Saturday, March 7, 2015

Sheets Won't be Entering a Friendly CFL Running-back Market

"Holy Sheets!"

According to tweets on his official Twitter account, former Saskatchewan Roughriders running-back Kory Sheets will not be returning to the Oakland Raiders in 2015. 

It's also safe to say Sheets won't be returning to the NFL at all. The former 101st Grey Cup MVP is coming off a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the pre-season that sidelined him for the entire season. Sheets, who more than likely was going to get released from Oakland anyway, was placed on the injured reserve while the Raiders went 3-13. Fortunately for CFL fans, there is absolutely zero incentive for another NFL team to pick up any soon-to-be 30 year old running-back, especially one that is coming off a major injury and has five career rushing yards in the NFL.

Sheets may not attract a very large crowd of serious buyers when he hits the CFL open market either. Sheets will understandably demand a hefty salary, something teams typically don't give to running-backs in free agency, and particularly those coming off major injury. 

Since the running-back position is the easiest to fill in football, very few teams pay more than one running-back more than a rookie contract. The numbers on these rookie deals can vary, but are usually in the range of $51,000 to $80,000. To further prove that point, only four teams in 2014 had their starting tail-back on a regular contract; meanwhile Hamilton, Toronto, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Saskatchewan all had their main rusher on rookie deals, which vary based on the player's agent or even his NFL experience.

If Sheets were to join with a club that already pays their current starter a veteran starter's contract, that team would be forced to make certain roster changes. If we take the Alouettes for example, they would either have to release starter Brandon Whitaker, whom has had his own injury issues as of late, to take on Sheets' salary or keep Whitaker and cut another starting player from a different positional group. While both seem highly unlikely, Montreal would probably rather release Whitaker as, again: CFL clubs don't pay two 'backs starter's money. As demonstrated perfectly on the Alouettes roster, it makes far more sense for the Als to keep Chris Rainey and Tyrell Sutton, who signed a three year extension recently of likely around $80k, with their cheap contracts than Whitaker and his veteran contract, as the production is similar in a secondary role. 

Sheets' salary would also be larger than that of almost all other starting running-backs, and offering that to a player who's coming off a torn Achilles' tendon rather than a younger starter, like Whitaker, whose on a cheaper contract- or even in many other cases a rookie contact- doesn't make a whole lot of sense. 

But let's not forgot about who we're talking about here. Kory Sheets has an amazing 2,875 career rushing yards with 23 career rushing touchdowns in only two CFL seasons. Sheets had 1,598 rushing yards with a 5.6 yard average during Saskatchewan's Grey Cup winning year; and did that while missing four games! 

Kory Sheets is going to sign somewhere. Unless he suffers a major setback in his rehab that affects his play, he will most definitely reach 1000 yards on whichever team he signs with. 

Calgary, BC, Hamilton, Edmonton can automatically be eliminated from contention. Calgary already has the best 'back in the game with Jon Cornish, while BC also has themselves an elite national starter in Andrew Harris. The Tiger-Cats just gave CJ Gable & Nic Grigsby their first veteran deals and are excited to see what the two young backs can accomplish together. Edmonton, meanwhile, may have their own Kory Sheets in John White, who was on pace for 1,700 yards had he stayed healthy during his first year as the starter. White, who has no NFL experience, is likely making peanuts on his rookie deal while his back-up, Kendial Lawrence, just got first pay-cheque in an contract extension with the Eskies. 

That leaves Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and of course, Saskatchewan. 

For reasons mentioned above, and because they are already hard-pressed against the cap, Montreal does not look like Kory Sheets' next destination. Jim Popp already extended several key guys such as SJ Green, Chip Cox, Bear Woods and Geoff Tisdale in the re-signing phase, and also brought in 4 other Free Agents in February. His Quarterback will also be looking for a new deal next off-season. Montreal has had their fun (and they already have an expensive running-back), so they're out. 

The Argos are an interesting team. They went with Curtis Steele and Steve Slaton in 2014, whom were both on rookie contracts, but neither emerged as the starter. They recently gave Steele an extension that will probably pay him similar numbers to those on Sutton's deal. It would make perfect sense for Toronto to bring in Kory Sheets; he'd be a huge upgrade over Slaton or Steele and they have money to spend. 

Or do they?

Steve Slaton is definitely earning more than league minimum as the former 3rd round NFL draft pick of the Houston Texans played 5 years in the NFL before coming up north. The Argos also recently signed Bernard Scott, who also has 5 years of NFL experience, and would likely release at least one of these well-paid running-backs, which is no big deal in CFL, where contracts aren't guaranteed.

I think it comes down to David Braley's stubbornness as the owner. He has to be the reason the Argos didn't spend, or at least extend some contracts, in free agency. It could also be hard for Jim Barker to recruit Sheets due to stadium issues and other off-field problems the Argos sadly have. Don't write them off, but it's to envision the boatmen spending big money on Sheets. 

Winnipeg and Ottawa are in similar boats. Both have a starting running-back (Chevon Walker in Ottawa and Paris Cotton in Winnipeg) but neither are exactly cemented as the number one guy. They both also have money to spend, and wouldn't have to release their current starter (Cotton's entering year two of rookie deal). That being said, the Bombers won't sign Kory Sheets. They like what they've seen in Cotton and have already spent enough in free agency. While Sheets' is not a must-sign by any means for them, Ottawa is a more likely destination for Mr. #1Time. 

And of course, I can't forget about the Riders, who will certainly be in the thick of all negotiations. They probably have their running-back of the future in 26 year old Anthony Allen and also have a good, but expensive back-up in national bruiser Jerome Messam. In order to retain Sheets, Saskatchewan would have to release another starter under contract to free the cap space, similarly to what they had to do with now-Bomber centre Dom Picard. Sheets may grant Saskatchewan a "home-town discount", but nothing large enough to keep the Riders from having to chop Messam off the roster in favour of a rookie 'back's contract (Steven Miller?) as well as another well-paid player. Saskatchewan doesn't need Kory Sheets, but could make it happen if they so desire. 

While the market may not be as hot for his services as Kory Sheets may think, the 101st Grey Cup MVP will find a home in 2015; but with who? 

Sheets may be a bona-fide elite CFL running-back, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's as hot as a commodity for most teams as you may think. Despite it almost being a guaranteed that Sheets surpasses 1000 yards in 2015, he's still a risky signing, especially if you have to release another starter to afford him. 

Running-back's come a dime-a-dozen; it's always a risk signing one for big money who's on the wrong side of 30 and is coming off an Achilles injury, even if there name is Kory Sheets.

It's a risk some will be willing to take.  

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