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.