The coronavirus pandemic flipped the world upside down for the Canadian Football League with the cancellation of its 2020 season. But the work still hasn’t stopped, and despite having limited staff, working on a tighter budget, the Blue Bombers football operations team continues to look for new talent in new different ways, even if they can’t sign them yet.
“The operators of the teams are in a bit of a wait-and-see mentality right now,” Winnipeg general manager Kyle Walters told Global News.
The CFL has imposed a roster freeze across the league. But even if teams can’t make any transactions, Walters and his staff are still looking for the next big thing. The pandemic has only made it tougher to find new talent, though. And not seeing players in person makes it even more difficult to filter out those who wouldn’t make the cut.
“It’s a lot more time and energy without being able to see the players in person, because nobody gets eliminated based on the eyeball test,” said Walters. “Unfortunately, now without seeing the combine numbers, without seeing the players in person, there is no first filter. Everybody makes it through.”
Usually, NFL training camps are a big source of talent for the CFL, but this year scouts couldn’t attend camps in person.
“With travel being limited, budgets being limited, it wasn’t possible for them to get out,” he said. “That was a big part, has traditionally been a major part of our scouting — those NFL training camps. Start seeing the back-end guys that almost made an NFL roster that didn’t are usually the ones that make their way to the CFL.”
NCAA games are also usually a big part of unearthing fresh talent, but the Bombers scouts have been limited there as well.
“They’re able to get out to their local games and they can get in and watch,” said Walters. “It’s limited, but it’s still something to do.”
Earlier in the year, the CFL combine was cancelled ahead of the annual draft, and next year Walters and company won’t have any Canadian university games to go on with the season completely wiped out.
“You can watch film and kind of get a feel for that player as well,” the GM said. “It’s the combine — very important. Particularly in the Canadian draft where you get to see them compete against, the top 50 compete against each other.”
It’s been almost seven years since Walters was named the club’s GM and in this new world, they’ll be forced to lean more heavily on their connections.
“You’re gonna be relying much more on conversations with coaches, and people you know at those schools and the NFL teams for information. Fortunately for us in our organization, we’ve been together a while and have been doing this for a while that we’ve built up strong relationships.”