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.
You pretty much nailed it. Our 3 starting LB's are gone. Muamba is a BIG loss & we need to get someone with experience via free agency or trade. Bond is a natural guard IMO so Campbell is a must signing. My biggest issue with the Riders in the "Jones era" was getting a stud DT, which Evans is, & James should complement him nicely. AND National content, specifically @ receiver. Harty is a start but Bagg at 33 had his worst season as a pro stats wise &, as has been commented elsewhere, was a winner of the "Kenny Shaw" award, given out by TSN's Derek Taylor for unable to break one tackle after catch all season. Bailey is in his 4th year & found wanting. He was let go by the Eskimos as he can't play ST's so has to be a catcher. Picton, Radford & Stanford can best be described as "potentials". In short, our depth past Harty & Bagg is suspect at this point. Are we better as a team right now? Maybe. I THINK Collaros will be good, Hughes will have a great year, guys like Jovon still have something in the tank but it's been awhile for Collaros & age can turn things around quickly, Chick being one recent example. Are all these guys still firing on all cylinders. We have to hope that at least 2/3 are & that Jones has something in mind for the LB crew. For me, Hurl/Francis, Moncrief & Eguavoen is an extremely iffy proposition. Although Evans/James will bottle up the middle the LB's will have a lot to say about limiting the rushing game & we weren't real good at that last year.
Starting Moncrief and Eguavoen doesn't worry me. They have both been solid. But I agree that depth is an issue, especially considering Eguaoven's injury history. I also agree that Hurl should not be starting at MLB. I see him as primarily a special teamer, and a rotational player on defense.
As much as I hate the idea of starting Hurl/Francis, I also hate the idea of starting Messam ahead of Marshall/Richardson/Thigpen. Nor do I like the idea of starting both Bagg and Harty and having to sit/cut either Grant, Owens, or Holley. Ideally, Jones could juggle these three positions (MLB, RB, and WR) from game to game depending on the injury situation, but I don't see that jiving with the salary cap.
Signing Messam for ~110k is easier to justify if you think of him as a replacement for Lafrance, who was making similar money and delivering far less.
Losing Muamba hurts a lot, but he was in line for ~220k this year (twice what Messam is making) so I don't think the Messam-for-Muamba thing is a fair comparison. If you consider Messam for Lafrance a one-for-one replacement, then you could justify Muamba and Dennis as the price paid for Collaros' big contract. That might make it easier to stomach losing Muamba.
I think 220K is too much for Muamba BUT you let Owens go & don't sign Messam & I see a Messam/Owens trade off for Muamba one I'd keep any day. Muamba was Rider O/S Cdn nominee last year. I don't really like the Messam pickup. With LaFrance, Jones also brought in Morris & Milton. I never liked LaFrance but I can see why Wpg got him. He fits there as a backup to Harris. But in Regina with Marshall, Richardson & Thigpen on board, why bring in Messam? Are you going to go with Messam/Augustine? I don't see it. The other guy that has to be signed is Campbell. Your biggest investment is Collaros so you better have a good LT.
Anon 1 - I love Eguavoen and Moncrief as starters. Concerns at MLB and depth. Also you raise a good point in terms of age. Guys like Jovon, Hughes, Messam are getting close to the end. We gotta hope this isn't that year.
Craig - I get the Messam for LaFrance swap but the problem with that is LaFrance was grossly overpaid for his role and setting him free was supposed to free up cap space. I don't have a problem in particular with Messam but I just don't feel given our tight cap situation that a 32 yr old RB is the most pressing need.
Anon 2 - I imagine that we will go with Messam backed up by Thigpen and use them in a rotation and when Messam subs out a guy like Harty will need to sub in or Moore as a TE or something.
Agreed that a 32 y/o RB is not a pressing need, but I think there's still a case for picking him up.
He's one of very few backs in the league who can consistently convert on second and short, and I don't think we had that on our roster. Marshall and Thigpen are both explosive, and all of our American RBs are generally productive, but they can all get stuffed for no gain if the blocks aren't there. Messam has shown he can get those 2-3 yard conversions on his own 95% of the time (according to data pulled out of my ass), which is pretty damn valuable for extending drives.
GMs have deemed him expendable several times already and he's proven them wrong more often than not. He seems to enjoy playing with a chip on his shoulder. He's also extremely hungry for a ring and he knows his time is short.
That's not to say he's a shoe-in. He could very well be a bust in 2018, in which case Jones can cut him to save what's left of the 110k. But I'd say it's worth a shot.
Can't say much about the Messam signing. On short yardage he has been good for a couple of yards. But Riders were last in rushing which is in part due to tne OL. This isn't the Stamps OL. I can't share your optimism on Moncrief. He has 6 CFL games on his resume. Put him out there with Eguavoen & Hurl is the experienced guy. I don't like the combination of the 3. But that's just me - maybe it works out for the Riders but the MLB is the QB on defence & should the Bombers sign Muamba, all the Western teamsare set there & the Riders are anything but. We weren't good vs the rush & Hurl was lousy stopping it on Wpg.
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