Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assesing the East

Riders news has been fairly sporadic of late... other than the re-signing of Steele (giving much needed depth behind Evans) and the Riders finding new and creative ways to keep salary cap expenditures low by only employing being likely to be suspended (apparently). So I thought I would take this opportunity to look at other teams are stacking up coming into 2018.

I'll start with the East Division. It's routinely weaker and referred to as the Least Division , though it has produced the last 2 Grey Cup Champions so maybe they are onto something.

My methodology is simple: I use where they ended last season as a starting point, factor in key additions and deletions and then make a sweeping generalization about how I think they will do next season. What I lack in rigour and sound reasoning, I make up for in confidence in my overtly biased analysis.

Adds: QB James Franklin, DB TJ Heath, LB Taylor Reed, DB Ronnie Yell
Loses: OC Marcus Brady, DC Corey Chamblin, WR DeVier Posey, DB Mitchell White
From a player perspective the defending champs have managed to maintain most of the group from last season with minimal loses. Their offense should be better with a full season of Wilder and Franklin ready to step up when old man Ray goes down (previously no Ray meant no win). While they still have the players, the question on D is how they manage with the departure of Chamblin and a new defensive system. I see them as the top team in the East coming into the season. They should even hit double digit wins.

Adds: K Lirim Hajrulahu, Orlando Steinhauer
Loses: QB Zach Collaros
The Ti-Cats firmly believe that the team they were at the end of last season was their true form and not the utter garbage they were to start the year. That's why they have essentially changed nothing about their roster, choosing continuity instead. Getting Steinhauer back is huge. I don't care if he's not the D Coordinator in name, he will have a huge influence on the D and they should improve as a result. Offensively, a healthy Terrence Tolliver gives Masoli 3 big time weapons. I don't suddenly expect them to be a super power but I think you can expect them to contend for second in the weaker East division. 

Adds:  Noel Thorpe, DB Josh Johnson, DB Louchiez Purifoy, LB Kyries Hebert
Loses: DL Zach Evans, LB Taylor Reed
Ottawa has all the offensive firepower one could need: Ellingson, Sinopoli, Spencer, Shaw, Powell. Defense is where I have my concerns. Obviously swapping Noel Thorpe for the guy who couldn't figure out he needed to pressure Kevin Glenn is a huge boost but I don't think they have the talent they need. Their D line just lost is best player in Evans. They seem to think that Newsome and Leonard will be an awesome pass rushing duo... but just ask the 2016 Riders have that will work out. They currently have one of the weaker D-lines in the CFL and they are relying on a 37 year old to anchor as less than stellar LB group. While their offense will keep them competitive, I see them getting edged out by Hamilton and finishing third (a dangerous spot given the usual strength of the West).

Adds: DB Tommie Campbell, DB Mitchell White, DL Jamaal Westerman, WR Chris Williams
Loses: They quite frankly had no one that anyone else wanted.
On paper the Als have absolutely improved their roster (not hard given how awful they were last season). Campbell and White are arguably the top CB pair in the CFL. Westerman (and possibly Muamba) add quality Canadian content. They should actually be able to play somewhat decent defense (the interior of the DL remains a question mark though). Offensively they have the weapons in Jackson, Williams and Cunningham. But here's their biggest issue... their whole season rests on the success of QB Josh Freeman. Now Freeman isn't quite as big a pipe dream as Vince Young was but he's also not anything close to a safe bet. They also have done very little to shore up the O-line in front of him. So Josh Freeman and his zero CFL experience behind a shaky OL with only Drew Willy to save them when he inevitably fails... Kavis might as well start planning who he will take 1st overall in the 2019 CFL draft (assuming they haven't wizened up and fired him by them).

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Collective Bargaining Problem

With no real Rider news to discuss (other than the news destined to break 5 minutes after I post this) I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss everyone's favourite topic: collective bargaining. There has been a lot of talk about negotiations between the CFL and CFLPA with the current contact set to expire after this season. Given the nature of topic this will likely be less funny than my usual commentary... unless of course you don't find me funny in which base this post will be as funny or more funny than usual.

Collective bargaining is actually a topic where I'm qualified to opine. Unlike football, where I'm really just on opinionated jackass, I actually have university education and work in the human resource field. So that means I'm an opinionated jackass with a couple expensive pieces of paper attesting to my superiority. 

I'm going to go through a few of the major hurdles I see facing the CFLPA. Historically they have been at a disadvantage in negotiations and I think will continue to be.

The football clubs in the CFL exist to make money, not operate a charity (even and I would say especially the community owned ones). So like any business their aim is to maximize profits by minimizing operating costs. Labour costs are generally the biggest those. So while it might be nice to think they should do things like up the minimum salary out of the goodness of their hearts, that would be contrary to what makes a business successful. Why should they pay someone $75,000 when they have an abundant supply of people willing to work for less? And while certain players will likely say no to the CFL based on the low salary, on the whole, teams still have no problem finding import players to play for league minimum. Until that changes there is little pressure on the teams to up minimum salary.

Union strength is built on solidarity with ones brothers and sisters in the union. A union's ability to have everyone work together for the same goal can dictate their ability to succeed. This is where the CFLPA has a major weakness (and the owners are well aware of it). You can essentially split the CFLPA into 3 camps: Canadians, import veterans and import rookies. Much has been made about the needs of the rookies: minimum salaries, option years, etc... But the problem is that Canadians (and to a certain extent import vets) don't care about those. They aren't making league min so they want the cap to grow so they can get more of the pie. Who runs the CFLPA? Canadian and veterans. Who already have the most benefits and job security? Canadian and vets. So the desires of the rookies (or 2nd year Americans) tend not to make it to the top of the agenda. The other thing is that newcomers are the least likely to strike because they need the $$ the most. The owners know this and so by giving a few shreds to the Canadians and vets they can play hardball with minimal risk of a strike. If the CFLPA could ever get completely united on one of 2 key issues and flex their collective strengths, they could probably force the owners' hand. But currently their interests are too diverse and divided. Until that changes, advantage owners.

So while I expect these negotiations to be nastier and more public, I have little reason to believe the owners won't prevail with another lopsided deal.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Snow Day

Between my general lack of ambition due to the snow and the general lack of Rider news I've decided to take a snow day. And yes, I understand the lack of logic in saying the snow prevent me from doing something I can do without leaving the bed. 

I'll be back next Monday with my normal sentimonies (assuming it has stopped snowing by then).

For now please enjoy this ad for Mr Plow.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Mail Bag

I spent a long time trying to come up with an idea for a post this morning. We're in a major lull in terms of CFL news. Free agents news is down to a trickle. Probably won't be much more until Mark's CFL Week in a few weeks. So talking about something topical is out (not that that has ever stopped me). I also went through and rejected a number of filler posts, including but not limited to: what if CFL players had to compete in random Olympic events, an op ed how the only logical way to stop the debate over the Eskimo team name is to move the team to the Northwest Territories, the merits of a regular season CFL game in Las Vegas just like how the NFL goes to London... only far drunker, what combinations of names on the back of player jerseys standing in a row on the sideline would make the funniest sentence (john WHITE, john CHICK, glenn LOVE, rakim COX) and a piece on random players of years gone by that I still hate (remember Jason Fench? ). 

But instead I opted to open the Rider Prophet mail bag and answer some questions from you my valued readers. Now in the spirit of full disclosure there is no actual mail bag. Its 2018, if someone sent me an actual letter that would be pretty weird. Also, all the following questions are made up because no one has sent me any questions electronically. Surprisingly this is does not even top the list of most questionable concepts for a post I've done over the years.  

Q: What are the Riders' chances in 2018?
A: About 1 in 9... Ok 1 in 8 since Montreal doesn't really count. Ok, more seriously I would say as good as last year. The west will still be super competitive but if you take away our slow start last season, we actually held our own pretty well last year. Last year I rightly predicted us in a crossover. Not to toot my own horn but "toot toot". There's still a ways to go yet in terms of shaping the roster but I see us in contention for 2nd or 3rd in the West.

Q: Is Chris Jones crazy?
A: Clearly. Of late he seems to be keeping under wraps more than in the begging but its still there. But for all his madness, he thus far has the team trending in the right direction. Provided he keeps winning, we will learn to live with the crazy.

Q: Are you crazy?
A: Let me put it this way. I cheer for the Riders, Vikings and Canadiens (and only really began following them in the 2000s). So based on my natural attractions to teams who especially and repeatedly break my heart you tell me if I'm crazy. Not to mention the whole robe and beard thing.

Q: Do you wear anything under the robe?
Well if I didn't I would need a longer robe or I'd be arrested for indecent exposure, if you get my drift. Also,this is Saskatchewan and frost bite is a real thing, so yes, yes I do.

Q: Who are some under the radar players to keep an eye on this season?
Well I've already expressed my love for both Derrick Moncrief and I'm Nick James Bitch. Other names to add include Cameron Judge (Assuming he's still playing football, no one has ever really addressed this) and Jake Harty.

Q: Do you see anymore big names being let go?
A: Nothing for sure but I don't think guys like Bakari Grant and Chad Owens are guaranteed anything. I think Trent Richardson currently sits dead last in the RB depth chart. And (maybe this is just me being overly optimistic) but I wouldn't rule out one of Clark or Dyakowski being beat out in camp and starting the year as the back-up. (Fingers crossed for Clark)

Q: Do you do birthday parties?
A: Sounds like the world's oddest birthday party but sure. You'd be surprised (and likely sickened) by the things that I would do for money. Serious inquiries only.

Q: Don't you hate pants?
A: Clearly

Saturday, February 24, 2018

All My Exes Round 2

Now that the dust has settled on Free Agency its time for another round of All My Exes.

As a reminder of the rules:

I will name a CFL team and you have to name me one player on that team's current roster who used to play for each of the other 8 teams in the CFL. Seems simple enough right? A couple rules:
- You can only use each player once. I.e. Zach Collaros previously played for Toronto and Hamilton but you could only use him for one or the other, not both.
- The player must have actually dressed for the team (simply owning neg rights or draft rights don't count)
- Kevin Glenn cannot be used. His greatness in the realm of ex teams is beyond reproach.

You can submit your answers by Twitter or by leaving a comment here. By a completely arbitrary and made up scoring scheme I will award a winner and announce it on Monday.

Get it?

Okay the team of the day is: Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Good luck

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Belated Family Day Edition

Happy Family Day. A day intended for you to spend more time with your family... even though I think  given the option most would prefer a vacation from their family but "Go get drunk with your buddies day" doesn't have the same ring to it.

We are now about a week into Free Agency, so I thought I would spend today taking a look at where the Riders' roster stands. I'm not going to bother assessing who "won" and "lost" free agency. If "winning" free agency correlated with winning championships, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers would be in the midst of a dynasty. 

Coming into free agency the plan was consistency. Maintain as a much of the core from 2017 as possible (we were as a reminder one drive away from a chance to benefit from the Stampeders' annual Grey Cup choke). A lot of our early moves were in that line. Guys like Jefferson, Jones, Butler, Bridge,Carter, Bailey, Coleman, Moore, Clark got extended.

But somewhere in there the shear monotony of it all must have gotten to Jones and the consistency plan started shifting into bigger changes. There were the high profile trades for Collaros and Hughes. But few would argue that last season some key weaknesses of our team included lack of consistent play at QB and a lack of anyone named Jefferson getting anything resembling pressure. So far so good. 

Even early in free agency, the moves were all headed in the right direction. We shed Dennis and his salary (by the way I fully expect him to have a monster year back in Calgary) in order to repatriate a young stud Canadian DT by the name of Zach Evans. An impact player in the middle of a D-line that is suddenly very imposing and bona fide Canadian starter. We even made some moves that may fly under the radar for most but are great additions. I'm talking specifically about Jake Harty. In him we get a young Canadian receiver (a place where quality, young depth is needed) and a great special teams player. Again, all good.

I won't rehash my rant about the whole Messam/Muamba thing. I've made my thoughts on that very clear and it stands out as the one aberration (albeit as massive one) in an otherwise good offseason.

So where do we stand roster-wise. Honestly for the most part we are in really good shape. There are a couple areas that still need addressing. Obviously there is a vacancy at left tackle. You can initially pencil Bond in that spot though given his lack of recent playing time there I imagine we are still looking at other options for competition (such as Campbell). We also need a new middle linebacker. I staunchly refuse to believe Sam Hurl is our plan A (please, please, please). With Messam, Bagg, Bailey and Harty we have the ratio flexibility to start 5 Cdn on offense (3 OL, 2 WR/RB) so an import is a possibility (please,please, please).  We also need a new CB but I expect that to be filled through scouting (where we have not a bad record when it comes to DBs). But that's really it for starters.

From there its all about depth. We have no depth at import OL. We need some Cdn depth behind Zach Evans (look for us to draft there). We desperately need depth a LB. I love Eguavoen and Moncrief but see no one behind them. All in all though, the roster is not in terrible shape. 

I'd be a lot happier with Maumba on the roster and Messam off but we still look to be in a competitive position in the West. Having lived through many offseasons of doom and gloom, I'll take where we are at for now.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Thoughts on Free Agency

What was supposed to be a relatively quiet Free Agency year for the Riders has been anything but. It's been a roller coaster ride of Duron-type highs and whatever the opposite of Duron-type highs would be (Alouettes in the standings-type lows?  My interest in the Johnny Manziel drama-type low?).

Here's a play by play of commentary on free agency
- Signed Dan Clark: alright decent start, not the greatest but we need OL depth
- Signed Spencer Moore: Great! Solid FB and special teams player
- Cut Dennis and Love: What the ?
- Signed Evans: Hell Yeah!!!!!! Love it! Back on board.
- Signed Travis Bond: Makes sense. All headed in the right direction
- Signed Jerome Messam: Umm wait.. I'm confused. We seem to have taken a wrong turn
- Cut Muamba: What the hell is going on? We're going off the rails on a crazy train (Ay, Ay, Ay)

What started our so great is suddenly heading in a concerning direction.

I was surprised to see Dennis go but as soon as we signed Evans I got it and was fully on board. We dumped an American starter to make room for a stud Canadian DT. As a I said on Twitter we essentially traded Dennis for Evans and you make that trade any day. The whole Regina connection is certainly a feel good story, as is the part about finally righting the wrong of Taman stupidly not protecting him back in the expansion draft but what I care about is getting a 27 year old Cdn DT with 18 sacks in the past three season. We needed an impact guy in the middle and another Cdn starter and Evans checks both those boxes. We now have a line with Hughes/Evans/James/Jefferson. That is an intimidating rush. This was a hugely unexpected but awesome move. Yes it leaves a whole at LT but we have Bond and are working on Bruce Campbell so we should be okay there.

As for the whole Messam/Muamba thing... I will reserve full judgement until all the pieces fall into place as there may be other moves coming that are part of a larger plan that make everything make sense but for now I do not like it. Messam will be 33 this season and his yards per carry have decreased steadily over the past 3 seasons. He's still a force but is clearly on the downside of his career. We have 3 RBs (albeit imports) and no pressing need there so I really can't understand the desire to spend $120k on Messam. Seems like a poor investment. I don't think he can be a fulltime back for a full season anymore so at best you have a rotational RB (say 60/40 split) who you hope to have healthy for the stretch run. So I did not like the Messam deal from the start.

When the other shoe dropped and we cut Henoc Muamba for salary reasons, I was completely lost. Did we use up all our logic in the Evans deal? Look it get it, in a salary cap $200k is a lot to pay for a non-QB. But Muamba was not only a starting Cdn but a STUD  middle linebacker. Those don't grow on trees. There are many players I would have cut before Muamba is salary savings were needed. For example, cutting Chad Owens and Jerome Messam would completely pay for Muamba. Now given the choice between Muamba and Messam/Owens which one do you think would have a bigger impact on our performance in 2018? I really don't like this.

There is still a chance this could all work out. Guys like Bear Woods and Taylor Reed are still available and if we get a decent American LB then this could look not as awful. I just hope Plan A wasn't Sam Hurl because that is a massive downgrade to our defense. Still lots of time to build a defense but after taking a step forward with Evans I see this as a big step back.

Hopefully there is more to come to calm my worry.

Day 2 Free Agency Summary

Extended: n/a
Added: OL Travis Bond, LB Sam Hurl
Lost: LB Henoc Muamba

Extended: LB Solomon Elimimian
Added: WR Cory Watson
Lost: n/a

Extended: RB John White, LB Doug Parrish, WR Jamil Smith
Added: n/a
Lost: WR Cory Watson, K Swayze Waters, DB Andrew Lue

Extended: n/a
Added: WR Mitchell Baines
Lost: WR Julian Feoli-Gudino, OL Travis Bond, LB Sam Hurl, DB TJ Heath, DL Jamal Westerman

Extended: n/a
Added: DB TJ Heath, K Swayze Waters
Lost: DB Rico Murray

Extended: LB Tanner Doll
Added: WR Julian Feoli-Gudino, DB Rico Murray
Lost: WR Jake Harty

Extended: QB Drew Willy
Added: WR Jake Harty, DL Jamal Westerman
Lost: n/a