CFL or ELF, GFL? Top International players split on their pro football future

In the wake of the CFL’s third-ever Global Draft, a new wave of international talent is gearing up to join the world’s second-best pro football league. However, the league priding itself on global inclusivity might be facing an unexpected problem.

Former ELF players Karlis Brauns, Keanu Ebanks, and Otavio Amorim all made the jump this year from the European League of Football to the Canadian Football League, embracing the chance to better themselves against the best possible competition. They and several other international dream-chasers are thrilled about their chances of playing pro football and developing their games in a truly professional environment.

But not all Global players have been as seduced by pro football in Canada. A few outliers have been less than enthusiastic about playing in the CFL for reasons, perhaps, that are hard to grasp for football purists.

John LeviKruse, a recent third-round selection in the Global Draft by the BC Lions, projects as a versatile special teamer in the CFL. His measurements and physicality raised eyebrows at the Combine in Toronto. However, the 24-year-old has already turned down the CFL opportunity, stating that he wanted to stay home and pursue a championship with last year’s ELF runner ups the Hamburg Sea Devils.

The tight-end prospect also stated that he is eager to chase the NFL’s IPP program through the ELF, rather than play in Canada. An interesting choice given that the UK’s Ayo Oyelola spent last year in the CFL getting quality playing time and scouting before earning his second crack at the NFL’s International Pathway Program. Oyelola now finds himself with a Grey Cup championship ring and a contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Another BC Lion, Niklas Gustav of Germany was the final pick of the 2021 Global Draft. The international version of “Mr Irrelevant” made the absolute most of his CFL chance playing in 12 games and carving out a role as core special teamer, chipping in seven tackles. BC coaches were disappointed to hear that Gustav was heading back to Europe and will join the  Swarco Raiders of the ELF.

Last year we saw a similar trend as global players hesitated to make the jump to Canada. Chris Ezeala played about a third of the season in Europe before ultimately deciding to join the Saskatchewan Roughriders in late August.  Former Purdue receiver Anthony Mahoungou, one of the most sought-after Global prospects, joined the Ottawa Redblacks but only after the conclusion of the ELF season.

Money an issue?

While the level of play, coaching and scouting in CFL is far above that of the ELF, the GFL or any other league in the world, prospects have been wary of making the jump for a variety of reasons, both family and financial. In the CFL, if a Global player makes the gameday roster every week he’ll earn $54,000 CAD (€39,000). They could also earn significant playoff incentives worth up to $26,200 CAD (€19,082).

With that math, a Global player who plays in every game and wins the Grey Cup championship could earn a maximum of $77,000 CAD (€54,082).

On the practice squad, where most Global players are, the salary is $750 CAD (€546) a week, though many players have earned more. These players are also eligible for playoff bonuses. International players on some teams will also have to pay their own rent, while others are provided housing.

It should be noted that Global players receive payment whether they are on the injured list or not. Another financial factor is of course taxes. Often, Global players must pay taxes in both Canada and their home countries.

A few players might be able to earn more at home as they can to keep working in a day job while collecting a tiny salary from their ELF teams. Obviously, this varies from case to case as players have different priorities on and off the field.

Another major factor at play is the future of the Global program and its salaries. The CFLPA and the league are currently working on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Negotiations have been hot and cold with the CBA set to expire on May 14th.

Playing time an issue?

A major consideration for the Global players also has to be playing time. It’s not easy to go from being a star on an ELF or GFL team to winding up on the practice roster on a CFL team with the only chance of playing being if you become a good special teams player. From playing plenty of minutes to fighting just to get on the field is not an easy transition for many athletes.

There’s no question that the ELF, GFL, and other domestic leagues will always welcome back their hometown heroes, while the chance to play football among the world’s best is just a fleeting moment.

One has to wonder, that if those players are truly interested in becoming the best version of themselves, why would the choice be difficult? Wouldn’t playing in Canada be by far the better option?

Alex is a former professional American football player who is now studying in London. His goal writing for AFI is to stay involved with the game that has given him so much. Alex enjoys covering leagues and players and sharing different football