When former NCAA and NFL quarterback Vince Young signed with the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders back in March, it drew plenty of attention. Young shone at Texas, especially in the 2005 season where he finished second to Reggie Bush in Heisman voting and led the Longhorns to a national championship with a win over Bush’s USC Trojans, and he had some pretty good moments with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. However, there were questions about Young’s age (he turned 34 in May), about his lack of recent experience (he hadn’t been on a professional roster since a brief stint with the Cleveland Browns in 2014, and hadn’t played in a regular-season game since 2011), and about his ability to adapt to the passing-accuracy-focused three-down game.
Those questions only grew when Young failed to impress in camp and then tore his hamstring before the Riders’ first preseason game. On Saturday, the Riders decided not to keep Young around, including him in their list of 20 final cuts. And he wasn’t even the best quarterback released that day.
While this wasn’t inevitable (Young was only expected to be out for four to six weeks, and the Riders could have kept him without using up a roster spot by moving him to the six-game disabled list), it wasn’t unexpected either. There’s a long list of big-name former NCAA quarterbacks who haven’t worked out in the CFL, from Chris Leak to Colt Brennan to Tate Forcier to Troy Smith, and many guys with smaller-school pedigrees have gone on to shine north of the border. And if Young wasn’t able to instantly dazzle and beat out 38-year-old Kevin Glenn (who might have had the most precarious hold on a starting job of any CFL quarterback this offseason), or at least show that he deserved the backup job (which wound up going to 25-year-old Brandon Bridge, who significantly outplayed Young in camp and performed well in the preseason), it would be hard to justify keeping him as a developmental quarterback given his age.
Instead, the Riders chose Glenn and Bridge, both who have CFL experience, as well as 24-year-old rookie Marquise Williams. Williams, a UNC product, comes in with less name recognition than Young, but he’s a much better long-term prospect, and a guy with some solid college stats. Williams also looked pretty decent in practices and in the preseason, which helped Saskatchewan choose him over Bryan Bennett (who they also cut Saturday). And that made it pretty easy for the Riders to end the Vince Young experiment.
The most notable thing may be that Young wasn’t the biggest CFL name cut Saturday, and he isn’t even going to be close to the first choice if other teams look to add quarterbacks. The biggest name may be quarterback Drew Willy, cut by the Toronto Argonauts less than a year after they sent an incredible haul to Winnipeg in a trade for him. Of course, Willy didn’t play well in his starts in Toronto, and the Argonauts are under new management this year (it was former general manager Jim Barker who traded for Willy, but he was fired in January and the team appointed former Montreal GM Jim Popp as his replacement; head coach Scott Milanovich also left to become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ QB coach, and Marc Trestman returned to the CFL as Toronto’s new head coach), so some of that move is about the new regime not wanting the old regime’s guy (and about Willy’s salary and cap hit being pretty high for a backup).
Willy is 30 and hasn’t been great in recent years, so it’s not guaranteed anyone else will bring him in, but CFL teams will likely be looking to call him long before Young. If they can get him at a backup salary, he might be worth it. Alternatively, Calgary cut Mitchell Gale, who has some experience with Saskatchewan and Toronto. And other QBs cut include West Georgia product Austin Trainor (Ottawa) and East Carolina product Cody Keith (Hamilton). Most of those guys look like more interesting prospects at this point, especially given their age.
Could Young still wind up with another CFL shot? Sure. If he recovers well from this injury, and if there are some quarterback injuries, and if someone out there thinks he has a lot of promise, maybe. But training camp dispelled the notion that Young was going to instantly take over the CFL (which really shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s followed the league’s quarterback play over the years), and that may make him less enticing. And it’s awfully hard to justify giving a backup or third-string spot to a 34-year-old (so not a developmental prospect) who doesn’t have CFL experience (which is much more relevant to immediate success than anything done in the NCAA or NFL).
The most likely outcome is that this is the end of the CFL line for Young, just the latest big-name prospect to come in with a lot of hype, but turn out not to be a dominant CFL force. And that’s okay; signing those guys promotes some offseason interest, and there are occasionally big names that at least somewhat pan out. But most of the time, it ends this way with a training-camp cut.
And maybe that’s a good thing for the CFL. Vince Young or any similar player really isn’t doing a ton for the league in terms of merchandising or TV ratings. The CFL’s success or failure these days is mostly about its on-field product, and that’s as it should be. It’s not a gimmick league, and if big-name players aren’t able to win a job on merit, they’re not likely to stick around long. “Vince Young to the CFL” is a fun story for a while, but in the end, the league’s teams are generally going to go with the better, younger quarterbacks who give them more of a chance to win.