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Sunday, February 17, 2019

OUT OF THE TUNNEL: RANKING WEEK 1 OF CFL FREE AGENCY

Photo: Canadian Press
BY: RODPEDERSEN.COM STAFF

It was a whirlwind opening week of CFL free agency and no matter what the city, fans in 2019 will need to buy a program across CFL stadiums.

The thoughts of players staying out of the mix until a CBA is signed went out the window early with the loudest voice putting his name to a contract before free agency began. Mike Reilly was the first domino to fall and from there it was a cascade of names for the rest of the week.

Things have slowed down and it gives us a chance to catch our breath and see how things shook out after six days:

WEST DIVISION

SASKATCHEWAN:

They had a decent week but missing out on the quarterback sweepstakes hurt a bit. They went with Plan B and re-signed Zach Collaros to a one-year deal and named him the starting quarterback heading into training camp. They did make some noise by inking the top defensive tackle in the CFL, Micah Johnson from the Calgary Stampeders, but did take a huge hit by losing defensive end Willie Jefferson to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The terrible news of Jake Harty’s knee-injury rehabilitation taking a setback and Tre Mason probably missing the bulk of 2019 with a knee injury suffered at the end of 2018 really hurt the Riders as well.

They were patient and there are some solid names remaining and money in the bank.

Top signee: Micah Johnson

Underrated signee: A.C. Leonard – Will add to one of the best defensive lines in the CFL.

Biggest need: Backup quarterback

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WINNIPEG:

They re-signed most of their team but did lose some big names, especially those with Canadian passports. Sukh Chungh going to B.C. and Taylor Loffler heading to Montreal are two big holes to fill in the lineup. They did make waves by signing one of the best all-around defenders in the CFL, Willie Jefferson.

Top signee: Willie Jefferson

Underrated signee: Winston Rose – He had an under the radar solid season with the Lions. His five interceptions were tied for the league lead.

Biggest need: Offensive line

CALGARY:

The Stampeders did what they always do: stick to the game plan and don’t go overboard in the free agent market, re-sign their own at a decent price, and develop within. Re-signing Bo Levi Mitchell was by far their biggest get but they did take some hits. Losing Micah Johnson and Ja’Gared Davis left some pretty big holes on the defensive line. They only signed a free agent from another team in Courtney Stephen from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Top signee: Bo Levi Mitchell

Underrated signee: Sticking to the plan - It goes under the radar how patient Calgary is in regard to free agency. It seems to work.

Biggest need: Defensive line

EDMONTON:

The Eskimos are one of the two teams who made the biggest splash in the free agent pool. Losing Mike Reilly to the Lions was a big hit, but general manager Brock Sunderland didn’t wait long to fill the hole by signing Trevor Harris from Ottawa. Adding his teammate Greg Ellingson on the offensive side, as well as a pair of Hamilton Ti-Cat linebackers, Don Unamba and Larry Dean, will bolster this team.

They were very busy rebuilding their roster and it will be very interesting to see how things unfold in training camp for the Eskimos.

Top signee: Trevor Harris

Underrated signee: Anthony Orange – He was a 2018 all-star defensive back with the Lions.

Biggest need: To zip up the pocket book.

B.C:

The Wally Buono Era in Vancouver is officially over. It’s Ed Hervey’s world now and he was busy retooling the roster; the Lions being the other team making the biggest splash. Ed started by bringing in the biggest name in free agency, Mike Reilly, and what followed were current and former all-stars Sukh Chungh, Duron Carter, Aaron Grymes and John White.

Top signee: Mike Reilly

Underrated signee: Duron Carter – If (and this is a massive if) he can keep his emotions in control, he would be a key piece in what may be one of the top receiving cores in the CFL.

Biggest need: Defensive line

EAST DIVISION

TORONTO: 

They were very busy re-signing their own but also added some solid names especially to a defence that desperately needed to improve. After losing out in the Bo Levi Mitchell sweepstakes, it looks like they will be comfortable sticking with either James Franklin or McLeod Bethel-Thompson at quarterback. They did add a huge weapon for their offence at the end of the week with the signing of Derel Walker.

Top signee: Derel Walker

Underrated signee: Tobi Antigha – A do-it-all defender that will help fill a huge hole in the middle of the Argo defence.

Biggest need: They need to stop signing running backs. They currently have seven on their roster including newly minted Chris Rainey, Tyrell Sutton and Mercer Timmis.

HAMILTON:

They went the Calgary Stampeder route and were incredibly patient during the first week of free agency. With Jeremiah Massoli under contract, they were not interested in the quarterback madness so they were concentrating on filling some holes on defence.

Top signee: Ja’Gared Davis – Helps out a defensive line looking for an elite edge rusher.

Underrated signee – Rico Murray – The three-time east all-star returns to Hamilton in a late-week signing.

Biggest need – Linebacker

OTTAWA:

They took a beating on the offensive side of the football losing Trevor Harris and Greg Ellingson to the Edmonton Eskimos as well as the league's second leading rusher, William Powell to the Riders. It looks like Ottawa is taking a different approach and not putting all of their cash into a quarterback and a couple of elite players and trying to spread the wealth by bringing in solid players and building within.

Top signee: Jonathan Jennings – He will battle Dominique Davis for the starting quarterback spot. Ottawa hopes he can regain his 2016 form.

Underrated signee: Philippe Gagnon – The former second overall pick will be a solid Canadian addition to the offensive line.

Biggest need: Defensive line

MONTREAL: 

This was an under-the-radar good week for the Alouettes. They didn’t panic and take the deep dive into free agency but did bring in some solid players in key positions. They signed what may be the top Canadian free agent in safety Taylor Loffler.

Top signee: Taylor Loffler

Underrated signee: John Bowman – They hope the future hall of famer has one more big year left in the tank.

Biggest need: Offensive line

This week we will find out who will host the 2020 Grey Cup. It feels like it is coming down to either Hamilton or Saskatchewan. I don’t think either will be upset if they don’t get the game because they would be next up in 2021.

From a league point of view, with back-to-back title games in the west (Edmonton in 2018 and Calgayr in 2019), it doesn't make sense to make it three in a row.

So here is a bold prediction, Randy Ambrosie will announce both the 2020 and 2021 Grey Cups with Hamilton hosting first and then the big game will be at Saskatchewan's Mosaic Stadium in 2021.

(RodPedersen.com Staff)

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good comments, Rod. Don't know about BC having best group of receivers. May have the best top 2 pairing with Carter & Burnham if Carter keeps his head on straight but look at the cast of import catchers behind them. Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto & Hamilton are 4 teams who have very good top 2 pairings & much better depth. In fact I like the young guys on the Riders playing behind a pretty good pair in Arcenaux & Roosevelt (should they be healthy), better than the nondescript bunch of hopefuls in BC. The usual lineup features 5 receiver sets with 4 imports on most teams. Which 2 Imports would you pick after Carter & Burnham to start? BC has a lot of holes, moreso on defence, especially if it's true tnat Herdman is starting meaning Eimimian is on the way out. You can mark that down.

Anonymous said...

I can’t see Edmonton or BC being under the salary cap.

Mick in Uplands said...

How can the Commish announce the 2021 Grey Cup site when it is a bidding process and to my knowledge has not started as yet?

GardenGnome said...

First of all, what is the salary CAP at? It will go up somewhat. Secondly, does it matter right now? The rosters in the off season are limited to 85 players so the CAP in essence is meaningless. On May 1 the teams are limited to 75 standard player contracts under the present CBA. If a new CBA is in place by then, maybe some teams will have to make moves. So, take the Eskimos for example as they signed the most players. With 3 new import LB's, do they need to keep Konar who was a high profile re-signing last year & on a 2 year deal for $130K/year? Or do they drop Taylor Reed? There are different roster limits as you go along. Didn't Jones have close to 100 in camp one year? Fact is everybody starts the season with 46 roster players & 10 Practice Roster players as it now stands. But Ambrosie has been talking about increasing the internationals allowed by a team. If you're signing deals with Mexico & Europe that has to happen although not immediately. Are you worried that the Riders currently have 60+ players on their roster & that they likely are over the CAP as well? All the teams will have to make decisions & there will be some contracts restructured. That's the game. Sign them now & once all the teams have everyone they need, if they get cut they go to another team & likely get a lower salary to find a home. C'mon, Jones played this game all the time. He dropped Lemon 2 games into the season so he had to find a home when rosters were set & he had less bargaining power. Did Jones not overpay for Muamba & drop him in year 2 despite being the MOP defensively for the Riders? Would the Riders have worried if they signed Bo Levi @ $700K they offered him? I wouldn't worry too much about just BC & Edmonton. All the teams will have to make some tough decisions. Business as normal.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I am sure you are right Anon about the salary cap...they just decided to say screw the salary cap and lose top Canadian draft picks which remember are very important...teams don't go over the cap often and don't believe any have or will. I know of a certain green and white team that did and won a Grey Cup doing it...but that's okay we will just complain and whine if other teams do it.

Anonymous said...

If I recall, Lemon got a huge signing bonus and that would have counted against our salary cap. Poor decision by Jones.

SWC said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"If I recall, Lemon got a huge signing bonus and that would have counted against our salary cap. Poor decision by Jones"

You recall right. That's just another illustration of Jones outthinking himself, thank God he's gone.

Anonymous said...

Anything to further his own adgenda, hence he’s in the nfl, and we’re stuck rebuilding

Anonymous said...

And the Jones Blame Game continues.

Anonymous said...

Rebuilding? Anything less than a Grey Cup appearance this season will be a colossal failure. The 12-6 building blocks are in place. Now up gm jeremy to enhance the on field product.

Anonymous said...

Strong easterly winds heading westward. Johnny Football floating in that wind.

Windy Man

Lyle Pederson said...

I hate the merry-go-round of players each year. ( I know ... get over it) As an old guy I sure miss the stability from pre-free agency. Such a 'team game' as football is ... experience is huge. And experience playing together is huge. Short camp and 2 ex games hardly provides that. Any team with a few changes play like it's still ex season.

Think the new league in the U.S. were smart to have all players signed by the league. Will be interesting to see if their teams can build/develop with more stability. If nothing else their fans will get to know their players.

Anonymous said...

Sage advice, common sense;

If your team is in rebuild mode, you don't rebuild bringing in expensive oft injured old age veteran players. Those dollars best spent elsewhere.

Dan Wisdom

SWC said...

To the guy demanding a Grey Cup appearance;

How do you get to the Grey Cup when you're 5th in the west?

Anonymous said...

Well Murphy , jefferson , Jones , We should have the winning culture these men came here to create, now they’ve all ran away, and we still have no cup. What’s that all about , we will be just like Calgary , create a system of stability to last for years to come ?//??? We still don’t have a proven quarterback, I mean zack could be the guy if he can avoid hits. I think we’re still a ways away. Hello al Ford.

Steve said...

Rod I agree. Both Hamilton & Sask did their do dilligence to build G Cup worthy stadiums.
The worst move was to give Toronto a GC at BMO. No one in Toronto cared. That shulda went to Hamilton.
Im not sure if it can be 'Officially' announced that Sask will get the 2021 GC.
But Common sense would say that 2020 in Hamilton & 2021 in Sask.

Steve said...

Well it is official Sask 2020
Hamilton 2021. I think that is a fair choice