To keep from being beaten black and blue in their first season next summer, the Ottawa Redblacks will have to make wise decisions in Monday's CFL expansion draft and hope for a bit of luck to boot.
Redblacks general manager Marcel Desjardins, head coach Rick Campbell and staff will submit three lists between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. (see below) and will come out of the afternoon with 16 non-import and eight import players for a total of 24, adding to the handful of free agents they've already signed in the past few weeks.
It could be a disaster. It could be brilliant. It's likely going to be somewhere between those poles.
The rules for the draft are somewhat esoteric. But we can make it a little easier by using the Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders as an example and the mock protection list chosen by Jamie Nye of CFL.ca for Big Green.
Of course, this is completely speculative, so don't hold me to it.
1. Before anything else, you have to understand that the Roughriders have almost 20 free agents, including such stars as receiver Weston Dressler and running back Kory Sheets. Ottawa isn't picking a free agent unless the staff feels there's a good chance at signing him, so Dressler and Sheets aren't about to become rouge et noir. They might even go to the NFL. If Ottawa picks a pending free agent, it will retain exclusive negotiating rights with that player until the free-agent period officially begins in mid-February 2014.
2. The Riders can protect one quarterback and 10 imports, whether signed or not, and Nye went with offensive tackle Xavier Fulton, safety Tyron Brackenridge, defensive end John Chick, linebacker Weldon Brown, running back Chris Garrett, linebacker Brian Peters, defensive lineman Hilee Taylor, free-agent cornerback Terrell Maze, linebacker Renauld Williams and Dressler. He kept Dressler just in case Ottawa might take a big, big chance.
3. Darian Durant will certainly be protected, so Ottawa will have Drew Willy, a free agent, and Tino Sunseri to choose from at quarterback. But Willy's not worth the chance and the latter isn't worth the pick. The Redblacks can only pick two quarterbacks across the whole league. Also, picking a team's pivot counts as their import selection.
4. Ottawa can choose one import off a list that could include an old cornerback in Dwight Anderson, an old linebacker in Diamond Ferri, a fabulous wide receiver who wants to be a coach in Geroy Simon and a few more like that. But defensive tackle Tearrius George might be available. So, too, could running back Jock Sanders and that's where it gets interesting. Sanders had almost 1,000 combined yards in 2012. But he struggled with injuries and with being stuck behind Sheets this season. Sanders can rush, has great hands and is a talented returner. Yes, he's a free agent. But he might be convinced to come east and be the man in the nation's capital rather than the other guy in Regina. Or the Riders might surprise and protect him, negating all of the above.
5. Next up will be the non-import draft and Saskatchewan can keep six before Ottawa takes one. It's generally accepted that the Riders will protect most of their offensive linemen - Brendon LaBatte, Chris Best, Dominic Picard, Ben Heenan - and definitely will keep wide receiver Chris Getzlaf, with Nye saying the last one should be defensive tackle Keith Shologan. Local media seem pretty much in agreement on those picks.
6. Ottawa, then, would have a choice between at least a half-dozen strong Canadians, none of them free agents and all of whom played in the Grey Cup, including injury-prone receiver Rob Bagg, linebacker Tristan Black, offensive guard Dan Clark, defensive end Ricky Foley and linebacker Cory Huclack. There's some good stuff there.
7. The Riders then protect a further six non-imports, so most of the names on that list at No. 6 will be gone by then, leaving second-tier contributors. This will be hard because whomever Ottawa grabs will almost certainly be a special-teams specialist and backup - someone like young Levi Steinhauer, for example. So the Redblacks might leave Saskatchewan carrying Sanders, Foley and Steinhauer. Well worth the trip. On the other hand, they also have to stop in Winnipeg and Edmonton.
Draft rules (and what they mean)
1. Protected lists had to be in to the CFL office by Dec. 9. You're not allowed to know who is on them because the league says it doesn't want to upset the players. That isn't why. The teams don't want players to know they were among the top protected players so it doesn't cost them a lot more money at contract time.
2. Each team can protect just one quarterback. But with good youngsters like Zach Collaros of the Toronto Argonauts and the Riders' Willy currently free agents, Ottawa's choices are pretty much the old, the infirm and the not yet shaving. Intriguing choices include: Drew Tate of the Calgary Stampeders if, as everyone believes, Bo Levi Mitchell will be protected; Jonathan Crompton of the Edmonton Eskimos; Max Hall and Justin Goltz of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers; and Toronto's Trevor Harris. Unless ...
3. Redblacks officials aren't allowed to contact a prospective player before the draft. However, no one in the CFL is more than two degrees of separation from anyone else and it's pretty easy to find out through a player agent's ex-teammate's barber whether someone might be willing to sign, if taken. Totally unofficial, you understand. You might well take a chance on Collaros, if you think he has no chance at an NFL job or isn't interested in backing up Ricky Ray in 2014.
4. Finally, after the draft, Desjardins can begin trading with his peers. Don't be surprised if he takes the best athlete available from each team, regardless of position, and then works it out afterwards through the trade route.
By Monday dinner, Ottawa fans, you will have a team.
Follow Malcolm Kelly on Twitter @sportsnag
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?