There is no such thing as a 'nothing' game. Heading into the final week of the season and the playoff picture is still not clear. Only in the CFL.
Interesting to me is that every team that needs to win this week in order to secure a playoff position is playing against teams that have locked up a playoff spot. There will be a lot of chatter this week about motivation and the elaborate plans coaches will be putting into place in order to prepare their team for a 'nothing' game.
After playing for several years, I have come to appreciate that there is no such thing as a 'nothing' game. Teams want to be playing well heading into the playoffs. And yes, there are plenty of personal accomplishments and league awards still up for grabs.
Every time that a player takes the field, he is leaving an impression -- positive or negative -- that increases or decreases the chance of continuing a football career that he has grown to appreciate.
Think back to Calgary-B.C. last week and ask yourself these questions: What impression did the Lions offensive line, without Angus Reid in the lineup, leave with you? What about Paul McCallum? Adam BighilL and Tim Brown were very impressive, but what about Solomon Elimimian? There has not been a lot of chatter about Elimimian these days.
How about recently acquired veteran defensive end Anwar Stewart? What kind of impression do you have of him after his four-sack performence?
At the end of the day, a player is a commodity. And as a commodity, he needs to be keenly aware of his value. If that value doesn't fit with a club's budget, he is, unfortunately, expendable.
EVERY PLAYER IS REPLACEABLE
It sure sounds acceptable when a player suggests that he has fully bought into the team concept and that he is fine with sitting second or third on the team as long as it has success. I sure don't remember the team concept coming into play in contract negotiations that I had over my career.
I had the privilege to play eight years for current Lions general manager Wally Buono. He would often suggest to me during negotiations that every player is replaceable. Obviously, this was a position that favoured his position as GM. However, as painful as it might be for me to admit, Buono is right -- most players are replaceable.
While playing in Calgary, I saw firsthand how Doug Flutie was replaced by a young Jeff Garcia, who quarterbacked our 1998 Grey Cup championship team. Few thought that Dave Dickenson could be replaced after the 2000 season, but the Stampeders won a Grey Cup that very next season with Marcus Crandell behind centre.
There were only three players that Buono ever mentioned to me that he felt were not replaceable -- Allan Pitts, Darryl Hall and Carl Kidd. A pretty elite list of players. What is unique about this list is that all three players changed how the game was played.
NEED TO GET TIMING BACK
Geroy Simon is the highest-paid, non-quarterback player in the CFL. Is he worth it? Will he be around next season with the Lions? Can he be replaced by a young, up-and coming-player like Courtney Taylor or Ernest Jackson?
Currently, Simon ranks 16th in receiving in the CFL with 54 catches for 700 yards and two touchdowns. He has averaged only 46 receiving yards per game, definitely not the numbers that we have grown accustomed to see from him over the years.
Don't get me wrong, Simon is an amazing receiver and deserves respect for what he has accomplished. However, he fully understands that his paycheque needs to directly correlate to his ability to contribute to winning football games. Simon's numbers this season don't add up.
Coming off two weeks recovery from a hamstring injury, Simon had no business playing in last week's 'nothing' game with temperatures below zero in Calgary. He finished the game with five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown. But if he needed to get his timing back prior to the playoffs, he could have easily waited until this week (against Saskatchewan) in the controlled environment of BC Place.
NEVER TAKE JOB FOR GRANTED
What about teammate Arland Bruce III? Do you think he is going to lack motivation this week? Bruce knows that a season with 43 catches for 603 yards is not going to cut it when he sits down with Buono in the off-season.
Simon and Bruce III need to remind us this week why we are familiar with their names. Believe me, they're not looking at this week as a 'nothing' game, but rather as an opportunity to remind us -- and Buono -- why they're well paid.
Players can not afford to go through the motions. Although I expect to see some deliberate control of playing time for certain players by coaches this week, veteran players know that they need to use every snap to continue to build their resumes. Veterans know that they can never take their jobs for granted.
For those of you that are banking on soft performances by teams that don't gain an advantage in the standings this week, I believe that you underestimate player's awareness of the business of football.
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