What Can The CFL Do For A Player?


It happens at a very early age.

The first experience of playing Pop-Warner football fuels a fire that can last a lifetime. Igniting that flame can come from a young player’s first experience of lacing up his cleats and unleashing all the power a seven or eight year old boy can muster as he hits his best neighborhood buddy.

Make no mistake, the eternal flame is lit and the passion to pursue a career playing professional football is in full effect.

That dream usually begins with the player envisioning themselves being drafted. The second part is to play in the NFL and establishing yourself as one of the all-time greats.

A lot of boys have experienced that dream.

It is an aspiration that very few see come to fruition, but that doesn’t mean their initial dream can not be altered just a tad with a trip up north across the border into Canada.

The Canadian Football League (CFL) is not the behemoth the NFL is here in the states, but it is a passionate, high level of professional football spread across the Canadian provinces and territories.

The television money the NFL receives dwarfs that of the CFL, leaving the salaries ranging somewhere around the upper middle class level.

With that said, the CFL is the closest thing in existence to the NFL in terms of level of play.

Aside from being one of Canada’s favorite pastimes, it is also a much more relevant factor in the careers of a large majority of American college free agents and NFL free agents.

What can the CFL do for a player?

Former Missouri Tigers free safety Jasper Simmons (turned CFL linebacker) spoke to Football Insiders about the benefits of playing the CFL. Simmons signed with the Toronto Argonauts (2011-12) after leaving school and has since spent his entire professional career playing in Canada.

“(I was) Able to see the world,” Simmons said when sharing his thoughts on some of his favorite reasons to call the CFL home.

Simmons currently plays for the Calgary Stampeders after a one-year stint (2014) in Ottawa with the Redblacks.

“People think that it’s an easy game to play,” but he suggests that is a big misconception about the CFL.

The field is much larger and the speed and rhythm is fast paced, even making Chip Kelly and his Philadelphia Eagles offense look lethargic. Hence the reason why Simmons, a college free safety, is now a linebacker in the CFL. It is all about speed and athleticism.

The CFL provides American players an opportunity to continue their careers. With each team littered with former or future NFL prospects, the level of competition is second only to the league ruled by Roger Goodell.

Most players arriving in Canada to play in the CFL are at a crossroads of their careers.

Ronnie Yell went undrafted out of San Jose State in the 2013 NFL Draft. He spent training camp with the Cardinals before being released. Yell has since been with the BC Lions of the CFL.

“The experience has been great,” said Yell. “First and foremost it has given me another opportunity to play the game I love and furthermore it has humbled me as a person/player and allowed me to really fine tune my playing skills. Taking them to a whole other level of play!”

Yell also reveals another aspect to playing in the CFL.

“Little do they know at my position (defensive back) it is actually a little more difficult versus the NFL, due to the fact of the much bigger field, the different rules, the receivers being allowed in motion off the line. It really test your ability and technique which I feel has benefited me the most when I plan on making the transition back to the NFL,” Yell explained.

Young players looking to keep playing after college eagerly await the chance to play in Canada. Former players let go from “the Shield” look to the north as a safe haven to continue their pro careers. Others consist of a group rising above the level of play in the CFL and attracting attention from the teams in the NFL.

The money in the CFL is not anywhere close in comparison to the money made in the NFL. If a player elects to stamp his passport to Canada, you better believe he wants to continue that adrenaline rush that can only be captured by putting on the helmet and pads.

Imminent danger of losing the lifestyle of a professional football player dawns on a prospect once the CFL tosses them to the curb. Possibly another CFL tryout or team, but it usually means the end is closing in soon.  Then it is time to revaluate life goals and move on, as painful as it may sound.

To reiterate, the first thing the CFL can do for a player is allow him to earn a living doing what he loves. In the end there isn’t anything much better than doing that.

Simmons mentioned another fallacy about the CFL.

“People think, if you haven’t been in the this league for a while that the pay is not good,” Simmons said.

He acknowledges that the pay is a lot better than perceived.

Doing what you love to do and paying the mortgage on time.

Playing in the CFL affords football players that opportunity.

The second benefit for any player on a CFL roster is the fact that NFL scouts scour the CFL teams eyeing the next Cameron Wake.

Wake went undrafted in 2005 out of Penn State. He played two seasons in Canada with the BC Lions. After accumulating 39 quarterback sacks in two seasons, he caught the attention of the Dolphins.  Four Pro Bowls later, Wake is the current poster child for NFL stardom via the CFL.

It is not an uncommon occurrence for NFL teams to use the CFL as a hotbed for talent. More importantly it allows player’s to create film.

Devouring over hours of film is par for the course in the scouting business and the more (updated) film a player has, the better.  It’s almost a priceless commodity in terms of how much value it holds.

“To get to film to show teams at the next level,” Simmons said is the most important benefit for a player playing in the CFL.

It keeps a player current and in the loop. Without the CFL, a lot of players would have no other avenues to display their film in hopes of reaching the NFL.

The CFL can give birth to a career, a rebirth to a career and sadly end a career as well.

About Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte

Bo Marchionte is an NFL writer for Football Insiders and has covered the NFL for over a decade. His background includes being staff for the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star game as a talent evaluator for player personnel along with an internship scouting with the Toronto Argonauts and Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the Canadian Football League. Bo’s draft background includes working for the NFL Draft Bible and currently owns and operates He has done radio spots on NBC, Fox Sports and ESPN and their affiliates in different markets around the country. Bo covers the Pittsburgh Steelers and Pittsburgh Panthers along with other colleges in the northeast.