TORONTO — Never in his 20 years as a general manager has Jim Popp seen a CFL draft like it.
Five first-round trades were made Tuesday night as well as another involving an early second-round selection. The fireworks began 30 minutes before the start of the draft when the expansion Ottawa Redblacks dealt the first overall pick to the Calgary Stampeders, who kicked off the frenzied first round by taking Laval centre Pierre Lavertu, the consensus top selection.
Popp even got in on the action, swapping the Montreal Alouettes’ fourth overall pick with Ottawa after it obtained the No. 5 selection from the B.C. Lions for disgruntled veteran quarterback Kevin Glenn.
“It was crazy,” Popp said. “We even got slowed down by the time it was our pick flipping with Ottawa because they (CFL) couldn’t even confirm the deal that was done with B.C. in order for us to do the flip.
“It’s the most I’ve ever been called during a first round or even during a draft to try and trade. It was wild.”
Toronto Argonauts GM Jim Barker, another CFL draft veteran, was stunned by the flurry of activity.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “Everyone was trying to manoeuvre because there weren’t as many top players.”
However, Popp said the overall depth of the draft pool prompted the feeding frenzy as teams scrambled to land the players they coveted.
“There may not be as many clear-cut guys as someone thinks can start now but there’s a lot of guys who can help teams,” Popp said. “I told our guys beforehand this was going to be a bit of a crazy draft.
“And I’m not talking about the trades but just the different directions people were going to go because there wasn’t a lot of real clear-cut guys that were going to go in the first round and you didn’t know what everybody was going to do.”
In Lavertu, Calgary secured a player regarded as the most pro-ready prospect. That cost the Stampeders offensive lineman Jon Gott, a five-year CFL veteran who played previously for Redblacks offensive co-ordinator Mike Gibson in Alberta.
Calgary also landed the rights to veteran centre Marwan Hage. He played 10 seasons with Hamilton before going to Ottawa in the CFL expansion draft, then retiring last month. The Redblacks will get a conditional pick if the Stampeders trade Hage’s rights.
Calgary’s selection of the six-foot-three, 300-pound Lavertu was surprising because starting centre Brett Jones was the CFL’s top rookie last year after being a 2013 second-round pick. That could force Lavertu, of Quebec City, to play guard.
“If they want to put me at right guard I am going to do it,” he said. “I’m going to go all out, do the best I can and play to my full potential and maybe have a starting spot.”
Lavertu, a three-time All-Canadian, watched the draft at a restaurant in Quebec City with family and friends and received a loud ovation when his name was called.
“My mom cried but everybody was happy for me,” he said. “It was a great moment.
“I think I’m pro ready for the CFL. I’ve worked hard for this, I’m physically ready and understand the game so I can learn the playbook really quick . . . I think I will be able to show my full potential.”
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, as expected, selected Simon Fraser centre Matthias Goossen second overall. Like Lavertu, Goossen is regarded as a pro-ready prospect and addresses a need with veteran Justin Sorensen signing this off-season with Edmonton as a free agent.
Toronto acquired the No. 3 spot from the Edmonton Eskimos, using it on versatile Manitoba running back Anthony Coombs. Not only is Coombs an effective runner but a solid receiver who could also be returning kicks.
“It was important for us to make this trade and move up in the draft to get the guy we wanted,” Barker said. “We needed to be proactive and go after him.
“We believe he’ll fit very well into what we do on the field.”
Ottawa dealt its way back into the first round at No. 4, making versatile Montreal Carabins defensive back Antoine Pruneau its first-ever draft pick.
Lions GM Wally Buono dealt for Glenn after trying unsuccessfully to move up. With incumbent Travis Lulay coming off shoulder surgery and backup Thomas DeMarco now with Ottawa, the 34-year-old Glenn is a reliable insurance policy.
“He’s a proven winner wherever he’s been,” Buono said of Glenn. “He’s been a tremendous quarterback, he’s a great locker-room guy.
“We know automatically he will come in here and compete very well and make this a very good football team.”