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We are now just hours away from the start of the 2019 CFL free agent season. It kicks off on Tuesday at 11am CST and there’s already rumors of big signings. If the Vancouver Province’s Ed Willes is on the button with his report that Mike Reilly will sign with the Lions, that will give the CFL quarterback carousel a gigantic spin.
That would bump up the asking price for Bo Levi Mitchell (if he doesn’t sign in the NFL) and Trevor Harris. If you are a Rider fan looking for that big signing, you are starting to get a little more nervous.
It will be a fun next couple of weeks!
We had your West Division preview last week, so here’s a look at the East.
Missing the playoffs in 2018 meant the end of the line for Marc Trestman. So, enter stage right, former Saskatchewan Roughriders Grey Cup winning head coach Corey Chamblin. With his defensive background and how bad the Argos were on defence last season, all the focus for GM Jim Popp should now be on that side of the football:
1. Defensive end: Once Shawn Lemon was shipped to B.C. there was a lack of an elite pass-rusher. Cleyon Lang led the Argos with just six sacks and as a team they had a league low 24.
2. Defensive backfield: This will go hand-in-hand with the above. They were a -22 in turnover ratio and racked up just 12 interceptions.
3. Offensive line: They have Canadians Ryan Bomben, Sean McEwen, DJ Sackey and Chris Kolankowski under contract but there needs to be a little more depth here and they will need some help at tackle as well.
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This team was bad in all facets of the game. They might not like the current make-up of the roster with only five players extended (or players they may not want back) but they do have all of their quarterbacks under contract (we still don’t know if this is good or bad). So let’s get to the biggest pieces that are missing:
1. Offensive line: This should be a better spot for a team led by head coach Mike Sherman. When he was at Texas A&M he was able to recruit future NFLers Jake Matthews, Cedric Ogbuechi and Luke Joeckel. He needs to get his offensive line scouting/coaching mojo back because this team needs it…bad.
2. Canadians…everywhere: This used to be a bright spot for the Alouettes but other than Henoc Muamba and Kristian Matte there are not any quality Canadians on the roster that haven’t been extended or still on the roster.
3. Defensive end: This is probably the end for John Bowman. It’s tough replacing a legend, but it must be done.
It was a weird 2018 for the Ticats. They went to the East final, but they finished just 8-10 in the regular season. They weren’t awful anywhere, but they didn’t shine anywhere either. One would say they were great on offence - leading the CFL in net offence - but the bulk of that came early in the season. Defence was great so that should be where the focus should be for head coach Orlando Steinauer and the G.M.-by-committee they have in Hamilton:
1. Edge rush: Ted Laurent led the Ticats with eight of their 31 sacks in 2018, but he did that from a predominantly tackle spot. After that, linebacker Don Unamba was next with just four.
2. Defensive playmakers: The defence was ok in 2018 but it was very much a bend-but-don’t-break type of defence. 31 sacks and just 14 interceptions won’t cut it in a big-play dominated league.
3. Canadian receiver: Justin Buren is the only Canadian pass catcher under contract (Thomas-Erlington is more of a 2nd down running back option) so this will be either filled in free agency or in the draft.
The defending East Division champs have been very busy extending their own with 15 back under contract through 2019 but there are some big names that have been released to pursue NFL options (Dionte Spencer) or pending free agents (Trevor Harris and Greg Ellingson). Their needs are fairly obvious:
1. Re-sign Trevor Harris: It looks more and more likely that he will hit the market. Harris will get top dollar offers from across the league and the only question is if the Redblacks will match?
2. Offensive playmaker: With Spencer inking a deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Greg Ellingson and William Powell hitting the market there are some large holes on the offence that will potentially need to be filled.
3. Pass rush: This can come from anywhere. Ottawa had a tough time getting to the quarterback in 2018. A.C. Leonard led the way with six sacks but is a pending free agent.
Well the first week of the AAF is in the books and it was just good. For a first week of a new league, and players that have never seen each other, there was some bad football (drops, missed tackles and difficulty with the weird five-man/between the tackles blitz rule) but some great plays as well.
The quarterback play was not great, but we expected that. It’s funny that one of the best quarterback performances came from the Birmingham Iron’s Luis Perez. He was a star at Division-II Texas A&M-Commerce and was better than any of the big-name players from big time programs.
This is where the CFL has been very good. Many of the current great quarterbacks didn’t even play Division-I football. Mike Reilly went to Division-II Central Washington, Bo Levi Mitchell and Matt Nichols both went to Division-IAA Eastern Washington, Travis Lulay went to Division-IAA Montana State, we could continue but you get the point.
If the CFL continues to uncover gems like this from non-Division-I football, they will continue to thrive offensively and have an edge on the AAF.
With CFL free agency is set to begin at noon ET on Tuesday. Here's a look at some of the top players expected to hit the open market:
Mike Reilly: The 34-year-old led the CFL in passing yards (5,562) and was second in TD passes (30). Reilly led Edmonton to a Grey Cup win (2015) and captured the league's outstanding player award (2017). Over the past three seasons he's not missed a game, impressive considering Reilly has run 319 times for 1,391 yards (4.37 average) and 34 TDs over that span while also throwing for almost 17,000 yards and 88 TDs.
Bo Levi Mitchell: Since becoming Calgary's full-time starter in 2014, all Mitchell has done is win, whether it be Grey Cups (four appearances, two victories) or CFL outstanding player honours (2016, '18). The 28-year-old native of Katy, Texas, has amassed a 69-15-2 record as a starter. Mitchell worked out for seven NFL teams this winter but didn't sign a contract. If he opts to remain in Canada, the prevailing talk is Mitchell will consider all offers.
Trevor Harris: The 2018 season was his best in the CFL. The 32-year-old established career highs in pass attempts (615), completions (431) and passing yards (5,116) while sporting an impressive 70-per-cent completion percentage. Harris threw a CFL-record six TD passes in Ottawa's 46-27 East Division final win over Hamilton, but he and the Redblacks fell short in the Grey Cup, losing 27-16 to Calgary.
Derel Walker: A knee injury slowed the 27-year-old last season but Walker still managed 51 catches for 875 yards (17.2-yard average) and eight TDs with Edmonton. One of the league's top receivers when healthy, Walker took the CFL by storm his first two seasons with a combined 198 receptions for 2,699 yards and 16 TDs. He was the league's top rookie in 2015.
Greg Ellingson: The 30-year-old had 91 catches for 1,086 yards and five touchdowns last year with Ottawa. Ellingson has been a 1,000-yard receiver three straight years with the Redblacks. Amazingly, he's played in five Grey Cup games in his six-year CFL career (twice with Hamilton, three times with Ottawa), winning in 2016.
William Powell: The former Kansas State star has been a 1,000-yard rusher the past two seasons with the Ottawa Redblacks. Powell, 30, finished second overall behind Winnipeg's Andrew Harris (1,390 yards) in league rushing last year with 1,362 yards on 251 carries (5.4-yard average) with six TDs. He also had 39 catches for 319 yards and two touchdowns.
Tyrell Sutton: The 32-year-old ran for 685 yards on 141 carries (4.86-yard average) combined last year with the Montreal Alouettes and B.C. The five-foot-eight, 213-pound native of Akron, Ohio, is a physical runner who in 2015 rushed for a career-high 1,059 yards (5.9-yard average) and five TDs in 2015.
Chris Rainey: Versatile best describes the 30-year-old Rainey. He did run for 218 yards on 52 carries (4.19-yard average) and had 28 catches for 234 yards with B.C. But he's also one of the CFL's top return specialists with a career punt-return average of 11.1 yards and four TDs and 24.3-yard kickoff return mark with two TDs.
SirVincent Rogers: The six-foot-four, 319-pound native of Jasper, Texas, has established himself as one of the CFL's best during his four-year tenure in Ottawa. Rogers, 32, was a league all-star in 2015 and '18 and was named the top lineman in 2015. Rogers helped the Redblacks reach the Grey Cup three times in the last four years, winning in 2016.
Sukh Chungh: Much was expected of the 26-year-old when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers selected him in the first round, second overall, in the 2015 CFL draft. The six-foot-four, 315-pound native of Port Coquitlam, B.C., has missed just three games over his four seasons at right guard in Manitoba. He was a West Division all-star in 2018.
Mike Filer: The 28-year-old native of Brantford, Ont. has spent his entire seven-year CFL career with Hamilton. The burly six-foot-two, 302-pound centre was originally drafted by Calgary in 2012 but joined the Ticats after being released. He became a full-time starter in 2014 and has played all 18 regular-season games in three of the last four years.
Willie Jefferson: The six-foot-six, 245-pound defensive end is a freakish athlete who can rush the passer (10 sacks last year with Saskatchewan) but also twice returned interceptions for touchdowns. And the scary part is at age 28, the 2018 league all-star should be just hitting his prime. Generally regarded as one of the CFL's top rushers coming off the edge.
Micah Johnson: The 30-year-old is one of the CFL's top interior rushers. The six-foot-two, 277-pound defensive tackle had 14 sacks last season with Calgary. Johnson has helped the Stampeders win two Grey Cups and three times has been a league all-star. Over six seasons in Alberta, Johnson has 158 tackles and 41 sacks.
Shawn Lemon: Tough to put Lemon ahead of teammate Odell Willis (who re-signed in November) considering each had 11 sacks with B.C. last year. Lemon, 30, had 10 of those after being traded to the Lions from Toronto. Over 10 CFL seasons, the 34-year-old Willis has 173 career sacks in 240 games.
Larry Dean: The 29-year-old American was nothing short of sensational last year with Hamilton, registering 96 tackles and three sacks. That earned the six-foot, 226-pound linebacker the East Division's top defensive player honour as he finished behind Winnipeg's Adam Bighill for the league honour.
Jovan Santos-Knox: The 2018 season was an impressive one for the 24-year-old Santos-Knox. The six-foot-two, 233-pound sophomore registered 82 tackles, six sacks and a forced fumble for Winnipeg after recording 47 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions in his first CFL campaign in 2017.
Marcus Ball: The 31-year-old is coming off a foot ailment that landed him on the six-game injured list last year with Toronto. But the six-foot-one, 209-pound native of Norfolk, Va., has been an emotional leader over his four seasons with the Argonauts.
Delvin Breaux: One of the CFL's top shutdown defenders, numbers don't tell the whole story regarding the 29-year-old's ability. He only has one career interception because quarterbacks often avoid throwing his way. The six-foot-one, 196-pound Breaux is a two-time league all-star in his three seasons with Hamilton.
T.J. Heath: It's been a whirlwind CFL existence for the 30-year-old, who's been traded twice and played for three different teams in his three seasons in Canada. But there's no questioning the six-foot-one, 181-pound defensive back's nose for the football with 15 career interceptions to go with 185 tackles.
Taylor Loffler: The former UBC star became a starter at safety for Winnipeg as a rookie in 2016. The six-foot-four, 225-pound native of Kelowna, B.C., has amassed 185 tackles, eight interceptions and a sack over his three CFL seasons and at age 26, the three-time league all-star still boasts plenty of potential.
Lirim Hajrullahu: The five-foot-11, 205-pound former Western star handled all kicking chores last season with Hamilton. Hajrullahu hit on 46-of-54 field goals (85.2 per cent) and 41-of-46 converts (89.1 per cent) to finish second in CFL scoring among kickers with 189 points. He also sported a 45.0-yard average as a punter.
(RodPedersen.com Staff/Canadian Press)