The Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach and general manager is scheduled to make the first selection in Monday's draft. Austin re-iterated Friday he's content to hold on to the pick but will also listen to trade offers.
"This is about constantly improving and raising the water level the best we can given the tools we're provided and obviously the draft is one of those tools," Austin said. "We're open to explore any possibilities to improve our team but we're very comfortable keeping the pick and certainly have a plan for it."
That plan involves getting a player capable contributing immediately to a Hamilton squad that finished tied with Winnipeg with a CFL-worst 6-12 mark last year. The consensus is Linden Gaydosh and Mike Edem, both of the Calgary Dinos, top that list.
Gaydosh, a six-foot-four, 314-pound defensive lineman, and Edem, a six-foot-one, 200-pound linebacker, are both blue-chip prospects. The CFL's scouting bureau listed Gaydosh third in its final list of the top-15 ranked players and Edem at No. 10.
The Ticats have obvious interest in both. They met with Gaydosh on Friday, a day after sitting down with Edem.
But Hamilton isn't alone.
With six of the seven top-ranked draft prospects either returning to school or securing NFL opportunities, there's significantly less impact players readily available. Many CFL GMs look at first- and second-round picks as players capable of vying for starting positions and their signability as well how quickly they can be in camp are serious considerations.
A league source says other GMs are contacting the Ticats about the No. 1 pick, especially for a shot at Gaydosh. The native of Peace River, Alta., was very impressive in 1-on-1 drills at the league's combine in March.
But Edem, of Brampton, Ont., also presents enticing value as a No. 1 pick. He showed great athleticism at the combine with a 38.5-inch vertical jump and 40-yard dash time of 4.57 seconds and could immediately contribute on special teams while learning a CFL team's defence.
Austin said if he's presented with the right deal he won't be afraid to pull the trigger.
"Yeah, and that's what you have to qualify it with," he said. "We're very happy with the pick but again we'll look at any opportunity we feel can improve our football team.
"But it must improve our team at some level that we feel like helps us become more competitive quicker."
One CFL GM who has never been afraid to wheel and deal on draft day is Toronto's Jim Barker. In 2010, Barker held the first pick but traded it to Saskatchewan — who took Queen's linebacker Shomari Williams — to select offensive lineman Joe Eppele and linebacker Cory Greenwood second and third overall, respectively.
In 2011, Barker traded a second-round pick to move into the first and take Tulsa offensive lineman Tyler Holmes, who returned to school before spending the 2012 season on the Minnesota Vikings practice roster.
Barker also made deals at the '08 draft as Calgary's senior vice-president of football operations, sending centre John Comiskey and receiver Kevin Challenger to Edmonton for the No. 2 pick, then using it on offensive lineman Dimitri Tsoumpas, a two-time CFL all-star from Weber State.
"We are always active, whether it's to move up or move down," Barker said. "Anything we can do to improve our football team and we are in constant mode to do that.
"That's why you just never know when things are going to click."
Barker said that could very well happen once the draft begins.
"A lot of things you talk about could be a draft-day thing," he said. "A guy one team wants doesn't come to them and the guy you want is there, then you do the deal.
"You talk about these things all the time."
Barker wouldn't say whether he has talked to Austin or planned to before the draft.
"I expect to do what I do every year," Barker said, adding that means exploring all options in order to gain the best position to take the top player available.
But Barker admits he has struggled compiling a draft board. The uncertainty surrounding so many draft prospects as well as having expansion Ottawa — scheduled to return to the CFL in 2014 — selecting four NCAA underclassmen has wreaked havoc with his draft preparation.
"It has been an interesting procedure putting this draft board together," he said. "It has been more difficult than I've ever been involved in and I've been involved in these for quite a while.
"There's just a lot of things to consider."
Oregon linebacker Bo Lokombo was the top-ranked prospect by the CFL scouting bureau but he and Iowa offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan (No. 6) are returning to school. Regina defensive tackle Stefan Charles (No. 2) and McMaster offensive lineman Matt Sewell (No. 4) both signed with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, while Eastern Michigan defensive lineman Andy Mulumba (No. 5) signed with Green Bay and unranked C.O. Prime, a linebacker at Wagner College, joined the Indianapolis Colts.
Montreal will have two selections in the first round (third and fifth overall) while Saskatchewan has the No. 4 pick. B.C. is at No. 6, followed by Calgary and Toronto before Ottawa completes the first round.
Edmonton's first pick is scheduled to open the second round at No. 10 overall. But GM Ed Hervey has said he's willing to trade up to the first.
In fact, there are reports Edmonton has offered Canadian defensive tackle Ted Laurent to Hamilton for the No. 1 pick. That would seem a risky move for the Ticats as a league source said the six-foot-one, 303-pound Laurent is heading into his option year.
So Hamilton would have to sign Laurent to an extension or risk losing him as a free agent in February 2014.