2022 CFL Global primer: Who made the cut?

The Canadian Football League is set to kick off its 2022 season on Thursday, marking the first full 18-game campaign since before the COVID-19 pandemic. For the third straight season, international players will be a part of the action as the league continues its Global program.

As in years past, all nine CFL teams will be required to dress one Global player — an athlete from outside Canada or the United States — on their gameday roster. Teams can also choose to dress an additional Global player if they earn their way onto the field.

Following the conclusion of training camp and two preseason games, teams made their final cuts on Saturday and filled out their practice rosters, giving us the first indication of which Global athletes will be expected to see the field the most. Going from West to East, here are the international names you need to know for the upcoming CFL season.

B.C. Lions

When it comes to Global content, the B.C. Lions find themselves in a unique situation. Incumbent Global, German defensive end Niklas Gustav departed the organization in the offseason in order to try his hand at the European League of Football and they entered training camp with just two players vying to be his replacement. The team cut Latvian defensive lineman Karlis Brauns, the third overall pick in the 2022 Global Draft, outright and did not offer him a practice squad contract, meaning only Belgian defensive tackle Tibo Debaillie remains in the building.

Tibo Debaillie

The team appears high on Debaillie, who dressed for three games last season with the Edmonton Elks and have been vocal about their desire to have a Global defensive lineman who can be involved in the rotation. That means the Towson product could be one of the most actively used Globals in the league, but the Lions are in a tricky spot should he get injured. Look for the team to add a depth piece on the practice squad soon as the only other option under contract is Chinese defensive end Boqiao Li, who still resides on their suspended list due to travel issues two years after they drafted him.

Edmonton Elks

New head coach and general manager Chris Jones cleared out much of the Elks’ existing Global depth when he was hired in January, cutting the aforementioned Debaillie, French linebacker Maxime Rouyer, and Mexican receiver Diego Viamontes. The lone survivor of that cut down, Danish offensive lineman Steven Nielsen, will begin his second CFL season as the team’s active Global player once again.

Nielsen started several games for the team at right tackle last year and could see action again as Edmonton sorts through some injuries and uncertainty at that spot to begin the season. However, Jones has made it clear that he would ideally like to use his Global spot on a specialist.

Brazilian kicker Rafael Gaglianone couldn’t secure a full-time spot and will begin the year on the practice roster, while Aussie Ryan Meskell and South African Wihan Van Der Riet are on the suspended list and could arrive at some point. Ultimately though, the team is still actively searching for a Global punter and likely hoping that 2022 first-round pick Ben Griffiths of Australia stops waiting around for an NFL opportunity and heads north from USC.

Calgary Stampeders

The Stampeders had one of the league’s most clear-cut Global situations entering 2022 with Australian punter Cody Grace, a West Division all-star who received NFL tryouts in the offseason, returning for a second season. That all changed when Grace suffered a groin injury in practice this week, prompting the team to trade for Saskatchewan Roughriders’ practice squad punter James Smith in exchange for a third-round pick in the 2023 Global Draft and a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2023 Canadian Draft.

British offensive lineman Keanu Ebanks #68 spent 2021 season with Hamburg Sea Devils in the European League of Football

The Aussie, who played his college football at the University of Cincinnati, should be a capable replacement, but the team has other Global options in-house should Canadian Keiran Burnham need to assume punting duties. British offensive lineman Keanu Ebanks, Brazilian linebacker Ryan Gomes, and Australian safety Bailey Devine-Scott all made the practice roster out of training camp, while British offensive tackle Bamidele Olaseni, the team’s 2022 first-round pick, could be a mid-season addition if he fails to make the Las Vegas Raiders.

Two familiar names who did not make the cut were Mexican receiver Andres Salgado, who was released midway through training camp after two seasons with the team, and defensive lineman Misiona Aiolupotea-Pei of New Zealand.

Saskatchewan Roughriders

The Riders have a little less Global depth thanks to the James Smith trade but the team is extremely comfortable with their situation thanks to Norwegian punter Kaare Vedvik. The big-legged Marshall product is so well-liked that his arrival late last year prompted the team to walk away from 40-year-old hometown hero and former Super Bowl champion Jon Ryan in order to hand Vedvik the keys. South African Henry Nell remains on the practice squad as insurance.

Saskatchewan was planning to play two Global players this season until the unexpected retirement of German defensive end/fullback Chris Ezeala, but they do not have any international position players remaining on the roster. French safety Maceo Beard-Aigret has been released and Swiss linebacker Lukas Ruoss passed on training camp to stay in the ELF, while 2022 first-round pick Jordan Genmark-Heath of Sweden is attempting to make the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent linebacker.

The Riders do have one more international connection in the form of practice roster offensive lineman Diego Alatorre, a native of Mexico who spent the past five years at the University of British Columbia. The rookie, who was drafted in the third round of the 2022 CFL Draft, counts as a Canadian despite his foreign passport thanks to a new rule which nationalizes players who played at and graduate from Canadian universities.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

While a reunion might not be entirely outside the realm of possibility, German defensive end and Global program poster-boy Thiadric Hansen has not returned to Winnipeg for a third season and remains unsigned. Japanese linebacker Les Mauro is expected to take over Hansen’s role on the roster after recording six special teams tackles in seven games last year, though his status for week one is not entirely certain due to a nagging elbow injury.

Les Mauro

If he can’t go, either French defensive back Souleymane Karamoko or Japanese offensive lineman Tomoya Machino — who had an outstanding training camp by all accounts — will step into the lineup. The back-to-back Grey Cup champions do have another iron in the fire however, as they drafted Australian punter Tom Hackett in the first round of the 2022 draft with the hope he could take that job from Canadian Marc Liegghio. The two-time Ray Guy Award winner had to leave training camp due to a personal matter and remains on the suspended list, though he could be an option down the line.

Toronto Argonauts

The Argos will be going Global at the punter spot this season, bringing in Australian John Haggerty. The Western Kentucky product showed off a booming leg in preseason and rather ironically will take punting duties away from Boris Bede, a native of France who’s CFL career predates the Global program and therefore counts as an American. Bede will continue as the team’s field goal kicker.

British lineman Simeon Okonta-Wariso

British defensive lineman Simeon Okonta-Wariso will begin his career on the practice roster and Japanese kicker Toshiki Sato has been brought back after a brief release from the team to join him. However, most remarkable were the players who the Argos parted ways with. The team cut French running back Asnnel Robo, who played 12 games last year, following their first preseason contest and British defensive back Tigie Sankoh, their first-round pick from a year ago, was released at the end of camp. Brazilian offensive lineman Otavio Amorim was also among the final cuts.

Given that Sankoh made six special teams tackles in four games last year and added two more during the team’s playoff game, this feels like a situation where the 25-year-old was unwilling to spend another year on the practice squad, and he could be coveted by another team.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Ticats’ punting job was an open competition between Globals in training camp and incumbent Australian Joel Whitford succeeded in hanging on to his job… for now. While Ireland’s Tadhg Leader was released, Aussie Blake Hayes remains on the practice roster to push Whitford weekly and second overall Global Draft pick Bailey Flint, also of Australia, could be added at any time after failing to catch on in the NFL.

Valentin Gnahoua

Elsewhere on the roster, Hamilton brought back Finnish defensive tackle Chris Mulumba and French defensive end Valentin Gnahoua on the practice roster. The team has used both in active roster roles when in need of defensive line depth the past few years. Not returning, however, is British defensive end David Izinyon, who was released midway through camp.

Ottawa Redblacks

Amongst returning Global position players, Dutch linebacker Tyron Vrede in Ottawa is the likeliest to fill the feel-good PR story hole left by Hansen. The North Dakota product racked up 10 special teams tackles in 14 games last year and saw some snaps on defense as rookie, with plenty of opportunity to grow going forward.

Tyron Vrede

Vrede will be the team’s undisputed Global all year barring injury, but the Redblacks retained three others on the practice roster. Speedy French defensive back Edris Jean-Alphonse enters his first season, while Mexican kicker Jose Maltos is headed into year number three after a five field goal performance in the preseason finale. French receiver Anthony Mahoungou was also brought back for a practice squad spot after briefly being released in training camp, likely to work around preseason roster restrictions. Mexican kicker Gabriel Ballinas was also released, but not brought back.

Montreal Alouettes

While the Alouettes drafted Nigerian defensive end Kingsley Jonathan with the first overall selection in the 2022 Global Draft, they’ll have to wait for him to be released from the Buffalo Bills before they can claim their prize. Instead, the team’s Global spot will once again be held by Australian punter Joseph Zema, who performed well last year in the role.

Also returning are Japanese running back and kick returner Taku Lee and French receiver Kevin Kaya, both of whom have dressed for games in the past. They’ll begin the year on the practice roster, but Lee in particular could be called up for stretches if the team needs special teams’ depth.

J.C. Abbott is a Canadian writer for 3DownNation. You can read more CFL news and analysis at 3DownNation.com.

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.