WINNIPEG – He’s evolved into perhaps the most important Canadian player in the CFL but Brad Sinopoli used to be much bigger than that.
In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that Sinopoli was supposed to be the first legitimate starting quarterback from north of the border in a league still waiting to replace the legendary Russ Jackson who retired after capping his Hall of Fame career with back-to-back Grey Cups in 1968 and ’69.
Brad Sinopoli Looking at Changes for Canadian Quarterbacks
Switch to Receiver
After winning the 2010 Hec Crighton award, given annually to Canadian University football’s best player, the Ottawa Gee Gee’s quarterback was drafted by the Calgary Stampeders and made their squad as 3rd-string quarterback the following year.
Aside from holding on field goals for Stamps kicker Rene Paredes, Sinopoli wouldn’t see the field for either of his first 2 seasons in the CFL. Buried on the depth-chart behind Henry Burris and Drew Tate in his rookie year of 2011, a sophomore campaign of 2012 would bring struggles to compete with Tate, Kevin Glenn, and then-rookie Bo Levi Mitchell. It was at that point both Sinopoli and Stampeder management saw the writing on the wall.
His talent and football smarts would be better utilized at another position where his Canadian passport actually helped (Quarterback is the one position where it doesn’t) and he was converted to Wide Receiver.
“For me, it was being bullied by (Bo Levi) Mitchell.” Sinopoli said with a chuckle during CFL Week in Winnipeg Thursday. “Honestly I think they made the right choices.” pointing to the rockstar career Mitchell has piled up as Stampeders quarterback since then and holds no grudge for losing out to arguably–with apologies to Mike Reilly–the best quarterback in the CFL today.
It’s worked out brilliantly since then for all parties with Mitchell leading Calgary to 3 Grey Cup appearances, including a championship in 2014 and heartbreaking loss to Sinopoli’s Ottawa Redblacks in 2016. He adjusted. But there are plenty of others who weren’t so fortunate.
Canadian Passport Hurts Quarterbacks
What many of even the most ardent football fans don’t understand is that not only does the Canadian quota of at least 7 guaranteed starters on each roster not apply to quarterbacks, but it actually hurts Canadian quarterbacks.
Canadian athletes with football I.Q. are at a premium compared to their U.S. counterparts. The talent pool is thin, comparatively speaking, to fill the Canadian ratio requirement and teams immediately consider moving any Canadian quarterback to another position on the roster which helps fulfill their ratio requirement. It’s been an unintended consequence of a quirk in the CBA that was designed to help Canadian players. Sinopoli admits it was and still is a real problem.
“I think it’s discouraging. I tried to not let it discourage me. I tried really hard to work on the mental aspect of being a quarterback. I went into the meetings at combines answering those questions even thinking ‘Hey I’m not a Canadian, I’m just a quarterback like every other quarterback and I’m fighting for a position.’ It’s tough because I see the media and fans are looking for that and are hoping for that and that kind of adds pressure.”
Mississauga’s Brandon Bridge brought new hope on that front by impressing in spot duty with the Saskatchewan Roughriders last season but even he never did wrestle the starting job away from Kevin Glenn. Bridge will enter the 2018 season backing up a quarterback (Zach Collaros) who is just a few months removed from a 0-8 campaign.
It’s clear the CFL has a long way to go before it celebrates that next homegrown star quarterback it has so dearly missed for 5 decades and counting. Sinopoli thinks it’s time to allow that position to count against the quota.
“I don’t think it impacted me (in the long run), no. But I would for sure like to see a change. It just doesn’t make sense. Every other position counts, why not quarterback? If someone can answer that for me then that’s fantastic but it just doesn’t make sense.”
And it doesn’t.
Opportunity to Fix Problem
Aside from lip service, nothing will be done to address the issue before the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires at the end of the coming season.
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie has indicated a willingness for change but it remains to be seen if the member clubs and the union follow suit. The offseason of 2018-19 promises to bring the most contentious round of bargaining in recent memory and the Canadian quarterback should be near the top of the list for both sides.
In a league where all-too-often Canadian players are given advantages at the expense of the American stars who dominate this game, fostering and promoting opportunity for Canadian quarterbacks is clearly an area where the CFL and it’s players association have failed miserably.
The CFL needs to fix this problem and they need to fix it now.