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Monday, February 12, 2018

OUT OF THE TUNNEL: CFL FREE AGENCY PRIMER

Riderville.com
By: RodPedersen.com Staff

The annual rite of passage - the CFL free agency period - begins Tuesday at noon (EST), but it almost feels like it began in December.

With trades: Charleston Hughes and Zach Collaros landing in Saskatchewan ... James Franklin to Toronto ... Brandon Rutley, Odell Willis and Gabe Knapton off to the Lions ... Vernon Adams to Hamilton ... and players being released and quickly signing elsewhere: Darian Durant and Adarius Bowman to Winnipeg and Kevin Glenn to Edmonton ... it’s already been a busy off-season.

Teams have also been busy re-signing and keeping players in their fold.

Even with all of the pre-free agency movement, there are still many needs left on the table for each team. Here is a big picture look at a few holes on each squad.

Join in the comments below on what your favourite team's need is and what player would best fill that need:

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Let’s starts close to home. Chris Jones the general manager has already had a big off-season, re-signing their offensive and defensive MVP’s Duron Carter and Willie Jefferson, as well as defensive back Crezdon Butler and the acquisition of Hughes and Collaros. The Riders turned into a veteran club almost overnight and will want to add a couple more pieces to make a run for a first home playoff game at the new building.

Canadians….at any position. The almost sure-thing Canadians we know right now are Brendon LaBatte, Peter Dyakowski, Rob Bagg, Henoc Muamba and Mike Edem at safety. Other than that, there are a lot of gaps in the lineup. With the early release of running back Kienan LaFrance, and with Ese Mrabure, Dan Clark, Nic Demski and Eddie Steele all hitting the free-agency market, this leaves a lot of holes. The Green & White do have a glut of young Canadian offensive linemen on the roster (including Dariusz Bladek) so it looks like receiver and interior defensive lineman look to be the spots most in need.

Defensive back – When you have a record-setting season by Ed Gainey, one would think this isn’t a position of need. Gainey had more than half of the team’s interceptions in 2017 and after that, the rest of the defensive backfield only had a small handful combined. They even needed Duron Carter to fill in at DB. Add to it an aging Jovon Johnson and Kacy Rodgers off to the NFL, there is a big need here.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

This is another team that has been busy loading up with veteran players. They added Adarius Bowman and Darian Durant. They re-signed Weston Dressler and Stanley Bryant (all over 30) on offence as well as re-upped Chris Randle and Ian Wild on defence. This looks like a team gearing up for a big run.

Defensive line – Canadians Jamaal Westerman and Jake Thomas are set to become free agents on Tuesday from a line allowing a 3rd-worst 96.7 yards per game on the ground, and a league-high 321 yards through the air. They lived and died by the interception even though they didn’t get much of a pass rush in 2017.

Running back – Let's take the opportunity to stir the pot a little, but wouldn’t Jerome Messam be a perfect fit here? Think about it: the Blue Bombers already have one of the all-time best Canadian running backs in Andrew Harris, so why not add Messam for depth? Messam is now in his mid-30’s and would be a perfect change-of pace back and a Canadian to boot, that sounds like a winning combination.

Edmonton Eskimos

They made big headlines by releasing Adarius Bowman and trading Odell Willis. Both were fan favourites and big producers for the Eskimos over the last five seasons. This is a team that shed some big salaries and are looking to get younger in the process.

Receiving depth – They may have a great duo in Derel Walker and Vidal Hazleton but after that there isn’t much. The CFL’s top receiver from last season, Brandon Zylstra, is off to the NFL. Bowman is now a Winnipeg Blue Bomber and Canadian pass catcher Cory Watson will become a free agent. An import and Canadian is needed to help out Mike Reilly and their dynamic duo of receivers.

Re-sign their own – Edmonton has to find a way to re-sign Adam Konar. The 24-year-old out of the University of Calgary is a difference maker at linebacker both on the field and with the ratio. His breakout season in 2017 was incredible and consistent even with a leg injury that saw Konar miss six games last year, he still had 59 regular season defensive tackles and 12 more in the playoffs.

B.C. Lions

In the wake of missing the 2017 playoffs, the B.C. Lions have already had a busy off-season acquiring Gabe Knapton and Odell Willis to help out a beleaguered defensive line. Many of their woes came in the trenches on both sides of the football, especially along the offensive line.

Offensive Line – They return the bulk of their starters from 2017 except for Canadian guard Kirby Fabien. Sure, they re-signed Canadians Hunter Steward and Cody Husband, but when you allowed a CFL-high 49 sacks and 141 pressures while only being mid-pack running the ball, this is definitely a place of need.

Defensive line – The addition of Knapton and Willis will help as will the re-signing of David Menard and having Craig Roh in the mix. With defensive end Alex Bazzie hitting the market (who’s three sacks in six games put him 3rd on the team) and nothing else remaining after that, a younger American defensive end to rotate with Willis and Roh would be a solid addition.

Calgary Stampeders

Even back-to-back Grey Cup losses isn’t stopping general manager John Hufnagel from making significant changes by shedding salary and getting younger in the process (though the two usually go hand-in-hand). He released receiver Marquay McDaniel and traded Charleston Hughes and Jerome Messam will not be re-signed by Calgary and will hit the market.

Running back – As mentioned above, without Messam and with Rob Cote retiring, the Stampeders will not have a Canadian at running back in 2018. It will be interesting to see which way they go: sign a veteran CFL running back, pick off a NFL cast-off or find a fresh face right out of college.

Defensive back – With Josh Bell joining the Stampeder coaching staff, Joe Burnett and Tommie Campbell hitting the market and Shaq Richardson off to the NFL, there will be some holes to fill in what has been an impressive defensive backfield, the last five seasons.


Toronto Argonauts

They seemed to come out of nowhere to become the 2017 Grey Cup Champions. This doesn’t mean general manager Jim Popp and head coach Marc Trestman are standing pat. They are pretty much set at quarterback now - and into the future - with the acquisition of James Franklin and re-signing future CFL Hall of Famer Ricky Ray. The entire offensive line is back and they have re-signed many of their key receivers. Defence is a different story.

Defensive backfield – There will be some gaps when defensive backs Jermaine Gabriel, Mitchell White and Cassius Vaughn and linebackers Rico Murray and Bear Woods hit free agency.

Kicker – Lirim Hajrullahu is set to become a free agent. Having a Canadian handle both punting and kicking duties is a huge luxury and losing it would be a large hole to fill. Hajrullahu wasn’t at the top of the CFL’s punting or kicking categories, but he's good enough at both to warrant a look back in Toronto, or will be a hot commodity on the market.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

A busy off-season for Kent Austin and the Tabbies, which included making Jeremiah Massoli their number one quarterback after trading Zach Collaros to the Riders. He then added Vernon Adams Jr. in the trade for Charleston Hughes thus pretty much nullifying any hope (or want) of having Johnny Manziel in the mix.

Receiver – They may have their current future plans set at quarterback, but who will be catching the ball is still up in the air. Hamilton did re-sign Brandon Banks and have Jalen Saunders in the mix, but with Luke Tasker ready to become a free agent, the health of Terrence Tolliver in doubt and Andy Fantuz pretty much out of the picture, there are some missing pieces with this group.

Re-sign Ted Laurent – Find a way…any way to do this. Without him, there is a massive gaping hole in an already weak defensive line.

Ottawa Redblacks

Just a year removed from winning the Grey Cup, the very young Ottawa Redblacks were knocked off by the Saskatchewan Roughriders (the Riders had considerably more experience - over 2,000 more regular season and playoff games combined) in the East Division semi-final and are looking to reload and take another kick at the can. Offensively, having re-signed most of their key free agents, they are pretty much set.

Defensive Canadian – With Zack Evans, and Arnaud Gascon-Nadon looking to test the waters they will have just one Canadian starter on the defensive side of the football (Antoine Pruneau). But with Brad Sinopoli coming back from injury, they will have six Canadian starters on offence, so there is a little room to play here.

Edge rushing – The Redblacks were in the bottom half of the CFL with just 31 sacks, and it was done by committee with Avery Ellis leading the way with just six. A premium pass rusher may be the final piece of the puzzle needed for the Redblacks to get back to the Grey Cup.

Montreal Alouettes

Oh boy, where to start here. The new coaching staff led by Mike Sherman doesn’t have much in the cupboard. Help is needed pretty much everywhere on a team that won just three games in 2017.

Quarterback – This may be a futile point, because the list of those remaining potential free agent quarterbacks is thin at best. When free agency hits, the Alouettes have a murderer’s row of quarterbacks: Josh Freeman, Garrett Fugate, Antonio Pipkin, Nick Shafnisky and Matthew Shiltz on their roster.

Patience – This may sound weird, but the worst thing Montreal can do is go crazy signing veteran players to fill every position. This is a grade-A rebuild and needs to be done from the ground up. Sign a couple of key vets to teach the youngsters the right way to do things and go from there.

Enjoy the chaos beginning Tuesday, because after that comes the CFL Draft and then training camp is just around the corner!!!

(RodPedersen.com Staff)

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is it possible after losing Kacey Rogers to the NFL, that we have enough depth on our roster at Cornerback? Chris Lyles, Melvin White, Taylor Mays, Sammy Williams are left on the Roster for reason. All will be minimum salary second year players. Since Chris Jones says we are at the Salary cap limit, perhaps we will use these boys instead of a high priced addition. Our Defensive Tackle position has to be a Canadian. Eddie Steele and Ese Mrabure are free agents we need to keep at least both, but maybe Chris Jones is feeling out Zack Evans or Ted Laurent. If one of these guys end up here we only need one of our Free Agents and this looks to be an upgrade. With the Riders signing Devon Bailey, Marcus Thigpen, and Christion Jones, perhaps we can afford to say good bye to Nic Demski. That covers off a Canadian Receiver and return specialist. That leaves our Offensive Line with gaps at leadership. We have Derek Dennis and Thaddeus Coleman who are experienced Tackles. Losing Bruce Campbell will be a downgrade, but there just won't be enough money for everybody. Terran Vaughn is being kept around on the roster for some reason, but I thought he was more a Guard. He is a minimum salary guy. This all leaves Dan Clarke as the head scratcher, yes Labatte played pretty well at Center last year and we have Peter Dyakowski and Dariusz Bladek who can start at Guards. Everyone says our offensive line needs an upgrade, but now that we have Zach Collaros perhaps his extra mobility means the line will be OK. As usual figuring Chris Jones out is easier if you figure out who the Starting 7 Canadians will be. Pedersen only lists 6....I can't see Messam coming here with Trent Richardson and Cameron Marshall here on minimum Salaries. At the end of the day we need to find $$$ for the Defensive line and this gives us the 7th Canadian.

Anonymous said...

After touting that the Riders have the best receiving corp in the league, now you say the Riders need receivers? Is that because Duron Carter could be gone?
I think that you are forgetting that at this point, the Riders are lacking a left tackle on the O line. Without having Campbell signed, they are back to Derek Dennis again, who was dreadful at the blind side last year. Yes, they have some young Canadian O lineman on the roster but none are a left tackle, only Bladek has some playing time, unless you count St John who hasn't looked like a starter. The Riders did not have a good O line last year and without Campbell, it has gotten worse. They could use DBs and some linebackers and Canadians, lots of Canadians.
For Edmonton, they don't have much at receiver behind Walker and Hazelton? Did you even watch them last year? Duke Williams and Bryant Mitchell look to be tremendous young talent who will certainly help fill the gap left by Zylstra.

Anonymous said...

I think the riders are already up against the cap and will be in tough to overpay guys to come here and stay under the cap,so I guess jones is gonna have to try working his magic and little games again this year to be competitive just saying

Anonymous said...

Sam Williams is a good choice at DB/CB also Chris Lyles they could rotate them at the position... Nik Demski will go to free agency also Ese mrabure... Eddie Steele will probably sign with Winnipeg his hometown...
there is a lot of depth on our roster already just need solid WR & DE’s but don’t forget a DE can also be picked up in the CFL Draft.... for Canadian talent ratio...

Anonymous said...

your article doesn't add up. you say mike edem is a canadian lock and crezdon butler was a key signing. add in ed gainey, and yes an aging jovon johnson but thats 4/5 of the backfield named. they could require some depth here but in reality are looking for on db with potential to start.

Anonymous said...

not sure if its just your opinion but ed gainey was the riders defensive mop.

Anonymous said...

Regarding changing the season by moving it up a month....could they not try moving it up 2 weeks? Grey Cup 1st week in November instead of 3rd week could satisfy a lot of people including me. Why must it be a month?

Anonymous said...

hopefully they don't "overpay" anybody to come here, cap room or not.

Anonymous said...

Out to lunch on the comment "there isn't much left after Walker and Hazelton"...you will soon find out.

CM said...

Bruce Campbell > Dennis. Also, bye bye to Chad Ownes. Save the $ and use it to sign a younger player in a position of need.

Anonymous said...

There’s a lot of young rookies with potential on the team that could be given a start.

Anonymous said...

If memory serves me right you have to have more then 1 DB playing... hmmm.... and you will need a replacement for Rodgers.

Anonymous said...

Grey cup games should be played in November after all its Canada’s game

Anonymous said...

Is Ricky Foley still out there and in the mix?

Anonymous said...

Pats vs MJ and SC 0-7 and will be 0-9 after this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Nah I say keep Chad Owens. He’s old but he’s great for the “team”. Remember what a team is all you self serving trolls? Probably not because you were never part of one.

Anonymous said...

Both Owens and Dennis will get cut to save money. No way they hold on to them. Muamba gets paid a ton too.

Just you wait .....

Anonymous said...

Yes some of these veterans may have to take a pay cut because of the fact that we signed Zach Collaros.

CM said...

hey Anon re: trolls/ team comment. Why would you want to keep Owens and pay him when there are 4 guys (the Presidents and Holley) who are way better than him? Huf sheds older expensive guys every year like raking his leaves (Hughes, mcDaniel, Messam etc.). Its called being smart. Something your comment shows you clearly aren't lol

Anonymous said...

For those of you that say that Dennis will be gone because of his big contract, who then do you see playing left tackle? They don't yet have Campbell signed and there aren't many left tackles available in free agency either. The O line was bad last year and will be much worse without Campbell. At least he did well at left tackle.

Anonymous said...

Campbell did well at left tackle which is why Dennis moved to guard. People create their own narrative to match their feelings.

Clark injured. labatte to centre. who plays guard? dennis to guard. campbell to tackle.

dennis didn't just move to guard because he had a bad game.

Anonymous said...

I guess you just created your own narrative. Stats wise, the Riders had one of the worst O lines, next to Montreal and B.C. Somebody well known in these parts said "numbers don't lie".

Anonymous said...

It is true that Last year Gainey had 11 interceptions but those all came in 5 games ,where was he the other 13 games ?

Anonymous said...

I see Rider kicker Van G. going to TO... any bets??

Anonymous said...

Hey guy, thanks for replying and guess what I don’t give a sh*t about what Huf and the Chokepeders/drama queens do. That’s what I call being smart, but hey you’re from Calgary so I’ll go easy on you.

Anonymous said...

The reason Dennis moved was because he was playing badly.

Anonymous said...

And why did they pay collaros that...because they have a guy feeling he will be good again? Big risk with big money and if he busts you guys are screwed

Anonymous said...

Collaros is Chris Jones big gamble. If Collaros can regain his old status Jones gets the credit but if Collaros continues his 0/12 run Jones gets an apple and a road map.