Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Free Agency Thoughts

It’s a tough time to be a football fan. There is only one real football game left until June… and it’s a week away. Sure you could get your fix by watching the Pro Bowl but after you factor out the players on the Super Bowl teams and those too “injured” to play you pretty much get to watch the 4th best player at each position half ass it and try not to get hurt. The jerseys this year were enough to make me want to change the channel. I suppose you could try going outside for a break but if the wind doesn’t blow you to Climax (only Saskatchewan people will get the non-dirty interpretation of that before the other one) then the cold will turn whatever is left of your will power into popsicles.

CFL news has been pretty sparse and will likely stay that way until Free Agency opens on Feb 15th. So since there is nothing better to do and we all desperately need a football fix (except maybe longtime friend of the blog Gov. He’s Seahawks fan and has a chance at seeing his team win the Grey Cup and Super Bowl in the same year… his poor liver) here are some random thoughts on free agency:

-       Still nothing new on the Craig Butler front. He will test free agency to see what his value is. I still think we will have a shot but we will have to play the “better team” card over other teams like Ottawa or Winnipeg or Edmonton who will play the sacks full of money card. I also wonder if Ed Hervey has a press released all ready to go at 12:01. If Butler wants money I seem him landing in Ottawa. If he wants a bit less money but a chance at another cup he’ll be back. Far from a sure thing.
-       Also nothing new with Sheets or Dressler. My gut says Sheets will be back and Dressler may be gone until September. But still a chance neither catch on down south.
-       Other than trying to sign our own guys back, don’t expect the Riders to do anything in free agency… we simply don’t have the budget. New blood will have to come from recruiting and drafting this year.
-       Offensively the big free agent fish is Zach Collaros (though only one team really needs him).Would love if he gave Winnipeg the finger and re-signed back in Toronto.
-       Not much hitting the market for OL but there will two huge names in Dmitri Tsoumpas and Josh Bourke. Both have been at times the best at their positions and under normal circumstances it would be ludicrous to see them hit the open market. But both are coming off injury plagued seasons and their teams managed to survive large parts of the season without them. Also factor in the massive salary both come with. Ed Hervey in particular would be idiotic not to empty his bank account for one of these. In fact he may already have a press release ready to go for 12:01… what’s that? I used that joke already? Oh well, it’s the offseason and its cold, lay off me.
-       A lot a quality defensive names will be up for grabs with the likes of Josh Bell, Jamal Johnson, Torrey Davis, Kerron Williams, Shea Emry and Henoc Muamba all slated to be taking offers.
-       Ted Laurent is another interesting name. It was pretty much a forgone gone conclusion a while back that he was NFL bound but unless they have been keeping it super-secret there just hasn’t been much (if any) interest from down south. As a Canadian he instantly becomes a hotly coveted commodity.
-       Anyone thinking the Riders will target him are just plain wrong. A) He will be too expensive and B) if we wanted a stud Canadian at DT we just would have kept Shologan. We are going import there, no ifs ands or buts.
-       As I do every year, I am offering up my services to any sports network looking for someone to host CFL Free Agent Frenzy (I’m looking at you TSN). I know the Olympics are on but I can seamlessly segue to cross country skiing or speed skating highlights throughout the broadcast. I also hear there might be a Jamaican bobsled team and man oh man do I have some great material for that.
-       Am I the only one hoping that while covering Olympic figure skating that Rod Black defects to the Soviet Union and never returns?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Anthony Calvillo Remembered

Tomorrow Anthony Calvillo will be holding a press conference where it is almost a certainty that he will officially put an end to one of the greatest careers in football history. I was kinda hoping he would hang in there for one more season purely because he would become the first guy to play against three different versions of a franchise (Rough Riders, Renegades and REDBLACKS). No way that ever happens again. But given his age and the severity of his last injury, it’s no surprise to see him call it a career now. I mean he has honestly accomplished all there is to accomplish (short of throwing a TD pass to himself). The only regret he will have about his career is that he didn’t get to end it on his terms and the final play of his storied career will be having his brains scrambled on the Mosaic turf. He deserved a better send off.

In the coming days and months there will be a plethora of articles detailing his the awards, records and championship that Calvillo amassed over the past 3 decades and honouring his greatness. I won’t even attempt to tread into that realm. I’ll leave that to the actual journalists. Besides you didn’t come here for real journalism. So I will now honour Calvillo’s storied career with a bunch of random and meandering thoughts.

Cavillo started his career so long ago that:
-       He knew a world of two Rough Riders
-   He knew a world before McGill Stadium
-       Ottawa had yet to fold even once
-       He knew a CFL where legitimately the best team was called the CFLers
-       It was still called Skydome and Taylor Field respectively.
-       Paul McCallum had just received his pin for 25 years of CFL service during Calvillo’s rookie campaign
-       The Riders were a gong show organization and the Eskimos were the gold standard

-       The only thing Calvillo never saw in his storied career was the Bombers win the Grey Cup
-       He must have really loved football to not walk away from the CFL in disgust after his Las Vegas Posse experience
-       For a Mexican so be so beloved in a place that be so pro-french it defies logic at times is pretty telling as to Calvillo’s greatness
-       Calvillo’s career is unbelievable even before you factor in the medical issues he and his wife have persevered through
-       Despite his greatness, Calvillo seems to be genuinely nice and universally liked. Only guy I can think of to not like Calvillo is Brett Favre.
-       While his career has had many highlights, this comedic attempt at a drop kick was definitely a low light (still hilarious)

So let me simply end by saying that it has been a privilege to watch Calvillo play over the past years (minus the Grey Cup in ’09 and ’10) and I consider him to be one of the best to ever play.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Friday Round-Up: Taj Smith Re-Signs

It was a busy week across the CFL and particularly with the Riders as there were a couple big news items. First, on the positive side, Taj Smith signed an extension. This is great news for our offense as Smith emerged as the impact wide receiver we have been looking for essentially since Dominguez’s knees gave out. He adds so much to our O. Most importantly he is a guy that can burn your for a TD if you let him get behind you. Defenses need to respect that (or suffer the consequences), that opens up a lot for others. He also can run effective crossers and other short routes. He has proven he can make the hard catches and has great chemistry with Durant. We started with 3 of our top 4 offensive weapons as potential FAs (Sheets, Dressler, Smith) so it’s nice to know for sure one of them will be sticking around... assuming the court system doesn't try and claim for the prison football league.

Speaking of Dressler, he had a tryout with the Kansas City Chiefs this week (and is in talks with a few other unnamed teams). In listening to his interviews, he sounds like a guy who is intent on making a run at the NFL so if an offer comes up I think he goes (and who could blame him). Question is, given his size, lack of NFL experience… and most importantly age (odds of teams wanting to invest in a 29 year old NFL rookie are slim) will teams given any serious interest? I wish him the best as no one deserves it more be the odds are stacked against him. 

Then again if Jordan freakin' Sisco can get a training camp invite in the NFL Dressler should be able to. (Still have no clue who had to suck what for that Sisco tryout to happen)

The Riders also signed Canadians Brett Cameron (punter) and Matthew Burke (fullback). Cameron is insurance for the whole "not having a single kicker under contract" scenario we are currently in and Burke futher solidifies my prediction that Graeme Bell will not be re-signed.

Brendan Taman also let out a few other nuggets of info on other potential FAs:
-          Ricky Schmitt had a tryout with the Buffalo Bills. He can boom the ball but the NFL treats lefties like they have some sort debilitating disease. Expect him back
-          Talks are ongoing with Milo and there is interest on both sides which is promising. Still has this lingering feeling he will bolt for Ottawa or Montreal but the fact that he is talking with us is positive
-          My bold offseason prediction: Milo signs with Ottawa or Montreal and we sign Luca Congi to replace him. This is based on nothing more than my meandering thoughts
-          Less promising on the Craig Butler front. Word is he wants to see what Free Agency has to offer. Reading between the lines that means we made an offer but we didn’t write him a blank cheque. Teams like Ott/Win/Edm can offer more money but it will be up to him to decide whether the extra money is enough to offset playing on a crappy team. He’s a young Canadian impact defender at the top of his game hard to blame him for trying to maximize his value.

NFL Watch
Neiko Thorpe (Tor) – Signs with Oakland
Chris Matthews (Win) – Tryout with Kansas City

CFL Ins and Outs

In: QB Bo Levi Mitchell, QB Drew Tate, FB Rob Cote, WR Jeff Fuller, DB Jamar Wall (contract extension)
Rob Cote is one of the most underrated players in the CFL. He is a major reason the Calgary running attack is as good as it is. He is a great blocker. As for the QBs I have no clue what Calgary is doing. Mitchell is good enough to start now and excel so why Calgary is even bothering with an injury prone meat head like Tate is beyond me. This just leaves their starting QB role in permanent flux. Tate may go down as the only QB to be called a starter for more years than actual games he started during that time.

In: WR Dave Stala (free agent signing), DB Michael Carter, DB Daryl Townsend, LB Marc-Olivier Brouilette (contract extension)

In: LB Kenny Tate, DB Gabe Loper (free agent signing)

In: DB Delroy Clarke, LB Jasper Simmons, LB Brandon Denson, DB Reggie Jones, WR Cameron Kenny (free agent signing)

In: RB Tavoy Moore, DL Craig Marshall (contract extension)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Potential Free Agents

Last week, the first real Rider move of free agency went down with Terrell Maze signing an extension. With an extensive list of potential FAs, Taman and O’Day certainly have their work cut out for them.

The main complicating factor this offseason has nothing to do with a desire on either party to stay together. The players want to stay here and we would love to bring back pretty much the same team. The big issue is the salary cap.

We are coming off a season where we are either right at the cap limit or slightly over (not that we care we can just pay any fine by selling a few more Grey Cup Champion hats and dry our tear with left over stacks of $100s.) We also have a number of players coming off rookie contracts and deserving of raises. Maze was one but the list also includes Butler, Smith, Milo and Sheets. Dressler’s contract is also up and he deserves a bump in pay too. Shedding Shologan’s contract helps free up some cash but re-signing everyone will be difficult unless we find some savings elsewhere… or let 1 or 2 walk. Something will need to give.

Let’s take a closer look at who could be hitting the Free Agent market in February.

DB Craig Butler – Definitely a top priority for the team. Butler has proven a capable and versatile starting Canadian defender. We want him, he wants to play here. The only complicating factor is money. Butler is coming off a rookie contract with a base salary of in the range of $50,000. Needless to say he will want (and deserve) a big raise. This one is such a no-brainer that I can’t see them not getting a deal done.

WR Weston Dressler – Simply put unless the NFL comes along with a serious offer, Dressler will be getting a pay raise to stay and finish his career here. I put the odds at 50/50 at this point.

RB Kory Sheets – Same as Dressler, if he plays in the CFL in 2014 it will be for us. I expect Sheets to get an NFL offer, it will just depend whether it is a serious enough one. He has been through the NFL ringer before. Given that so far only Indianapolis has shown interest (and the fact that he is no longer eligible to be on an NFL practice roster) I place his odds of being back slightly higher than Dressler’s… say 60/40.

K Chris Milo – For me this is the biggest question mark. Milo is coming off his best season as a pro. Both Ottawa and Montreal will be in the market for a kicker and it would not surprise me to see Milo (a francophone) sign with one of them to play closer to home. Hope I’m wrong as a reliable kicker is extremely important and not an abundant supply out there but the odds currently aren’t great for him coming back. With raises due to other key players we may not be in a place to offer the same $ as others.

P Ricky Schmitt – Market is not great for an import kicker who only punts. If he could do all 3 jobs I’d be more worried but honestly re-signing here will be Schmitt’s best (if not only option)

WR Taj Smith – Smith has emerged as the impact wide receiver we have been lacking for many years now. Assuming his legal troubles don’t get in the way, Taj is in a solid negotiating position given his impressive 2013 campaign. There will be other teams making offers but given the chemistry he has with Durant and the comfort of staying in the Cortez offense vs. learning a new system I think Smith will be back.  That said if Taj is looking to get paid he may look elsewhere.

DL Jermaine McElveen – Instantly became a must sign when the REDBLACKS took Shologan and Evans. McElveen had a tremendous season and showed the skill that made him such a force during his Alouette days. The good news here is that McElveen is a vet a likely already making a reasonable salary so it should be pretty much cost neutral to bring him back again. I’m expecting an announcement on this one shortly.

QB Drew Willy – His free agency hopes were given a severe blow when Ottawa took Thomas DeMarco in the expansion draft and essentially removed themselves from the QB free agent market. That leaves the only vacant starting QB spot in Winnipeg and that is likely to be filled by Zach Collaros. That will leave Willy with the choice of where he wants to be a back-up. He could try and go to a Winnipeg or a Hamilton where the starters are less entrenched or he could opt for the stability of the Riders.

Honestly the real question is whether we have enough faith in Tino Sunseri to hard ball Willy in negotiations and be willing to let him walk.

DL Alex Hall – Desperately wants to find his way back to the NFL. Given his size and resume I expect him to catch on somewhere. If for some reason that falls through he will be looking for a huge raise from his current rookie CFL contract and with the money we have tied up in Chick and Foley we simply won’t be entering into that discussion. He was only ever intended to be here long enough to get us the Cup. Mission accomplished, bon voyage.

FB Graeme Bell – Not great timing for Bell. He is an aging veteran with a decent sized salary and coming off a year where due to injuries, the Riders managed to play an entire season without him. Bell is a solid special teams guy but given the presence of younger, cheaper alternatives such as Spencer Moore or Daryl Stephenson, I don’t see Bell back next season.

WR Aaron Hargreaves – Was really only on this team to provide emergency depth at Cdn receiver. We already have Sisco locking down the “useless Canadian that occupies a spot on the injured list and only makes the game day roster if we are beyond desperate” spot on this team. We also have Alex Antony who showed some promise… so expect Hargreaves to not return.

DB Macho Harris – Presents an interesting quandary for the Riders. When he’s on the field, his talent jumps out at you. He could be a star at CB. Problem is he makes Buck Pierce and Percy Harvin look like iron men by comparison. In two seasons, he has managed to be healthy enough to dress for just 11 games. He simply can’t be counted on as a starter. But do you keep him around and if he is by some miracle healthy reap the rewards… or do you use the roster spot on someone who could be a more consistent contributor to the team? It could honestly go either way and I’d have a hard time arguing either route. Would hate to lose a key member of the sideline cheer squad though.

LB Abraham Kromah – Not sure what happened to Kromah. Before his rookie campaign was cut short by a broken leg he looked like a future all-star. But ever since returning he has struggled to even get on the field. Still not sure whether he is a flash in the pan like Kye Stewart was or whether he still has lots to offer. Current depth at LB isn’t great so unless we see a new wave of import free agents signed I’m thinking we will give him one more shot.

RB Jock Sanders – Despite his struggles midseason in the return game (or more specifically the “catching the ball” part of the return game) he was still our most dangerous returner and was a real spark to the offense the few times we did incorporate him into the offense. With Matt Brown and Clifton Smith we are obviously brining in competition. The question is whether that is to push Sanders or to replace him. My gut says he’ll be back but I don’t expect us to break the bank to do so.

DB Paul Woldu – Had a great year covering kicks but he will have a decision to make. We will want him to stay but will likely offer him a hometown discount deal. Odds are Woldu could find a little bit more money elsewhere but I doubt it would be significant enough to make him want to leave his family again.

DB Graig Newman – Much like Woldu, Newman was a beast on teams. He sees the field a bit more on defense but, like Thomas DeMarco showed, he is not quite ready for more significant time as a starter. Same deal, we will offer him something reasonable but relatively low. He could probably get a bit more money from a different team but honestly I think we are more willing to give him playing time on defense than other teams. That plus the home province factor should keep Newman here.   

WR Kierre Johnson – Lived up to his billing as a fast guy with questionable hands when he finally made it onto the field. His fate may be tied to the NFL aspirations of Dressler or the legal issues of Eron Riley. Unless one of them goes, I’m not sure we bring Johnson back. More likely that we opt to try out some brand new receivers.