Monday, February 24, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Potential Playoff Changes

Randy Ambrosie is out on his annual cross Canada tour. As part of that, last week he floated out potential changes to the playoff format that could come into effect as soon as 2020. The current playoff format has been the subject of much debate, particular in light of the ongoing trend of the East Division being awful relative to the West. So I think looking at alternatives is certainly a worthwhile endeavour.

But while I support reviewing the current format and like some of the ideas being proposed, some the ideas are stupid (It’s Monday morning… I haven’t had enough coffee for subtleties)

Let’s start with the positive. Under the proposal, the first place teams in the East and West would continue to get a first round bye. What would change is that the four next best teams (regardless of division) would make the semi finals with the 3rd and 4th place teams hosting a home playoff game. That way, the best 6 teams would make the postseason and the best teams would be rewarded with home field advantage. Had it been in place in 2019, the semi final matchups would have been Calgary hosting Edmonton and Winnipeg hosting Montreal. In 2018 it would have meant that the Eskimos (who finished 5th in the West) made the playoffs instead of the Ti-cats (who finished 2nd in the East)… and the Riders would have played Edmonton instead of Winnipeg (not that it mattered as Brandon Bridge wasn’t about to beat anyone that day).

While the current crossover rule generally ensures the best teams make the playoffs (2018 is the only year in recent memory where it didn’t), it has led to a lot of inferior East teams being rewarded with home playoff games while superior West teams are forced to travel (2015 is the only time since Ottawa returned to the league where the host of the East Semi had the 3rd or 4th best record in the CFL). So I’m all for this.

Here’s where Ambrosie loses me though…
Under his proposal, the team that finished first overall would then have their choice of which semi-final winner they want to play. The theory here is that this would create intrigue and bulletin board material and what not.  My issue with it is that it’s a gimmick. A stupid, hokey gimmick. I hate gimmicks. They cheapen the product we are trying to market… and before you give me the “but, but MLB is considering it and they are way bigger than us” let me just say that a bigger league considering something stupid, doesn’t make it any less stupid. Also, MLB is a league that can’t even properly deal with a massive cheating scandal so maybe not the best comparison bar at this point.

The CFL is a league that has survived and thrived based on its long and storied traditions. When we have strayed too far from the core of who we are and into the gimmicky it has rarely been successful (see: American expansion or anything related to the Gleibermans). Change and adaptation are important but only when they make sense and enhance your product… not cheapen it. We are a football league not a reality TV show. Leave the rose ceremonies to the idiots on reality TV and focus on being a respectable football league.

So keep the top 6 teams make it concept, but then #1 plays the lowest remaining seed in the West Final and #2 plays the highest remaining seed in the East final (and yes I am just assuming the West team will be better than the East team most years, it’s pretty much science at this point… 2019 was an anomaly). It’s fair, its simple, it avoids lame-assed attempts to drum up publicity.

I’m the Rider Prophet and I approve this message.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing Week 1 of Free Agency

Free agency opened on Tuesday but it would seem the Riders did not get the message based on how active they were. Foster, Franklin and St John… it honestly seemed like O’Day just said screw it and dusted off Chris Jones’ 2016 recruiting plan. But before we start freaking out (as Rider fans have been known to do form time to time) let’s remember that the teams not being active in free agency is a good thing. It usually means your team is already good (unless you are Ottawa). The most active teams are usually the ones that have the most holes in their roster. Also remember the collective success record of teams that “win” the first day of fee agency. O’Day did a lot of good work before free agency retaining guys like Judge, Shaq, Purifoy, Marshall and Leonard.

Today we will take a look at the people the Riders did sign (we have ample space for it since we signed all of 4 people) and then look at how our current roster stacks up on both sides of the ball at this point.

While it came with only a fraction of the fanfare that it would have just a couple years ago, I do like the Franklin signing. For $115k he is a value signing and really strengthens our QB depth. I like Harker but at this point Franklin is a far more proven option at #2. Given that that non #1 QB played a full season in 2019, a reliable #2 is important.

I see Otha Foster as a lotto ticket. If he is anywhere close to the level he played at before then he slides into the Moncrief spot almost seamlessly. But at 31 years of age and coming off a year away from football, that’s a BIG if. I like Foster, I’m just hoping we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket at cover LB.

Retaining Elimimian was good. We need a strong veteran in the middle of our D. Hearing Hamilton landed Larry Dean for $40K less makes me wonder a bit, but still... when you think our of best Defenses, they always have a strong MLB. It will be nice not to have him sit out all of training camp and miss the start of the season. It took him a few games, but once he got going, he was still pretty good. 

Josiah St John, is purely a CDN OL depth signing. I get that we’d like something better but there really wasn’t much else and for what we are likely paying St John (i.e. not very much) it’s a low risk signing. The Riders are really high on Braden Schram (whose progress I have liked) and we also have Jake Bennett who we got in the supplemental draft last year and played in one game. So St John is at best our #8 OL heading into camp. Hell, based on his history, just getting him to camp is a victory unto itself. 

Offensively, we shored up our QB depth, which is a positive. Our biggest offensive free agent acquisition actually came much earlier when we landed Jason Maas. That improves our O a lot. Our OL depth took a hit but with Schram, Bennett and (to a much lesser extent) St John we should be able to survive.

Defense is a different story. People are pointing to the fact that we are bringing back 10 of 12 starters from last season. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great and we have a solid defensive core. That said, those 2 guys we aren’t bringing back just happen to be among the best in the league at their respective positions. You can’t lose one of the top DTs in the league and (I would argue) the top cover LB in the league, not replace them and try and argue that your defense isn’t worse on paper. It’s certainly not doom and gloom but currently our D is worse than last season.

The pressure is now on O’Day to prove he can recruit the next wave of players needed to sustain our success

Monday, February 10, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Start Your Bidding

Players have been able to legally talk to teams for a while now and the deals they have been working on can become official on Tuesday when free agency officially opens. Personally I hope Ed Hervey is the first person to sign someone, just seconds after things open. Legal tampering is after all essentially the Hervey-rule.

The Riders have done a ton of work leading up to free agency. They locked down Cam Judge and Shaq Evans, both key pieces to the team (can you imagine if someone had told you in 2018 that Shaq Evans would be a key signing?). They also managed to retain Ed Gainey, which quite frankly surprised me. I kinda got the sense we were ready to move on. Continuity in the secondary is important so it’s a pleasant surprise… provided he has to win his job in camp and not just be appointed. I wonder if Gainey utilized the legal tampering period to find out the lowish offer from the Riders actually reflected what other teams thought his market value was.

One person not likely coming back is Namaan Roosevelt. A move that has me very conflicted. Look from a purely numbers sense, I get it. We have Moore, Evans, Williams-Lambert and Stafford. All are capable of 1000 yard seasons and are all younger and (with the exception of Evans) cheaper than Roosevelt. Hard to justify investing what Roosevelt is probably worth. But as much as I get it, I hate seeing him go. He’s been one of my favourite players since the 2015 season when Cory Chamblin mysteriously refused to acknowledge his talent. He’s a heart and sole guy that gave his all even when he was playing on crappy teams in crappy games (see the majority of 2015 through 2016). We will need someone to step up and fill the void because he was money on second down. I wish him the best in whatever comes next. I just hope its not with the Bombers… which means knowing my luck, he’s definitely going to the Bombers.

Some people are speculating that we will bring in SJ Green to replace him…. Which is stupid! Why on earth would we deem the 32 year old Roosevelt expendable only to replace him with the 34 year old Green. Doesn’t make sense.

Word is Micah Johnson is heading to BC. Which leaves us a void at DT. I would grade our current D-line was decent to above average at best without Micah. We need a strong push in the middle to help out Hughes and Leonard and I don’t see our current guys being able to do that on their own. Obviously Dylan Wynn would be nice but he will also be $$$$. Another option more reasonable option may be Drake Nevis. Or an even cheaper option, Davon Coleman, though the quality diminishes quickly the less you are willing to pay.

We also still need an MLB and cover LB. Names like Larry Dean, Justin Tuggle, Micah Awe, Don Unamba, Patrick Levels and Anthony Cioffi come to mind. My guess is we an only afford 2 big name players on D so that means one of DT, MLB and cover LB will likely need to be filled by a new guy.

One final note. I love Willie Jefferson and think is the every bit the freak that his hype makes him up to be. But… if Toronto really thinks that paying him $300,000 is going to help turn their team around… that’s a bold strategy I don’t see panning out.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Remaining Pieces


The 2020 Rider roster is slowly coming together. It took a big step forward Sunday when Cameron Judge was re-signed. Retaining the impact Canadian was really important. A less heralded but important piece was locking up Takoby Cofield. I've said previously I thought he was out best lineman in 2018. The combo of him and Vaughn likely means we are going younger and cheaper at tackle and Thaddeus Coleman (a mainstay since 2016) is done.

So with legal tampering upon us and free agency looming, what's left for the Riders to round out their roster?

Impact WR - You can build a solid receiving core with Moore, Williams-Lambert and Stafford but you need one more explosive piece to really make it work. The logical target here is Shaq Evans. I think building on the chemistry he and Fajrado found in 2019 will be important and if he can get that much downfield love from McAdoo, just imagine what Maas can do with him? If it's not him, other potential targets include DeVier Posey, Darvaris Daniels (who will have some familiarity with Maas), Derel Walker and Darvin Adams. With the exception of possibly Daniels, I don't see us targeting an outside WR in free agency though.

Defensive Tackle - In theory you could roll with a rotation of Evans, Dabire, Henry and Faulk but I don't think that will be enough to maintain the impact we need at D-line to make our D run. Micah is still in the mix but we won't be willing to pay him top dollar like last season. Other options include Dylan Wynn, Drake Nevis, Woody Baron or Davon Coleman.

Middle LB - My theory is that given limited salary $, we will need to go young and cheap at one of the Lb spots. Knowing O'Day my guess is he will value a veteran in the middle more and be willing to roll the dice on the outside. A return of Elimimian would be the most logical but Larry Dean, Micah Awe and Justin Tuggle could also be available.

Cover LB - My guess is we go young/cheap here but if we choose to dip into free agency, Marcus Ball, Anthony Cioffi, Don Unamba and Patrick Levels would be options. As would Rico Murray (who is also an option at HB)

Halfback - Really getting the sense we are moving on from Gainey. As mentioned Rico Murray is a potential replacement. Other DBs out there include Richard Leonard, Frankie Williams. This is the one position I have the least sense what direction we are going. 

Punter - The longer this drags out, the more the question become: If not Ryan, then who? Outside of someone new to the league, options are pretty limited. There;s Bartel (who Coach Dickenson pretty much said was too much of a wuss to attempt to tackle on special teams, so I don't see a return there). Toronto's kickers are available but that's for good reason. So we will likely just wait on Ryan... he may pull a Favre and not commit to playing until after training camp.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Is Coming - Part 2


Last week we looked at the Riders’ pending Free Agent. This week we turn our attention to other teams’ pending FAs to see where the Riders may be currently tampering… oh come on, let’s not pretend like its not happening.

In terms of need at the present time: Offensively we still need an impact WR (presumably Shaq Evans fills this spot though), a starting offensive tackle, Canadian depth at O-line, and a back-up RB/returner (i.e. Marcus Thigpen but preferably a decade younger).

Defense is another story as we have extensive needs there. We need linebackers desperately, we need a starting D-tackle and a starting halfback. So based on this, you can expect our free agent shopping to focus on this side of the ball.

For each team I’ve highlighted 3 names. A super obvious name (i.e. a big name player that odds aren’t great we land), an under the radar name (i.e. probably not a well known name or even a starter) and a possible target (i.e. someone we realistically might pursue and land).

Calgary
Obvious: DL Chris Casher. With 7 sacks in his first season, Casher went from unknown new guy to coveted pass rusher. At only 26 his phone will be busy.
Under The Radar: LB Marcus Ball. Not an under the radar name but a name that people may have forgotten about after he returned from the NFL only to be promptly injured. He’s an impact player and we need linebackers.
Possible target: RB Terry Williams. If you are looking for the next Thigpen, Williams certainly fits the bill as one of the premier returners in the league. Not sure we actually would be willing to pay enough to pry him away from the Stamps.

Edmonton
Obvious: LB Larry Dean. Pretty simple here. We need linebackers and he is the best one that will potentially be available. He will be looking to get paid though.
Under The Radar: RB Martese Jackson. With Christon Jones locked up, Jackson likely shakes loose. He's a returner that could be a change of pace RB. At 27, he's a baby by our current RB standards. 
Possible target: LB Jovon Santos-Knox. After an injury filled season, his price tag won’t be as hefty as Dean.

BC
Obvious: Brandon Bridge… kidding, kidding. Aaron Grymes is the guy. He’s a top tier cover guy (though coming off injury).
Under The Radar: OL Jean-Simon Roy. A second round pick of the Eskimos. Roy has yet to grow into a fulltime starter but could offer some OL depth with potential to grow.
Possible target: OL Justin Renfrow. I had him as a potential target even before his bizarre twitter exchange with Charleston Hughes where he seemed to imply he wanted to come here. He played well at left tackle after coming over to BC from Calgary in a trade.

Winnipeg
Obvious: Willie Jefferson. Don’t see it happening but he’s the top name on their list of pending FAs.
Under The Radar: LB Korey Jones. He was here in 2016 a fact you might not remember because much of that year was utter shite. He’s consistently the same player wherever he ends up… solid back-up LB who can fill in as a starter if need be.
Possible target: I honestly don’t see us targeting any Bomber players they have a pretty small list to begin with an no one on there jumps out as someone we would target.

Montreal
Obvious: LB Chris Ackie. Given that we have Mike Edem I don’t see us actually targeting him but as an impact Canadian starter he’s big name.
Under The Radar: DL Woody Baron. A guy who could be a rotational DT and would come cheaper then top end options like Micah or Dylan Wynn.
Possible target: LB Patrick Levels we need linebackers and Level is coming off a breakout season where he made 86 tackles and 5 sacks. Could slide nicely into Moncrief’s old spot.

Hamilton
Obvious: DL Dylan Wynn and Ja’Gared Davis. Two of the top D-lineman in the league. Whoever lands either of these 2 is getting a huge boost.
Under The Radar: DB Rico Murray. Starting to get up there in age but has experience playing both HB and cover LB… 2 places we currently have vacancies.
Possible target: LB Justin Tuggle is a name to watch as a veteran guy who could slide in at MLB if Elimimian doesn’t return.

Toronto
Obvious: DB Jonathan Mincy. One of the top cover guys in the league. He will have multiple suitors… side note “Multiple Suitors” sounds the topic of someone’s nightmare.
Under The Radar: DL Tobi Antigha. It doesn’t seem that Jason Shivers has the same affinity for “freak athletes” that don’t necessarily fit a specific position as Chris Jones did but as a guy familiar with the team and the system Antigha would be nice depth add.
Possible target: OL Jamal Campbell. He’s a 27 year old Canadian that has played tackle at the pro level. An intriguing prospect for a team in need of a youth injection at OL.

Ottawa
Obvious: DL JR Tavai. Ottawa had just 28 total sacks last season (2nd worst in the CFL). Tavai had 8 of those. If he can do that in a bad defense (while missing 2 games), imagine what he could do with some real pass rushers around him.
Under The Radar: LB Jeff Knox. No longer appears he’s the top end player he was when he was first with the Riders but he is only 27 and would be a niece piece of depth to add given the current question marks we have at LB
Possible target: LB Anthony Cioffi. A bright spot on an otherwise miserable RedBlacks defense. In the search to replace Moncrief, he’s another name to watch.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Is Coming - Part 1


While the sporting news reel is dominated by the Astros cheating scandal, Tkatchuk and Kassian’s drama and whatever OBJ did or didn’t do at the College championship game, CFL free agency is quietly approaching. Quite frankly I’m sick of all the other crap and look forward to the 15 minutes of fame the CFL will garner.

Between NFL signings and team re-signings the list of potential free agents slowing continues to whittle down. There is still an extensive list of people poised to hit the free agent market on February 11.  In this 2-part series I will preview free agency. Part 1 (today) will look at the Riders left unsigned. Part 2 will look at the potential FAs of other teams and identify any potential targets.

Cameron Judge – Obviously the #1 most important pending FA on our list. An impact Canadian starter. With only one workout so far, it’s looking like the NFL might not scoop him up. It’ll cost us to keep him, but he’s one of those top end talents that’s worth the investment.

Micah Johnson – He didn’t turn in the season we were expecting when we signed him in the offseason… that said don’t write him off. Sacks may not have been there but he was impactful… maybe just not to his 2018 standards. No way Hughes leads the CFL in sacks without Micah’s impact and I honestly saw him miss at least 6 sacks by inches because he made a great move but just couldn’t squeeze the tackle. He started slow but I think improved as the year wore on. He will once again be courted by many teams and big cheques… be nice to keep him but no guarantee.

Shaq Evans – Despite getting an NFL tryout I don’t see that panning out. His growth from year 1 to 2 was phenomenal. He went from a guy I referred to as the American Chris Getzlaf to a true game breaker. The chemistry he and Fajardo have both on the deep ball and those quick crossers is something I don’t want to lose. My sense is we will give him the bump in pay he’s looking for and he’ll be back.

AC Leonard – Death, taxes and whoever plays opposite of Charleston having a career year… the 3 certainties in life. I initially had Leonard pegged as purely a product of the Chris Jones system but after 6 sacks in Ottawa and 9 last season, I’m having to admit that he may just be a good player. Given that Hughes is old and we have yet to develop the next best thing is pass rushing, we either need him back or need to go out a buy a DE on the AF market.

Namaan Roosevelt – This is the one I struggle with the most. I am a HUGE Roosevelt fan. Love his heart, love how he gives 100% on every play, love how clutch he is on second down. He’s a savvy vet receiver and exactly the kind of guy you want in your locker room. But… I can also see the case for this being it for him. Assuming you re-sign Evans, you have Moore, Evans, Williams-Lambert and Stafford (with new guys like Henderson and McRoberts raring to go). How much money are you willing to invest in Roosevelt at this point? It’s not about talent or fit. This one will boil down to whether O’Day is willing to cut a cheque in an amount Roosevelt deems sufficient… I’m not convinced at this point that will happen.

Ed Gainey – Halfback is always a tough position to properly assess as they routinely draw the toughest coverage assignments but my sense in watching Gainey is that he is slowing down. It’s not just the lack of INTs but just some of the catches allowed this past season. I can see the team wanting him back but with a pay cut. I can see him not wanting to take a discount and looking elsewhere. HB is a tough spot to fill but unlike past years I don’t see him as a must sign.

Thaddeus Coleman – He has missed just 1 start in 4 years which is damn impressive. He’s been solid at right tackle (not outstanding but solid). All things being equal I’d say bring him back. But… he will be 35 next season and likely up there on the salary scale. We have an opportunity to get cheaper and (more importantly) younger along the O-line.

Phillip Blake – Trading for him was a nice boost for our Cdn O-line content but I'm just assuming he won’t be back. We already have old man Labatte (33) and Clark (31) under contract. With Shepley ready to go I don’t expect Blake back due to salary and age (not talent). 

Alexandre Gagne – Led the Riders with 19 special teams tackles last season and was 3rd in the CFL in 2018 with 23. We’ve seen the disastrous results of poor play on special teams last season. I would be doing what I can to keep our top end special teamers locked down.
  
Solomon Elimimian – 2019 started pretty slowly for Elimiman and left many of us wondering whether it was a mistake to take a chance on him. Once he got healthy and on the field he showed he was still Elimimian. Clearly he’s not the MOP level player he once was. But he’s still a solid presence in the middle of our D. I’d rather we go younger but MLB is such a key position and if not him, then who? Other than Larry Dean (who will be pricey) or Justin Tuggle there’s not much else for proven MLB’s on the FA market.

Jon Ryan – It’s well documented that I’m not among the many who get wet even at the thought of Ryan punting. That said, I am not opposed to him returning. It’ll mean enduring another season of ridiculous over-hype but at this point we don’t really have a back-up plan. He may not be the best punter in the CFL but we could certainly do worse.

Takoby Cofield – He’s a key signing if we are moving on from Coleman like I speculated. I thought he was among our best linemen in 2018. Last year was a bit of a down year (not sure if injuries played a factor) but I would love a combo of him and Vaughn manning the tackles.

Dariusz Bladek – I get that he’s not a top end OL (he takes a lot of penalties and will get beat from time to time) but he brings a nice bit of nastiness to the line and quite frankly we need young Canadian OL. He can start if needed or be a stellar 6th OL. I want him back.

Brandyn Bartlett – He’s been with the team for 3 years and yet to appear in 18 total games. He’s nothing more than a depth/special teams guy and he’s clearly behind Chevrier, Gagne and Teitz. If we re-sign him, fine but he’s hardly a priority.

Denzel Radford – Very torn on this. In 2017 he was our best special teamer. He lost 2018 due to injury and returned to make some spot appearances in 2019. We need Canadian depth behind Edem and Bouka and a guy with top end special teamer potential would certainly fit the bill but he’ll be 3 years removed from showing that top end ability so who knows.

Sam Hurl – I’ll cut to the chase here. If you can get him cheap as a depth guy great. But at this point he’s not worth getting in a bidding war over.

Dyshawn Davis – He stood out in a huge way in the preseason… and then disappeared so abruptly that I’m sure many of you forgot he still played with us for the duration of the 2019 season. He had 9 ST tackles so it’s not like he didn’t contribute but I thought we’d see a lot more. Given that we currently have no LBs under contract I would be ok with bringing him back again to see if what he flashed in preseason can actually be replicated when it matters.

Emanuel Arceneaux – He was brought in last year to be Geroy circa 2013. Vet to help a younger receiving core improve and contribute here and there to get us deep in the playoffs. He filled his role perfectly but neither he, nor the team are interested in doing that for another year. He gone. 

Marcus Thigpen – He’s a game breaker both as a returner and an RB (running or receiving) but he’s going to be 34. Given that our starting RB is over the age of 30 it would be nice to find someone sub-30 to be the back-up RB/returner.

Albert Awachie – A bet not many fans even know his name but I can guarantee you Fajardo and Powell like him a lot. For the first time this season, I really noticed his blocking abilities as a FB. It’s a dirty, thankless job but he does it well. I want him back. 

Lavar Edwards – I’m not convinced he’s fulltime starter material yet. But he’s one of the few D-lineman we’ve actually recruited so I’d like to see if he can take a step forward in year 2.

Jordan Reaves – I willing to bet his absence from the lineup can explain some of our early struggles on special teams. He’s a risk coming off injury but likely a low risk investment.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: This and That


It’s January in Saskatchewan and 90% of any conversation relates to how cold it is. Yes, it happens every year and yes if we haven’t moved away by now clearly we should have accepted this as a reality in our lives. But dammit, it’s our right to complain about it! I’m pretty sure its in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms somewhere.

But what better way to cope with the cold then to huddle up inside and pass the time reading your favourite blog… and once you are done that, then this blog.

A few news and notes,

Let’s start once again with the NFL…
Between Cameron Judge (who's already worked out for the Chargers), Derrick Moncrief (who's been released to pursue NFL opportunities and already signed with the Raiders), and Shaq Evans, it's highly likely that at least one member of the 2019 Riders makes his way onto an NFL active roster in 2020. Last year, 14 total CFLers signed NFL contracts. Given that 9 or 14 were on the defensive side of the ball, Judge is a little more likely than Evans says Paruk from SportsBettingDime.com.

The Moncrief signing is not at all shocking. I can’t imagine why he choose Vegas over Saskatchewan. I mean other than more money, better weather and ready access to pretty much any form of entertainment your heart (or other body parts) desires there’s really no difference. Moncrief is very deserving of this opportunity and I think he will stick down south. Think back to 2018 when we had both him and Eguavoen as our LBs (both NFL calibre players)… hard to imagine why our D was so go that year. The funny thing is that the 3rd guy in that LB equation was often Sam Hurl… one of these things is not like the other.

Nick Marshall’s NFL interest must have turned out to be minimal as he signed a one year extension, we now have 4 of our 5 starting secondary under contract with Gainey being the lone exception.  I would imagine though, that his return is predicated on a salary reduction. While the secondary is looking solid, the linebackers is another issue… some big holes to fill there.  

The other big news was that Cody Fajardo played through a ton of injuries throughout the year beyond the torn obliques. It’s crazy going from a QB where a heavy breeze made us concerned for his safety to one who just casually shrugs of broken fingers and separated shoulders.