhere in the CFL where Pryor would currently get the chance to even battle for a starting role, unless some team got hit with a rash of injuries at quarterback the way Winnipeg did last season.

Quarterback injuries do happen, and they do often change things, but having a whole flood of them at once is unusual. If Pryor could assure himself of getting a backup job and being in place to step in if the starter struggled or got hurt, then the CFL might make sense for him at this point. That seems unlikely, though, as most teams already have their backup spot pretty well decided. The only places I could perhaps see Pryor competing for the backup spot right now are Edmonton, Saskatchewan or B.C., but all already have plenty of candidates under consideration. Moreover, many of those candidates have CFL experience, and adjusting to the CFL can be even more difficult for quarterbacks than it is for anyone else (thanks to the wider field, the 12-man coverage and route-running schemes and the vastly different playbook), so I wouldn't bet on Pryor getting much of a look as even a number-two option right now.

Keep in mind that NCAA success doesn't always guarantee CFL success, either; former Florida QB Chris Leak and former Boise State pivot Jared Zabransky are still in the league, but haven't done a ton of good things to date, and while former Iowa QB Drew Tate has had some success in limited duty in Calgary, he's very much a backup to Henry Burris right now. The CFL can be a land of opportunity for quarterbacks to show what they can do; it worked for Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, after all. However, it took both of them some time to catch on, and both did it in an era when there wasn't as much depth already in the league at the quarterback position. It's hard to see Pryor even getting playing time inside two years, and I doubt he'd want to sign for more than that, so there's a good chance he won't be following that path.

One former big-name NCAA quarterback has already signed in Canada, though, and for him, the CFL makes substantially more sense. Much like Pryor, Mitch Mustain was a hotly-recruited prospect coming out of high school, and both even won national player of the year awards in high school, but that's where the comparisons stop. Pryor may not have hit the numbers many thought he was capable of yet, but he took Ohio State to three straight BCS bowls. Mustain wound up at Arkansas, started as a true freshman and wound up going 8-0 (in a run-focused offence that featured future NFL stars Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis), but was replaced by Casey Dick towards the end of the year. He then transferred to USC and battled Aaron Corp as current New York Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez's backup, and he even had a chance to be the starter in 2009, but lost out to another hyped freshman, Matt Barkley. Now, after dealing with some legal trouble around a charge of suspicion of selling prescription amphetamines, he's signed with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and is busy adapting to the differences of life in Canada at their training camp.

Unlike Pryor, Mustain (pictured above in a 2009 USC practice) doesn't currently have a lot of NFL hype around him, so the CFL is a more attractive option for him. He'll likely be battling for the third quarterback spot at best (behind starter Kevin Glenn and backup Quinton Porter), but his high school career and flashes of talent he demonstrated in college certainly suggest there's potential there. With time and development, there's a chance he could adjust to the CFL, become a good starting quarterback down the road and perhaps even make the NFL some day. (It probably won't hurt Mustain that Hamilton's new offensive coordinator is legendary CFL quarterback Khari Jones, either.) Whether he gets anywhere in the CFL is an open question, but unlike Pryor, he's got plenty of time and incentive to do so.

Shana Hiatt Tara Conner Drea de Matteo Trista Rehn Moon Bloodgood

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