A Tale of Two Jesses

By Jason Menard

It truly is our game – even if its stars aren’t from our native soil. But two CFL signings – a tale of two Jesses you may say — may go a long way to dispel the idea that Canadians can’t play the skill positions. Or they may simply show that marrying Can Con with winning is a double-edged sword.

Sharp move: The Hamilton Tiger-Cats recently stepped up and picked up Jesse Lumsden, a Hamilton fixture and recent cut from the Seattle Seahawks. Dull edge: the Ottawa Renegades, faltering under the shaky leadership of current pivot Kerry Joseph, are falling all over themselves to bring home local boy Jesse Palmer.

Yes, the former Roughriders are looking to get hitched to The Bachelor. Ottawa-born Jesse Palmer finally got the axe from the New York Giants, and CFL teams have begun sniffing around him. Leading the pack are the Renegades, who have made no secret of their desire to land their native son and put him under centre.

But the question remains, are they doing it to put points on the scoreboard or butts in the seats? The real winner in the Renegades’ full-court courtship of Palmer? The Montreal Alouettes, Palmer’s current rights holders. So once the Alouettes coax their king’s ransom from Ottawa and pocket their draft picks, will the Renegades be any better?

Probably not. And what happens to the fan base when the novelty wears off and the franchise fails to improve?

The CFL is a mobile man’s game. Check out around the league and most of the best quarterbacks are as proficient with their legs as they are with their arms. Thanks to the wider field and larger end zones, the Canadian game is far more wide-open, and more pass-happy. As such, quarterbacks can be much more dangerous using their legs and finding holes in the defence. The exception to the rule is Montreal’s Anthony Calvillo, whose feet of stone are balanced by a rocket arm.

So what does Palmer bring to the plate other than name recognition and a noticeable lack of mileage due to his proficiency in riding the pine? Not much, but name value is enough in this league. Heck, if head cases Andre Rison and Lawrence Phillips can get back into the game based on marquee value, then a good Canadian boy should be able to as well.

On the flip side, Lumsden’s signing makes sense for so many reasons. But, most importantly, his value to the team means more on the field than off. Of course, the Tiger-Cats will benefit from this Jesse’s name recognition, starring for so many years in the McMaster Marauder backfield, but it’s his on-the-field prowess that will mean the most. What Lumsden brings to the table is not just his talent, which will find him playing an increased role next year, but the fact that he is a ratio-breaker in a complimentary position. And, the fact that he’s coming in as a back-up gives the Tiger-Cats more flexibility in his progression.

Simply put Lumsden, the son of former CFL star Neil Lumsdsen, is a ratio-breaker. As per CFL rules, there are a certain number of Canadians who must be on the active roster. Usually these Canucks populate the lines or linebacking core, with a few odd Canadians appearing in so-called skill positions. Rarely do you find Canadians in the position of tailback. Former Mount Allison standout Eric Lapointe has kicked around the CFL, but without any great success. On the defensive side of the ball, Davis Sanchez is another ratio-breaker manning the corners for the Eskimos.

Tailbacks in the CFL are a luxury. Quarterbacks are an essential. To put any player under centre in the CFL just because of name recognition is a risky proposition. For an Ottawa franchise that can’t seem to keep its head above water, marrying their fortunes to Palmer as a starting quarterback could end up divorcing them from Grey Cup contention.

Despite the risks to the individual teams, however, the greatest part of this discussion may be the fact that more Canadian kids will get a look for non-traditional roles. There is no reason why each and every CFL squad couldn’t take a talented Canuck pivot and make him their third-stringers. A Larry Jusdanis or Chris Palmer would have served just as good as any American quarterback in a back-up role, and the increased recognition could help the Canadian game.

As it stands, Palmer is getting preferential treatment in his rise to the top because of his place of birth. Just as a team not looking at Canadians in the past was bad, simply anointing a player the saviour due to his nationality is equally as wrong.

In the end, maybe we’ll get to a point where a CFL quarterback isn’t chosen because of his birth certificate, but rather his potential.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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