Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Evening Sentimonies: What’s Left?

Now that free agency frenzy... err, free agent moderately busy couple days… err, free agent barely noticeable event except amongst football starved CFL die hards who would probably watch a show about a CFL equipment person doing laundry… anyway now that that’s over, the Riders have certainly filled a few holes on the roster. But there are more holes yet to be filled.

Obviously free agency isn’t the be all and end all. There is still the draft and crop of new import recruits (for the record yes, I do still refuse to adopt the new “international” lingo, I’m stubborn like that) to round out the roster. So much like most of my socks, its normal for holes to still be there. With that in mind thought, I thought I’d spend today looking at the remaining roster needs for the Riders and where they might look to address it.

Long Snapper
There is possibly no person on the roster who people care less about than the snapper… at least until he screws up. When they do their job right, you barely notice they are there but one bad snap can change to outcome of  a game so while they aren’t likely to have more than their mom’s lining up for their autograph, they are pretty important. Currently we do not have one on the roster. Unless the plan for 2017 calls for never attempting a kick of any kind, I imagine we plan to change this. Plan A is likely to re-sign Jorgen Hus but he is exploring NFL opportunities so no guarantees there.  You could certainly use a late round pick to draft one which I imagine is plan B. Also, given the importance of the position I wouldn’t be opposed to bringing back Randy Chevrier and letting a new prospect learn under him for a while.

Coverage LB
Replacing a guy like Otha Foster is a tall order and given the degree of difficulty of the assignment you generally only want to put a rookie in there as a last resort. That leaves us pretty thin on options. Tyler Hunter saw spot duty there. I’ve speculated that a guy like Kacy Rodgers could be moved there. I also wouldn’t rule out Brouilette playing there (as he has done previously with the Als) thought that would address one roster hole while creating another. I imagine we will audition some new recruits here but the likely starter is probably currently on our roster.

Defensive Backs
We currently have 8 DBs on the roster. When you consider that 5 of those will start and 1 more is likely to bump up to LB that currently leaves training camp battles looking easier than your mom (sorry I'm sure your mother is a fine person I was just too lazy to think of something wittier). Now you can count on a whole bunch of DBs from our free agent tryouts to be brought to camp. It’s one of Jones’ favourite positions to stock up on. So stay tuned but as for today we are desperately low on DBs.

OL Depth
The status of our OL depth depends entirely on the development of Josiah St John and Dhillon Guy. If they are ready to compete for a roster spot then life is actually not looking to bad. I think Plan A involves starting 3 import OL with King at RG. If we have White, St John, Guy and Vonk for depth then things look alright. If we have White and Vonk then we are one injury away from bubble wrapping Kevin Glenn. Either way I am of the mind that you can never have too much OL depth and if you aren’t drafting at least 2 OL per year then you are asking for trouble. I expect our first or second rounder to be used on an OL and then likely at least one more in later rounds.

Canadian WR
With addition of LaFrance, looks like we will only have 1 starting Canadian WR this year. That being the case we look good with Bagg and Demski. But the depth behind them is concerning. It consists entirely of second year player Joshua Standford (who was not close to ready to be taking offensive snaps last year, even though injuries forced it to happen) and newcomer Kelvin Muamba. I would certainly like to see more additions here, be they draftees or undrafted free agents. It’s not a pressing need but could quickly become one if we don’t start planning ahead.
*** Update: the Riders clearly read this and as a result added Mitchell Baines today, still more is needed***

Defensive Ends
This stems purely from the fact that unlike Chris Jones, I don’t think AC Leonard is that good. My preference would be to complement Jefferson with another solid pass rusher and use Newsome as a rotation guy but as of yet Jones hasn’t requested my input on the matter. I think we are thin on competition there with only Kaelin Burnett being added to the mix. I imagine our tryouts have unearthed a few other hopefuls (I just pray that they are actually D-linemen and not receivers/basketball players/Vince Young/random guy Jones saw running in the park this weekend).

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Thoughts on Free Agency

In the days that follow free agency opening, people looking quickly to anoint the "winner" of free agency. I think this is a bit ridiculous for a few reasons. First off, generally the teams that are the most active are the teams that need to be active because they are brutal. So they may improve by adding some big names but they are starting from the bottom. The "good" teams actually tend to be very quiet in free agency opting to retain their own and develop from within to fill holes. So a lot of activity does not correlate with a team becoming good. Second, free agency shopping is a lot like shopping for groceries. Just because you buy the finest ingredients doesn't mean you will be able to turn them into a gourmet meal. Take a tender steak to McDonalds and they are still going to make a Big-Mac. Also,most Rider fans are still conscious of all the high profile moves we made last year and how well that all turned out (now I would argue that where last year we used free agency to build a core, this year we are using it to supplement our core so there is a difference in my mind).

That long winded sermon out of the way, I will say that overall I think the Riders have made some good moves ... as well as a couple really questionable ones. They addressed key areas of weakness, mainly O-line and Canadian depth. Let's go through at our additions (all contract details quoted are as per Justin Dunk).

OL Derrick Dennis (3 yrs, $170K) - Our O-line was beyond brutal last year so I love that the Riders seized on the opportunity to land the reigning best lineman in the league. Dennis will lock down the left tackle spot. I also love the 3 year commitment. This is a huge signing.

RB Kienan LaFrance (2 yrs, $110K) - This signing by far carries the most risk, but the potential reward may be worth it. Simply put if LaFrance can truly be a bona fide starting Canadian RB then we will be getting good value. The risk is that LaFrance has minimal time as a starter. Sure he was a monster in the East Final but even Ryan Dinwiddie had one monster game. I think he has the skill set to succeed but we will have to see if he can reach the potential we see. With Morris (and now Milton) under contract, its obvious we are going Canadian at RB to change our ratio.

OL Ryan White (2yrs, $90-100K) - The market for Canadian OL was close to non-existent so White is a nice add. He's versatile and can play multiple spots along the O-line. He's only 30 (4 years younger than Andrew Jones, who was released as a result of White signing). He likely projects as our 6th OL but regardless, depth at Canadian OL is crucial and White gives us a boost in that regard.

RB Aaron Milton (2 yrs, $70-75K) - Solid depth signing given our move to Canadian RB. Milton can also contribute on special teams. This might be an under the radar addition but quality Canadian depth across the depth chart is paramount so this is an important addition nonetheless. 

S Marc-Olivier Brouilette (2 yrs, $100-110K) - Maybe its just my stereotypical view of French players but I didn't see Brouilette leaving Montreal or at least the East Division... but great pick-up for us. He gives as a proven Canadian starter at safety (he can also play up at LB as well). For team that spent half the season with a converted rookie receiver at safety, this is a very important step in solidifying our secondary. Last year we started guys on defense just because they were Canadian (not because they were good). Guys like Muamba and Brouilette represent a very positive step in the make-up of our Canadian starters.

WR Chad Owens (2 yrs, $110K) - OK Riders, I was digging everything you were doing up until the Owens announcement came down. I have nothing in particular against Owens,I am just really struggling to understand how this makes sense. Owens is old, small, and expensive (relative to a new guy), he is like the complete opposite of everything Chris Jones stands for. Also, receiver is not even close to a need for this team. If we plan on playing 4 import WRs and you correctly assume that Carter and Roosevelt get two of those. That leaves 2 spots for Owens, Holley, Edwards, Collins and Craig. Owens is older and more expensive than any of those. So I guess there is no harm in bringing him to camp (other than the sizable signing bonus he got). I just really don't get the logic.

RB Cameron Marshall - Marshall has been trying his luck down south since 2015 when he totaled close to 1000 yards and 7 TDs as a Bomber. He was a powerful, between the tackles type of runner. Obviously he'll be in tough to crack the roster given our depth at Canadian RB but he certainly worth a look in camp.

LB Glenn Love - LB wasn't a huge need given the presence of Muamba, Jones and Eguavoen but Love is a solid addition nonetheless. He is an extremely talented player on special teams (something we could definitely use) and proved last year that he can step into a starter role where needed. He essentially fills the void left by Knox's departure. He should compete with Eguavoen for the starting outside LB spot.

OL Thaddeus Coleman - Coleman was our most outstanding lineman last year but that's really like having to choose a most outstanding turd when cleaning up your dog's mess in the back yard. Still Coleman strikes me as an adequate RT and I'm okay with bringing him back to compete for his spot in camp. Maybe if we put a better supporting cast around him he'll do better.

WR Bakari Grant - See pretty much everything I said about Owens. I could see Grant being a mid-season pick-up to fill in for an injury but quite frankly if both Owens and Grant make this team it means we are super crappy at recruiting receivers. Honestly, the best case scenario I see for Grant is starting the year on the 6 game and playing only due to injury.

There has been a lot of speculation given our stockpiling of receivers that a trade is forthcoming. The problem with that is that very few teams need receivers. BC, Ottawa and Winnipeg are set. Edmonton has Zylstra and Hazelton so they aren't as needy as people seem to think despite the loss of Walker. Calgary will just keep finding stud receivers like they always do. Even Montreal has Lewis, Jackson and Cunningham so they aren't desperate. Only really needy team is Toronto and unless you want Ray or Willy, I don't see them as a viable trading partner.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Afternoon Sentimonies: Manziel and Free Agency

Apologies for the lateness of this post. I have been very ill. Not in a good, Beastie Boys kind of way... more in a "you're happier not knowing the details" kind of way. At least if my sentimonies are nonsensical this time I can blame it on the vast amounts of over the counter pharmaceuticals I've ingested.

Let's start with the big news of the past week. Johnny freaking Manziel. Sigh. So unless you live under a rock (or in Manitoba where people think the internet is something you fish with)you heard that the Riders allegedly worked out Johnny Manziel sometime around the Senior Bowl. Now this was concerning on two levels. The first revolves around the partying, drugs, domestic violence and washing out of football. I mean I guess this is a step up from Vince Young but not much of one. Tough to have a ton of confidence in our ability to scout the next franchise QB if this is where we are spending our effort. But it is also concerning from a "oh by the way, Hamilton owns his neg rights and if the alleged workout took place is is just the latest in a long line of rule violations by Jones. If we are going to cheat could we at least not cheat for someone better?

But the "alleged" is a key piece to this story. Justin Dunk says it happened. The Riders say it didn't (which apparently was good enough for the League to determine the report was false) as did Manziel's people (known for their high level of conduct). I'll say this, if Dunk reported it, something happened. He just doesn't invent stories. My guess/hope is that whoever was at that workout (err alleged workout) can not be directly linked the Riders. Its the real life version of a "not enough evidence to overturn" challenge review. My gut tells me something happened. Exactly what? We may never know.

Onto free agency...

Last Monday I did a free agency primer, breaking down our needs and potential targets. Rather than rehash that, I will leave you with a few random thoughts on the eve of Free Agency

- I fully expect the Riders to sign a minimum of 1 big name OL and possibly two. Our line was atrocious last year and beefing it up would go a long way to turning us back into contenders. Derrick Dennis is the top target and I expect us to be in the mix. If we truly believe that St John can play tackle then Jeff Perrett is another option to watch. I think we need a big Canadian boost in the form of MacMillan or Deane.

- While I wouldn't put strong odds on this, the fact that we have Greg Morris could open the potential to target Canadian RB Kienan LaFrance. Given that the sample size on him is small, I'm not big on throwing huge money at him but if he values the chance to start, we are currently the best option in the CFL.

- I maintain that we will be making a big push for John Ojo. 

- Other big name guys that should be on our radar: Euclid Cummings, Mic'Hael Brooks, Cleyon Laing, Alan Michael Cash, Drake Nevis (anyone would be a fine DT). Emmanuel Sanders, AJ Jefferson (if we are looking to further build on our secondary)

- Other not so big names on my radar: Brandon Rutley, James Yurichuk, Rob Cote.

I expect us to be active... just not to the extent we were last year. Hopefully this year we don't cut/trade all our acquisitions before the end of the year.

NFL Watch:
Bo Lokombo (BC) – signed with Baltimore
Quincy McDuffie (Win) – signed with Dallas
Bryan Burnham (BC) – worked out with Dallas

CFL Ins and Outs

In: DL Ivan Brown (contract extension), DL Derrick Lott (free agent signing)
Out: DB Fred Bennett, DL Levi Steinhauer (released)

In: WR Marquay McDaniel, DL Micah Johnson, DL Ben D’Aguilar (contract extension)

In: WR Bryan Burnham, OL Hunter Steward, WR Nick Moore, DL Braynt Turner, DB Steven Clarke, DB TJ Lee (contract extension), DB Buddy Jackson, DL Dylan Ainsworth, K Swayze Waters (free agent signing)
Out: LB Bo Lokombo (signed in NFL), OL Tim O’Neil (retired)

In: WR Adarius Bowman, DB Marcel Young, DB Brandyn Thompson, DL Marcus Howard, WR Natey Adjei, LB Blair Smith (contract extension), WR Shamawd Chambers, LB DJ Lalama (free agent signing)

In: LB Jesse Briggs (contract extension), DL Tristan Okpalaugo, DB Robert Porter, WR Alex Chisum, WR Xavier Rush, DB Josh Celerin (free agent signing)
Out: DL Keith Shologan, RB Pascal Lochard (released), WR Quincy McDuffie (signed in NFL)

In: WR Terrence Tolliver (contract extension)LB Nick Shortill (trade with Montreal)
Out: LB Byron Archambault (retired), LB Frederic Plesius (trade with Montreal)

In: WR Greg Ellingson, DB Jerell Gavins, RB William Powell (contract extension), QB Ryan Lindley, LB Darien Harris, DB Corey Tindal (free agent signing)

In: OL Chris Van Zeyl (contract extension), DB Jermaine Gabriel (restructured contract), LB Victor Butler, WR Chuck Jacobs, WR RJ Harris, WR Andre Debose, WR Chandler Worthy, WR Quayshawn Nealy (free agent signing)

In: DL Gabe Knapton, LB Kyries Hebert, WR Kyle Graves (contract extension) DL Keith Shologan, LB Anthony Sarao, DB CJ Moore, DB Kwame Adjei, LB Christopher Johnson (free agent signing), DL Jonathan Ngeleka, RB Ryan Nieuwesteeg (2016 draft pick signing), LB Frederic Plesius (trade with Hamilton)
Out: OL Jeff Perrett, K Anthony Fera, QB Rakeem Cato, OL Michael Bamiro, QB Shane Carden (released), LB Nick Shortill (trade with Hamilton)

Monday, February 6, 2017

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Primer

It's sad waking up today and realizing that there is now no football until June... not nearly as sad as blowing a 21 point lead in the final football game of the season... but still pretty sad. The good news, at least for CFL fans is that Free Agency is just around the corner and the smattering of news will surely keep our minds off the football-less void for at least half a day.

Generally speaking, I don't expect the Riders to be overly active when free agency opens (and by that I mean they are not currently secretly active but totally not tampering). We already signed Carter and Glenn so I doubt we will see too many big names come our way. I do think we may look to free agency to add some depth here and there.

Today I'll go through our top areas of need and identify the top target who is likely (or should be) on our radar as well as some alternative options to consider.

Need: Offensive Line (Canadians)
Its no secret that our line is lacking in Canadian depth.  The problem is that the free agent market is also lacking in depth at this position. There are really only 2 guys that I would have on my radar: Hunter Steward out of BC and J'Michael Deane from Ottawa. Deane was a Stampeder draft pick and may comes cheaper than Steward so I would peg him as the more likely. But with so few decent options there will be others vying for their services.

Need: Offensive Tackle
Our O-line was pretty bad last year... check that, really bad... check that, embarrassing. Our attempts to reignite our offense would take a big step forward if we could find someone to lock down the outside path to our QB... or at least somewhat impede defenders occasionally. Obviously the top target is reigning top OL Derrick Dennis but that would require $$$$$$. Greg Van Roten would be another option to look into. Honestly I would even take Xavier Fulton back, he's not the player he was in his prime but can still hold his own. Maybe this is what we want to bring in Vince Young for. Hell we could pair him with Philip Sims and start 2 converted QBs at OL... that would be right up Jones' alley.

Need: Running Back
In theory one of the easiest positions to recruit should be RB so I'm not a big believer spending big on free agent RBs. That said we have a definite need and 3 guys on the market catch my eye. Shakir Bell is a name mentioned a lot due to the Edmonton connection... and him being pretty good. I would also be placing a call to Jeremiah Johnson and Brandon Rutley. Both can be impact RBs if we could get them for the right price.

Need: Defensive Tackle 
Assuming Gaydosh can stay healthy (no guarantee) we have one DT spot filled but definitely need another one so we don't endure another endless string of mediocre at best players occupying space there. If you are shooting for the stars Mic'Hael Brooks is the one you want. Sure he is a douche but it's pretty obvious that is not a deterrent to Jones. Euclid Cummings is a another top guy to target. It would be ideal to land Cleyon Laing as he is Canadian but I doubt he fits into our salary structure.

Need: Cornerback
With Fred Bennett cut its obvious we are looking for change at CB. The name that I think is at the very top of our free agent wish list is John Ojo. He missed all of 2016 with a ruptured achilles so there is risk. But he excelled in Jones' D in 2015 (logging 5 INTs). I think we are likely to make a strong push for Ojo. Other names I would be looking at are AJ Jefferson (stud) and Johnny Adams (went from superstar to traded for a roll of tape in one year. I'd be willing to roll the dice on a bounce back). I just honestly hope we don't go after Pat Watkins. I know Jones LOVES him but his play has slipped noticeably and I don't see that trend reversing.

Need: Safety
There is always a chance that Kevin Francis finally develops into the safety Jones thought he could last year... stop laughing... it could happen. Either way we should be looking for a safety and for ratio purposes a Canadian is preferable. A pretty thin market there as the only "top end" option is Marc-Olivier Brouilette and I can't see him coming west. That leaves "serviceable" options like Matt Black, bringing back Jeff Hecht or Cauchy Muamba (who I think is just awful but Jones somehow coached to his one solitary useful season so may be worth a shot)