Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing Free Agency

Reaction to the Riders’ moves since free agency opened on Tuesday have ranged from anger to sadness to apathy to “at least we didn’t sign Brandon Bridge!”… ok that last one might have been me. The general consensus though is that people are not happy about how we fared in relation to the rest of the West division.

Let me start out by stating what should be obvious… Grey Cups are not won on paper based on rosters on Day 2 of free agency. Many teams have been crowned the “winners of free agency” only to have it be the biggest victory they manage that season (the 2016 Riders and Winnipeg many, many times come to mind). A lot can still happen between now and the regular season. Also, keep in mind that the Riders won 12 games last season and retained a large part of their core. We are not in a full rebuild mode so the lack of a flurry of moves does not mean we are screwed. This is to hopefully clam down the overly outraged portion of Rider Nation (not sure that is possible, but one can try).

Let me also state something to address the other side of spectrum... the overly optimistic members of Rider Nation. The Riders’ key weakness last season was the lack of anything resembling a passing game. So what did O’Day do to remedy that? Re-signed a QB with a concerning concussion history and equipped him with a bunch of 30+ year old receivers with injury concerns of their own. You’ll forgive us for not finding that very confidence building. On paper we currently have the 5th best passing attack in the west (and I don’t even think it is close). Not doom and gloom but just honest.

I think many of criticism’s being thrown at O’Day are unfair. Lack of signings does not mean lack of effort on his part. We know for sure he made a huge offer to Bo Levi Mitchell. He was also for sure pushing for Derel Walker and Shaq Johnson (probably others too). So did he do nothing? No, he tried hard. Did he improve the team from where we ended 2018? I would also argue no.

Let’s look at who we did sign.

Zach Collaros – Look, by virtue of not being geographically closer to Seattle than Vancouver, we never had a shot at Mike Reilly. We tried our darndest but Mitchell was unlikely to leave Calgary anyway. As for Harris, we lacked the connections that Edmonton had. I told you heading into free agency that we were unlikely to land one of the big 3 (it's as if I was prophetic in that statement). In terms of combing the left overs, Collaros isn’t the worst option (now being the not the worst of a bunch of bad options doesn't make it great but...). He’s familiar with our system (this will be the first time in a long time where we have the same OC and QB in back to back seasons). He had his moments. Hiss durability is concerning as hell to me but O’Day opting for a known quantity over a question mark like Jennings is not the worst decision. Doesn’t make us better but doesn’t make us worse.

Cody Fajardo – So do we pronounce the J like in fajita or it a silent J like in jogging? By virtue of not being Brandon Bridge I like this already. We needed a back-up for Collaros and rather than bring in old men like Lulay or Glenn, we opt for a 26 year old with 3 years CFL experience. Will he amount to anything? Who knows but at least we are looking towards the future at QB for once. Lord knows we can't recruit a QB to save our soul. 

William Powell – Powell is an impact RB no question and given Tre Mason’s injury we did need someone. I’m always hesitant to spend on a “name” RB when you should be able to recruit one… also Powell is 31 (a theme among O’Day’s signings). But given that I don’t see our passing game improving anytime soon, a strong running game is needed and Powell gives us that. This move more shored up an existing strength rather than improving our O as a whole.

Micah Johnson – This is THE big signing for us. Johnson is the best DT in the CFL. Pairing him with Evans makes for one hell of a push up the middle. This is a great signing! I do wonder how quickly him and Labatte will make up. They did not like each other at all the last time we met. 

AC Leonard – I always thought Leonard was overrated and benefited from playing beside Jefferson in his first run here. That said he did hold his own in Ottawa, notching 6 sacks on a far weaker line. As a rotation DE along with Geter I think we should be ok along the D-line when you consider who the other starting 3 are.

Namaam Roosevelt – When we struck on all the other top end WRs out there it was predictable that we came back to Roosevelt. I love the guy. He is a heart and soul player. I would have preferred finding a younger #1 WR with less miles on them but he’s an OK consolation.

Manny Arceneaux – The value of this signing depends completely on his timeline for being healthy. Arceneaux says he’s pushing to be in training camp but there are unconfirmed reports that Labour Day is more likely. Much like Roosevelt, Manny is the wrong side of 30 and has a ton of miles on him but when healthy dude can still be an impact player.

Cory Watson – Makes Manny and Roosy seem like youngn’s by comparison. I guess as a depth Cdn WR he’s OK but with Harty once again lost to injury we need a lead Cdn WR not just depth. Solid meh on this one.

Dyshawn Davis – Very solid special teams guy (22 ST tackles last season). May be a guy who is ready for a larger role on defense. He will hopefully be in the mix to replace Eguavoen.

So here’s my overall assessment of Free Agency: Underwhelmed. It’s not doom and gloom but we are arguably a worse team at this point then when we ended the season. Defense was our strength last season (and by that I mean they bailed our asses out of sure defeat on many occasions). We lost 3 of our top impact players in Jefferson, Anitgha and Eguavoen and replaced them with Johnson. A one for 3 swap is not great. On offense we improved our run game which was not a weakness last season. In the passing game we essentially changed nothing. Swap Williams-Lambert for Arceneaux essentially. I expect guys like Moore, Cannon and Evans to take a step forward in year 2 but will it be enough to keep pace in the West?

We still have the draft and recruiting to fill out our roster and some of our best players have come from there in the past (Moncrief, Eguavoen, Marshall, Antigha, Lambert, Cofield, Geter). O’Day approached free agency like an old lady at a supermarket, looking only for deals and not wanting to spend big money. He is betting on the existing core of this team and their recruiting ability. Will it work out? Who knows. I have my doubts but I’m certainly not about to write off the season in February.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Primer

Free agency opens tomorrow across the CFL (though truthfully covert tampering has been going on for months). It will be interesting to see what strategy new GM Jeremy O’Day will take to free agency. Will he want to make a big splash to assert his place as a top dog in this league? Will be take a cautious approach and opt more to build from within? Will he do what Chris Jones always did and sign a bunch of guys that he ends up cutting before mid-season? Who knows?

Let’s take a look at our needs:

QB – It’s already been talked about endlessly but in case you have been living under a rock (or live in Manitoba and lack the electricity and 3rd grade education required to read internet content) the Riders need a QB.
Whose out there?
There are essentially 3 tiers available on the market.
1 Elite – (Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris) – These guys are gonna get paid. Get the money, dollar dollar bills y’all. Odds are Reilly to BC, Bo to the NFL or a return to Calgary, and Harris stays in Ottawa but you can bet we will be making big time offers. Bo is the interesting one for me. He’s in an interesting spot where he may want to hold out to see if a decent NFL offer arises but if he wants to maximize his CFL $$ he needs to sign quickly. Teams can’t afford to wait in limbo on a $600K+ contract offer.
2 – Serviceable – (Jonathan Jennings, Kevin Glenn). At least 5 teams will be vying for the big 3 QB. A few of them are going to lose out. Despite their glaring deficiencies, in a very thin QB market guys like Jennings and Glenn suddenly look better than nobody. Obviously Jennings (based on age) is the preferred guy but as long have you have an alternate plan come playoffs I do think Kevin Glenn can get you there.
3 – Last Resorts (Travis Lulay, Zach Collaros) – Look when healthy these 2 are great options but if you honestly think you can count on either as a fulltime starter at this point you simply have not been paying attention. If you have a young guy you want to take a chance on, either would make a great back-up option.
Outlook: I don’t see us landing one of the big 3 (though we will certainly try). I’ve been touting Jennings as a likely target since the season ended. If not him then as sad as it is to say, we are probably looking at rolling with a combo of a young guy and either Glenn or Collaros. You’ll note that Brandon Bridge did not even crack my Last Resort list. I stand by that evaluation.

D-Line – Clearly we all want Willie back, if for no other reason than his long draw out touchdown runs. But if he is not in the cards then we need another strong end. Hughes still has a lot left in the tank (clearly) but his production declined as the season wore on and at his age I don’t think he can carry a D-line by himself for a full season. We also need some Cdn depth for Zach Evans.
Who is out there? Willie Jefferson, Ja’Gared Davis, Frank Beltre, Ken Bishop, Victor Butler, Shawn Lemon, Tristan Okpalaugo, Cordarro Law, Jesse Joseph(cdn), Eddie Steele (cdn)
Outlook – The NFL is a possibility for Jefferson but I do think if he stays in the CFL, we will be willing to pay him what it takes to retain him. If not him then I think the next most likely is either Okpalaugo or Law.

Wide Receiver – Two main needs here. We need a go-to #1 receiver… unless we run the same offense as last year, then never mind. Lots of big names will be hitting the market and this is a place I could see O’Day spending some money. The other need is somewhat contingent on the health of Jake Harty (remember him?) In theory, if he is healthy, then we are in good shape at Cdn WR but if there are lingering health concerns then we may need to add someone, even if just for depth
Who is out there? Da’Varis Daniels, Derel Walker, Manny Arceneaux, DeVier Posey, BJ Cunningham, Greg Ellingson, Chris Matthews, Kenny Stafford, Namaan Roosevelt, Terrence Tolliver. For Cdns, Nic Demksi, Juwan Brescasin Nate Behar, Shaq Johnson, Mike Jones
Outlook: The only “big” name guy I could see us landing is Ellingson (at which point people would suddenly remember and be outraged about his DUI that has been forgotten about). Outside of that we are more likely to land a Cunningham, Matthews or Stafford. I don’t see us spending big on Cdn WR.

Linebacker – There is a giant Sam Eguavoen-sized hole in our linebacking core. It will be tough to replace a player of his calibre but we do need to look at someone who can at least start in his place.
Who is out there? Jeff Knox, Jovon Santon-Knox, Maleki Harris, Micah Awe, Bo Lokombo, Larry Dean, Simoni Lawrence, Marcus Ball
Outlook – Jeff Knox strikes me as the most likely both from a cost and fit perspective.

Offensive Line – Need depth. For once we actually had OL depth last year and we need that to continue. Last year we lost Bladek, Clark and Labatte (a few plays here and there) but managed to not be overly impacted by that as we had St John, Blake and Schram to step in.  While we still have Blake and Schram in addition to the starters from last year (Labatte, Clark, Bladek) so we are in decent shape but one more Canadian OL would be good. This need goes away if 2018 draft pick Dakota Shepley ends up signing but there still appears to be NFL interest in him.
Who is out there? Josiah St John, Jon Gott, Suhk Chung, Tyler Holmes, Phillippe Gagnon
Outlook: I doubt we sign a big name player like Chung or Holmes but a Gott or Gagnon are a possibility as is a return for St John.

Depth at safety – Depth behind Mike Edem does not exist. This is a bold strategy. Thing is there isn’t much out there for depth. There are top end guys like Loffler and Ackie but with Edem already locked up I don’t us targeting them.
Who is out there? Anthony Thompson, Tunde Adeleke
Outlook: Most likely we need to look at the draft to address this.

CFL Ins and Outs

In: DB Mike Edem, DL Makana Henry (contract extension), DB Valentino Blake, RB Taye Davis, DL BJ McBryde, WR Doug McNeil, LB Deion Pierre, LB Louy Compton (free agent signing)

In: RB Terry Williams, LB Cory Greenwood, OL Brad Erdos, LB Wynton McManis, OL Shane Bergman, OL Ucambre Williams, DB Brandon Smith, DB Jamar Wall (contract extension) LB Dwayne Norman (free agent signing)

In: WR Bryan Burnham, DB TJ Lee, RB Wayne Moore (contract extension), WR Marquess Wilson (free agent signing)

In: DL Kwaku Boateng, WR Kevin Elliot, LB Taylor Reed, WR Natey Adjei, LB Korey Jones, LB Blair Smith (contract extension), WR Kenny Shaw, DL Gabriel Bagnell, WR Harry McMaster, WR Bryce Bobo, WR Anthony Mahoungou, LB Caleb Bailey, DB BJ Clay, DL Ben Sorensen (free agent signing)

In: DL Jackson Jeffcoat, DB Anthony Gaitor, LB Shane Gauthier, LB Thomas Miles, DB Jeff Hecht, LB Kyrie Wilson (contract extension) QB Bryan Schor, WR Garrett Johnson, RB Jalen Simmons, DB Mykkele Thompson, WR Rasheed Bailey, WR Don Williams, DB Dexter Janke (free agent signing)
Out: OL Matthias Goosen (retired)

In: WR Brandon Banks, RB Alex Green, DB Mike Daly, DL Nikita Whitlock, DL Justin Vaughn, DB Cariel Brooks, DB Richard Leonard (contract extension) WR Rashad Lawrence, WR Cam Echols-Luper, QB DeVante Kincade, RB Ray Lawry. DB Robert Porter, DB Joel Ross, DL Jamal Marcus, LB Chris Frey, DL Joel Van Pelt (free agent)

In: QB Dominique Davis, OL Jason Lauzon-Seguin, DL Avery Ellis, DB Jonathan Rose, DL Michael Klassen (contract extension) DB Chris Randle (free agent)

In: DB Robert Woodson, DB Jermaine Gabriel, LB Terrance Plummer, LB Bear Woods, OL Chris Kolankowski, WR Alex Charette, OL DJ Sackey, DB Abdul Kanneh, RB Brandon Burks, LB Akeem Jordan, DB Alden Darby, FB Simon Gingras-Gagnon (contract extension), DB Devin Butler, DB Trey Caldwell (free agent signing)

In: LS Martin Bedard (contract extension)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Looking Ahead To Free Agency

CFL Free Agent Frenzy (editor’s note: it is unlikely to be an actual frenzy) opens next Tuesday. Now that we have a GM and Coach in place we can turn our attention back to the players. We have a bunch of current Riders eligible to become free agents next week. Compared to other teams we have been almost deathly silent when it comes to player re-signings.

I was actually starting to get concerned about the silence until the Mike Edem announcement came down. He is a big time re-signing. His name isn’t talked about much but he is a versatile player and an impact Canadian starter. Glad he’s sticking around. Other than him, all we have re-signed is Zach Evans and Purifoy. Both are good signings but it would be nice to see a few more.

Today let’s take a look at our remaining free agents and who among them is worth keeping. We’ll also look at some under the radar free agents from other teams that may be of interest.

DL Willie Jefferson – Hands down the #1 name on our priority list (and likely a few other teams to). His tone has changed of late. Originally it was “I’m not trying out for an NFL team, they know want I can do and can find me if interest” and “if I’m back in the CFL it’ll be in Saskatchewan”. Now he’s actively looking into NFL options and less comital on us as a landing place. Some of that may be just him/his agent doing what they need to maximize his value and not take a “hometown discount” but with Jones gone, there’s no guarantee he comes back. Thing is we NEED him back. Back up the money truck and get this done.

OL Josiah St John – We invested 3 years developing him and for the first 2 it looked like we’d wasted a 1st overall pick. But when called on last year, I thought he stepped in just fine. He’s young as far as OL go so I would like to see him retained as you can never have too much depth here. He says he wants to stay.

DL Tobi Antigha – The rare safety/d-end role he plays is probably not as coveted now that Jones is gone. But even as a pure D-end I liked the guy. Assuming Jason Shivers ends up as D-Coordinator I can see Antigha back. Fingers crossed.

WR Namaan Roosevelt – Had Williams-Lambert not got poached by the NFL and had Jones still been the GM I would have bet against Roosevelt coming back. Age and durability are starting to become a concern. I think we need a strong veteran presence amongst all the young guys (Evans, Moore, Cannon) and on a personal level I would love to have him back. But there are a number of top end receivers hitting the market so no guarantee he’s back.

QB Zach Collaros – I like Collaros but you simply can’t count on him as a starter at this point based on his injury history. If he’s willing to sign and incentive laden deal for backup money I’d be interested. There’s not enough good QBs to go around this season so once the Reilly’s and Harris’ of the world get signed those left empty handed may have to look his way.

QB Brandon Bridge – Good riddance. He’s heading into his 5th year and has shown zero upside. We damn well better not be interested and at this point, I’m not even sure who else would be.

WR Rob Bagg – He pretty much said last year that the team didn’t want him back but that was Chris Jones. With O’Day calling the shots there is a chance. We need some veteran presence amongst our WRs and quite frankly we have yet to find a younger Canadian that is better than him (not a glowing endorsement of our recruiting in this area). Unlikely but possible he returns.

WR Devon Bailey – Tall guy that can win a circus jump ball… beyond that hasn’t shown much else as a receiver. At this point in his career we’ve likely seen his ceiling so I’d be ok giving guys like Picton a chance or drafting someone with more potential.

WR Caleb Holley – Went from rising star 2 years ago to being passed by four rookie receivers last season. Not a great career trajectory heading into free agency. I don’t expect him back.

RB Cameron Marshall – I love Cameron Marshall. He’s not a homerun hitter but he’s a far more explosive player than Tre Mason who is more a pound it for tough yards guy. As long as he’s healthy I want him in camp.

DL Mic’Hael Brooks – was a huge boost to our interior DL and by in large avoided the dirty plays that he was famous for in BC. Not sure where he is at recovery-wise but I’d take him back.

DL Eddie Steele – Need depth for Evans and Steele is a great guy as part of the DL rotation. Don’t have much else for Cdn depth at DL so unless there is a plan to draft one or find one in free agency, he’s important to retain.

DL Makana Henry – Very unheralded but valuable Canadian. One of those role players any good team needs. He likely comes cheap so I see him being retained.

LB Sam Hurl – Wasn’t awful last year… which is as close to compliment as you will get out of me for Hurl. If he’s willing to accept back-up money to be depth behind Judge then from a depth perspective he’d be alright to keep.

DB Marc-O Brouilette – I assumed he would re-retire last year, he didn’t. Assumed he would re-retire this year and thus far has not (update: he may actually be retiring now). Depth behind Edem is next to non-existent so I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss his value but I honestly don’t see him as an impact player anymore. Could likely go younger and cheaper… not to mention Brouilette’s injuries starting to add up.

LB Kevin Francis – He’s a young Canadian who we have been developing for a while. Likely no more than a back-up/special teamer… but you need those guys. If he stays great. If he goes, no big loss.

WR Brian Jones – Honestly showed the most of any of our Canadian WRs (which is like saying he was the best…  (the bar is not set high). I’m indifferent on him returning but I would take him over say Devon Bailey.

DL Cory Johnson – In an ideal world we retain one of him or Brooks.

DB Jovon Johnson – Like most people I assumed old man Jovon was done a couple years ago, yet he still seems to have value. I see him as a guy you call if you have an injury in camp or mid-season but we should have a strong enough group in the secondary to not need him at this point.

Under The Radar Free Agents From Other Teams
So obviously guys like Mike Reilly, Micah Johnson, Bryan Burnham and Delvin Breaux will be free agent targets of many teams so I’m not going to even bother talking about them. Here are a few less heralded names that I would be interested in if I was shopping for free agent finds.

Calgary – Bit of a stretch to call him under the radar but DB Tunde Adeleke is an up and coming guy to watch. Canadian player who can impact in both the return game and on defense. Can’t see the Stamps letting him go especially with Singleton gone but if he hits the open market I’d put in a call.

Edmonton – Less heralded than guys like Walker or Ellingson but Kenny Stafford has twice topped 700 yards (including this past season) and had 9 TDs in 2015… all while being the 2nd, 3rd or even 4th receiving option. Also keep an eye on Kevin Glenn… seriously! There is a lack of top end QBs and plenty of teams in the market. The quintessential insurance policy still has value in 2019.

BC – Not a ton of Canadian’s out there who can be impact players on defense but Bo Lokombo is one of them. Great on special teams and while he wasn’t lights out last season when he hard a starting role, he showed enough to garner interest come free agency.

Winnipeg – We have a hole at LB with Eguavoen gone, Jovan Santo-Knox is potentially available and would certainly help fill that void. Also if you are looking to build Canadian depth you could do worse than Trent Corney.

Montreal – Nobody… seriously their free agency list is garbage. Other than Cunningham and Heath the only other name that interests me is OL Phillip Gagnon

Hamilton – In 2016 Terrence Tolliver put up 1000 yards and 9 TDs in 13 games. Injuries have held him back since but I think there is still big upside for the 6’5 receiver for anyone willing to take a chance.

Toronto – Going off the board with this name but Victor Butler. Dude had 10 sacks in 12 games in 2017. He did not play in 2018 due to a contract dispute with the Argos. He’s a free agent now and would likely want good $ to return to the CFL but given his potential he is worth looking into. I would also add Jeff Knox to the list. We need an LB, he’s very familiar with Saskatchewan.

Ottawa – Most of Ottawa free agents are big name guys Harris, Ellingson, Rogers, Ackie. Outside of that group a name worth watching is Jonathan Rose. While I don’t approve of his ref punching policy. I do approve of his 7 INTs over the past 2 seasons.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Dickenson Era Begins

The Riders needed to move quickly to fill their vacant Head Coach spot and Friday they did just that by announcing that Craig Dickenson was hired… well I guess promoted since he was already in the building. Thus begins a new era for the Riders and I think we are all anxious to see how he will do. I think we are all also anxious to start using clever wordplay based on the fact that Dick appears in his name that we have been saving up for a week now… oh? Is that just a me thing? Well never the less more on that later.

Dickenson was the front runner from the moment Chris Jones left. The fact is that it was pretty slim pickings at this time of year and he was far and away the best option available to us… unless you seriously thought that Craig Reynolds could sell Rider Nation on Steve McAdoo (sadly some people did).

While the coach was not a surprise, the length of his deal was… to me anyway. Dickenson got a 3 year term. Now this is pretty standard (can’t recall a new HC getting less than a 2 year deal) and I believe that Dickenson is a good choice but given the circumstances I’m still surprised. The length of the contract tells me that O’Day thinks that Dickenson would still be his guy even he was given the chance to talk to other coaches. I always thought LaPo was O’Day’s preferred choice. It was speculated back when O’Day was in the running for the GM role when Jones was hired that LaPo would be his coach if hired. By giving Dickenson a 3 year deal he is essentially closing off that option. While surprising, I see this as a sign of just how confident O’Day is in this hire. Time will tell if his confidence is justified. Even when GM’s hire coaches that turn out be disasters they always think it’s a good idea at the start. I mean at the Greg Marshall news conference no one at the microphone was saying "this is will likely end very badly and very quickly"

Dickenson has two big advantages in my mind. One he represents continuity and familiarity for the players. We spent 3 years building a strong core and maintaining that core going forward will be important. Jones was beloved by the players and so the risk of losing guys like Jefferson, Antigha and Edem in free agency is real. Dickenson as coach may help convince those guys to stick around. His second strength is that as ST Coordinator he has years of experience talking to players on both sides of the ball. He’s well respected by the players as a result… good starting point for a new HC.

He next big task is hiring a D Coordinator. He essentially has 3 options: Jason Shivers, Mike Benevides, Jerry Glanville. Based on the direction the organization has been going with O’Day and Dickenson, I think Shivers is the favourite at this point. He offers more continuity and rather than recycling a guy like Benevides, he’s a young up and comer with possibly a higher ceiling.

Overall I like the Dickenson hire. I think he will do good.

Now for what you really came here for… immature word play based on the word Dick appearing in his last name (spoiler alert, this will be a recurring theme this season).

Note: if this is not what you came for please stop reading at this point

T-Shirt Idea:
Hey Calgary
IS BIGGER brother to dave

Hopefully we have the short guys like Thigpen and Christion Jones stand next to the Head Coach on the sidelines so our Dickenson can look bigger by comparison.

Eagerly anticipating our Dickenson standing tall on the sidelines.

Other teams were interested in our Dickenson but they can only look, not touch.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday Morning Senitmonies: The Great Coaching Debate

The Riders’ search for a head coach is only a few days in and already it has caused great debate. We don’t do thing the easy way around here. We have already been denied permission to speak with Ottawa OC Jaime Elizondo and Winnipeg OC Paul LaPolice. Both coaches were given permission to speak to other teams back in December so clearly it’s the timing of the matter that is the issue here. The Riders have yet to ask permission to speak to me… in fact they have repeatedly asked that I stop speaking to them.

First thing is first. Ottawa and Winnipeg are well within their rights to deny us permission. They don’t owe us anything. It’s not good business to hurt yourself to improve your competitor so don’t give me the fairness BS. We asked, they said no, done deal. No hard feelings. That’s business.

Now, while those teams clearly should not give a damn about the Riders feelings in all of this, they should give a damn about their employees in this. For instance, reports are that LaPo is LaPissed that permission was not given. So do the Bombers care they the Riders are PO’ed about not getting permission? No. But should they care about LaPo? Hell yeah. While they are well within their rights to deny permission, it may not be wise to do so if the end result is holding back one of your employees from a promotion. Do I suddenly think LaPo will sewer their season out of spite? No but I’d be lying if I didn’t dream of a Banjo Bowl where he screws over the Bombers and takes off his jacket to reveal a Rider shirt (I watched a lot of wrestling back in the so, what can I say). But an unhappy employee is not ideal and it also won’t help future recruitment if you get a rep for holding coaches back.

I honestly can’t believe this isn’t all covered in contracts by now. How hard is it to spell out a deadline for out clauses for inter-CFL movement? To me if LaPo signed a deal saying prior to Jan 1 he can interview for promotions but after that it is club discretion then he’d have no reason to be pissed. But if there’s no deadline then it seems like he’d have a legit gripe. Jan 20 is late but not unreasonably so. He seems to think he has a case but that's between him and Kyle Walters to sort out. I suggest pistols at dawn.

All the drama aside, all signs point to Craig Dickenson being the next HC (and I pray in his first game against Calgary he tells his brother to win with some class).

In: WR Kamar Jorden (contract extension)

In: K Hugh O’Neil (contract extension)
Out: LB JC Sheritt (retired) DB Neil King (released)

In: LB Adam Bighill, OL Stanley Bryant, OL Michael Couture (contract extension)
Out: LB Ian Wild (released)

In: RB Sean Thomas Erlington (contract extension)

In: OL Nolan MacMillan, DL Nigel Romick (contract extension)

In: OL Ryan Bomben (contract extension)

In: WR Earnest Jackson (contract extension)

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Chris Jones: He Gone

There are 5 stages of grief they say. Tuesday I had only two and I went through them in a matter of seconds: 1) shock and awe… as in aww S#&$!!!!! 2) grave concern… and by concern and mean we are screwed (only screwed wasn’t the word I was using).

It was a bomb that went off across the prairies when the news broke that Chris Jones was leaving to accept a coaching job with the Cleveland Browns. Look anyone who has paid any attention to Chris Jones’ career path cannot be completely surprised by his sudden departure. He bolted for Toronto while still under contract to Calgary. He bolted from Edmonton for the before the last speck of confetti had fallen in the Grey Cup. Deep down we all knew this wasn’t likely to be a long term relationship but the timing of this all is devastating. We just parted with our assistant GM (who would sure come in handy about now). We are now a month past when every other team was hiring coaches. We are month away from free agency with no GM, Head coach or defensive coordinator. Chris Jones leaving is a real steamer… a Cleveland steamer if you will (I’m sorry… I really that I was better than this but I’m not).

Many will point a finger at Craig Reynolds and blame him for the out clause in the most recent contract extension that allowed Jones to bolt. Look, the fact is that out clause was likely in his contract prior to the extension and is pretty standard. Side note: Chris Jones’ new title “Senior Defensive Specialist” is clearly a made up title meant to comply with the wording of the out clause. My guess is that the wording was such that he could have an out for a head coach, coordinator or other equivalent senior coaching opportunity. So I don’t fault Reynolds for the out clause. The lesson learned here though is that if one man is essentially 75% of your football operations that maybe there needs to be stricter parameters around the timing of exercising the out to avoid having to replace 3 key positions at a time when the best candidates have already been poached by your competitors. But its too late now. He gone. I don’t fault him for wanting to make a jump to the NFL and as much as some people love to hate him, he did a hell of lot to turn a shitty football team (circa 2015) into a contender during his tenure. Of all his roles I truly think we will miss Chris Jones the D Coordinator most. He’s one of the best in the league and won’t be easy to replace (plus its not like we can expect our offensive to compensate for a drop in defensive performance at this point).

Where too from here? Well that’s where it gets complicated.

At GM, likely O’Day gets promoted and with Paul Jones as assistant we are in pretty good hands. We could try to poach John Murphy back from the Argos before he officially inks his contract there but that’s highly unlikely at this point.

Coaching is complicated for 3 reasons. #1 the cap on coaching salary and positions. The max is 11 coaches and we have 10 on staff still. Short of additional firings at least one the HC or DC roles will need to be filled internally. #2 Timing. We missed the coaching hiring frenzy and this late in the offseason getting permission to speak to other coaches is no guarantee. #3 Current staff. Fact is Steve McAdoo is still here. Much to the chagrin of many he wasn’t a package deal with Jones to Cleveland. So hiring an offensive head coach (such as Marc Trestman and Paul LaPolice who top the speculation list) is difficult because they will bring their own offensive philosophies that likely won’t jive with McAdoo’s (whatever that is). So do you fire him and try and find an entire new coaching staff this late in the offseason? Can you afford it from a cap perspective?   So the general gist of all this is that we are screwed.

Here (in no particular order) are options out there for us to consider:
As head coach
·       Promote Craig Dickenson to Head Coach and hire a new DC. Dickenson has been in the consideration for other HC spots so its not a stretch. He brings continuity.
·       Marc Trestman. Obviously a multi-time Grey Cup champ who is currently unemployed should warrant consideration. But Trestman is currently on a paid vacation thanks to Argos and after a tough personal year may decide to stay that way. Plus the above mentioned complication regarding our current offensive staff.
·       Paul LaPolice. LaPo has been closely linked to O’Day as his candidate of choice if/when he becomes a GM. The Bombers have said they won’t stand in his way. He’d be a great choice but there would need to be some serious thought as to how our current offensive staff would fit into his philosophies and what he would do for a DC.
·       Noel Thorpe. Not sure if Ottawa would give permission but he’s a top tier D Coordinator and ready to be a head coach. It’s worth at least exploring.
·       Steve McAdoo. Can you imagine how much the province would explode?!? Can you imagine how much I would explode?!?! Seriously let’s all pray that despite him being the Assistant Head coach that he’s not even on the short list.

As D Coordinator:
·       Promote Jason Shivers. No one is really able to fill the big shoes (and wide array of black Rider paraphernalia) left behind by Jones but Shivers would be the most logical if looking internally given how long he has been working under Jones. Jones himself thinks Shivers is ready.
·       Mike Benevides. You’ll note I did not mention him in the HC discussion despite his previous experience. That’s intentional. Benevides as HC would be a step back but in terms of a late hire, he’s a pretty good DC option. That said his D in Edmonton was not that good (hence his current availability). But beggars can’t be choosers at this point.
·       Jerry Glanville. Did good things in Hamilton. He makes Paul McCallum seem young by comparison but still seems to have the energy of a man half his age.

Regardless of how this all shakes out it seriously downgrades the Riders’ prospects for 2019. The only ones coming out ahead in this deal (aside from the other West division teams) will be alcohol companies. Might take a lot to drink this season pretty. The Riders will need to move fast so we should have an idea very soon about where we stand.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Los CFL Draft Mexicano

If you thought the CFL Draft was exciting just wait until you experience the CFL Mexican draft. Its 2… or 3… or 4… honestly they haven’t seemed to settled on a number yet and will probably just continue until every team passes or they realize they accidentally drafted a donkey (who I bet could be turned into the greatest kicker we’ve seen in years). I’m hoping the draft coverage is just all the regular panel in sombrero’s and fake moustaches with the Mexican hat dance song on repeat.

All jokes aside, I’m not as against this experiment as many are. Do I think there is an untapped plethora (big word for a Monday) of all-star calibre talent waiting there to be scooped up? No. Do I think the CFL will suddenly become the second biggest thing next to soccer in Mexico? No. But there may be handful of good players. And if even a couple make it an active roster (no guarantee) it could draw additional audience to the CFL… and that grows revenues. And isn’t that the commissioner’s job?

There is definitely risk here but its called a risk/reward scenario not super safe bet/huge payoff scenario. It may also take a few years for the full value of this experiment to be fully realized. But I like that the CFL is trying. Trying to grow the game, trying to expand its fan base, trying to make money. American expansion is widely acknowledged as a huge failure but it gave the league a much needed cash injection at a critical time. This experiment is far less risky and far less permanent that that was. So what’s the harm in trying? It may fail but it may not. Trying absolutely nothing new though, that is more likely to fail.  

Timing is far from ideal with the CBA still unsettled and the veteran players that are the core of this league still in limbo. I do think that should be a bigger priority. But while I will crack many a joke at this whole Mexican thing, I will not dismiss the idea completely. Just imagine the merchandising options if some dude named Paco makes the Riders. I mean Mexico seems to be all in on the Rider poncho thing already (those things are everywhere) but Rider sombreros, Rider tequila, 3 foot chimichangas at Rider games. Count me in.

I’ll have full draft results breakdown later in the week. The Rider pick 6th. The positive is that most people will know only slightly less about the Mexican prospects than the Canadian ones.

NFL Watch:
LB Sam Eguavoen (Ssk) – signed with Miami
WR Jordan Williams-Lambert (Ssk) – signed with TBD
LB Alex Singleton (Cal) – signed with Philadelphia
WR Bryant Mitchell (Edm) – signed with Arizona
OL Rykar Matthews (Ham) – signed with New England

K Lirim Hajrullahu (Ham) – tryout with Seattle

CFL Ins and Outs

In: K Justin Medlock, LS Chad Rempel (re-signed)
Out: DB Chris Randle (released)

In: DL Danny Mason (re-signed)