Are We Witnessing the Demise of Jim Popp?

Note: This post was published before Herb Zurkowsky of the Montreal Gazette reported that the Alouettes have restructured the contracts of SJ Green, Chip Cox and Bear Woods. The Als will have probably saved close to $100k or more with these moves, but they’re still over the cap. And they should be nowhere near the salary cap with the talent on that roster.

As the General Manager for the same team for over 20 years, Jim Popp is perhaps the most respected figure around the Canadian Football League.

It’s his Alouettes clubs that have been emulated by many teams over the years. He made the Alouettes the class of the league from 2009-2012. His team has been the team to beat in the East.

He’s open to the media, speaks his mind and knows the league inside and out. He’s proactive and has supported change and suggested ideas to better the league. Heck, you could even say he’s been a trend-setter at times.

But recently, the 51-year-old has changed. He’s gone away from his own philosophies in some regards, while even some of his strategies that used to work, differentiating Popp from the rest, simply aren’t working anymore.

I think Jim Popp, someone who I have the utmost respect for, is really feeling as though his head’s under the ax having seen his team spiral downward since 2012.

Popp has yet to prove that he can win in the salary cap era without Anthony Calvillo and Marc Trestman. With a .425 winning percentage over the past three seasons, as well as two different head coaches and eight different quarterbacks, Popp’s done anything but.

I mean, firing two head coaches midseason over three years and naming himself, who’s now on his fifth – yes, his fifth! – stint as Montreal’s head coach, interim both times absolutely reeks of desperation. Just as ridiculous is the fact that Popp has formally anointed himself head coach for the 2016 season, putting matters into his own hands despite defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe having already earned such an opportunity and chomping at the bit for it.

Popp, however will never blame himself for all this until, maybe, the day he’s fired, if it ever happens with owner Bob Wetenhall. Like I said, I like Popp, but the guy has a huge ego and once again it’s affecting his decision making and hurting his team.

Fact is, having Calvillo and Trestman made Popp’s job a lot easier and gave him a lot more freedom. Their dominance covered up any of his mistakes during their dominant tenure. Popp is certainly missing them now with his job likely on the line in the next season or two.

Popp has had the longest leash of any executive in the modern era of the CFL. Seeing him struggle build a winning team while doing the nonsensical things he’s doing now seems so odd.

Popp’s salary cap management has been absolutely horrific. Didier Orméjuste of RDS has reported that one week after free agency, the Alouettes were a mind-blowing $700k over the salary cap.

Seven-hundred-thousand dollars.

It’s the equivalent of being $10M over the salary cap in the NHL.

I don’t care if it’s only February; that, people, is an absolute catostrofic disaster. Like, Triple-Bogey-on-a-par-three type disaster. Well, even that’s a huge understatement.

Given the Alouettes’ talent level on the roster, they should probably have the third or fourth lowest payroll and roughly $600-$700k of cap space – not negative $700k. Well, no team should ever have -$700k in cap space at any time. It’s an absolute ludicrous situation to be in.

The Alouettes, who had a logjam at inside linebacker, had to release their elite, Canadian middle linebacker, Henoc Muamba, because Popp somehow dug himself so deep into the ground that dumping Muamba’s contract before he was due a $60,000 bonus was the only way for Popp to start clawing toward the surface.

A well-documented reason the Als are in salary cap hell is due to Popp’s affinity for veteran players. Montreal has basically become a retirement home for CFL players.

They’re far and away the oldest team in the CFL for the second consecutive season. They have nineteen veterans in their thirties, which is a mind-blowing amount given scouting departments ability to find players and replacements every year, reiterating Popp’s desperation. It’s a terribly, terribly high number, not to mention that much of those players make up the core of Montreal’s roster.

In just over the past calendar year, Popp has offered Nik Lewis two contracts; payed 33-year-old wide-side CB Jovon Johnson $90k in free agency because the player reached out to the team, telling them he’d like to play there; re-signed now 35-year-olds Jerald Brown and Kyries Hebert; failed miserably with Michael Sam one year after the washed-up Chad Johnson debacle; traded promising 24-year-old Kenny Stafford for a washed-up Fred Stamps (more on that later); cut arguably the best middle LB in the CFL in Henoc Muamba, who’s young and Canadian, to afford these veterans; and, to top it off, after a carousel of quarterbacks for three seasons, has 36-year-old Kevin Glenn as his best option at quarterback, giving us an immediate indication of how much this team is limited to achieving.

After disappointing 2014 and 2015 seasons, Popp should’ve gone young. He clearly hasn’t, and is paying for it. With his mind set in stone on using veteran players, Popp shouldn’t have signed WR Duron Carter and made him tied for the highest paid receiver with another Alouette, SJ Green. And then he also signs Kenny Stafford – a player Popp should’ve never traded – to a six-figure deal and all of the sudden the Als are likely paying around $630k for three American receivers. And this is a roster that already had talented, young receivers in Cody Hoffman and BJ Cunningham that are making peanuts compared to the aforementioned.

But there’s a reason Popp is where is he is. He continuously dominates the Canadian College Draft year after year and does a great job building game-day rosters. He does, however, desperately need a winning season in 2016 if he wishes to continue his tenure in Montreal.

While winning cures all, Popp needs to fix his salary cap issue before he can even get to that part. We could be witnessing the demise of an All-Time great CFL General Manager.

REUTERS
REUTERS

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