Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing the West

Last week I took a look at the East division, this week we turn our attention to the West.

BC Lions
Adds: DB Otha Foster, OL Joel Figueroa, DL Gabe Knapton
Loses: LB Micah Awe, DL Alex Bazzie, DB Chandler Fenner, DB Ronnie Yell, DB Louchiez Purifoy
Last year the team had 2 main weaknesses: both of their lines were not very good… and in the case of their OL, that is putting it nicely. They started 5 and 2 but tanked the rest of the season. They certainly have the talent to be a better team than their record indicated but in a very tough West division I don’t think they have improved enough to make up any ground. Sure guys like Figueroa and Knapton improve their lines but both remain among the weakest in the division. Add to that the loses of 2 of their starting LBs and 3 of their DBs… with not much to show in terms of replacements. Even if Jennings and the offense return to form (no guarantee) I still see BC as the bottom team in the West heading into the season.

Calgary Stampeders
Adds: DB Emmanuel Davis, DL Ese Mrabure, OL Derek Dennis
Loses: DB Tommie Campbell, DB Josh Bell, LB Shaq Richardson, DL Charleston Hughes, RB Jerome Messam
You have to go back to 2012 to find the last time the Stamps lost more than 4 regular season games (and even then they lost just 6). They are consistently the team that all others measure themselves against. Their only weakness appears to be Grey Cup games where they are heavily favoured and have the lead (I’ll stop making those jokes when people stop making 13th man jokes). I still see them as the top dogs going into the season BUT I don’t think they will be nearly as dominant as they have been… primarily due to the D. Last season their defense was simply outstanding but they have lost their safety, one of the top CBs in the league and one of the top cover LBs in the league. I see a season more like 2011 where 11 wins will take first in the West and the top 3 teams will all be very close. I still them contending for first but they will look a lot more human this year than in previous years.

Edmonton Eskimos
Adds: QB Kevin Glenn, DL Alex Bazzie, DL Jake Ceserna, WR Juron Criner
Loses: WR Adarius Bowman, DL Odell Willis, LB Kenny Laddler, WR Brandon Zylstra, DL Euclid Cummings, QB James Franklin
Many have Edmonton pegged as the top team coming into the season and with good reason. They have the best QB in the league (though we all know he will fall victim to the Kevin Glenn curse at some point) and great depth across all positions. But I’m not in the camp of those saying they will be dominant. Defensively they lost their best player in Kenny Laddler and as it is finished in the bottom half statistically last year (granted injuries played a role). On offense much is made of the depth they have at receiver with the likes of Williams, Mitchell, Hazelton and now Criner so much so that people assume the loss of Bowman and Zylstra won’t affect them. Sorry, I do believe they will still have a very good offense (especially with a full season of CJ Gable) but you can’t convince me that you can just seamlessly replace the WRs who led the league in receiving the past 2 years. There will be a drop off of some kind. I expect them to be battling the for 1st, 2nd or possibly 3rd.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Adds: WR Adarius Bowman, QB Darian Durant, DB Anthony Gaitor, DB Chandler Fenner, WR Nic Demski, DL Craig Roh
Loses: DL Jamaal Westerman, DB TJ Heath, OL Travis Bond
The Bombers had a great season last year. If they had even a remotely serviceable back-up QB they may have done even better. Well they now have that as well as another big offensive weapon in Bowman (something they also lacked last season). They have really shored up their roster well without losing much in the offseason. On paper they should be up there with the Calgary’s and Edmonton’s again. But… history is keeping me skeptical. Every year they seem to do well in free agency and every year they still come up short. Is this year really different? At this point I see them fighting with for 3rd but I truly believe that any team other than the Lions could win this division.

Saskatchewan Roughriders
Adds: QB Zach Collaros, DL Zach Evans, DL Charleston Hughes, RB Jerome Messam
Loses: OL Derek Dennis, LB Henoc Muamba, DB Kacy Rogers, WR Nic Demski
The Riders had 4 loses in their first 6 games… followed by only 4 more in the remain 12. Had they started the season like they finished, it may have been a very different outcome. The Riders start 2018 with 2 things they did not have last year: stability in the secondary from day 1 and a much stronger defensive line. I will also argue that they have upgraded the QB position. I get the naysayers regarding Collaros but at worst he has to be equal to Glenn (who did alright in our O last year). They also have 2 key weaknesses they did not have last year: middle LB (lord help us if Hurl is the answer) and Left Tackle (maybe Bond can be the guy but no guarantees). Honestly the season boils down to Collaros. If he returns to 2015 form (or even remotely close) then they are contending for first. If he turns in a more Glenn-like performance then I think contending for 3rd is more likely.

As I said, other than the Lions I think any of the other West teams could win the division if they get hot. It looks to be a very closely contested battle this year.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assesing the East

Riders news has been fairly sporadic of late... other than the re-signing of Steele (giving much needed depth behind Evans) and the Riders finding new and creative ways to keep salary cap expenditures low by only employing being likely to be suspended (apparently). So I thought I would take this opportunity to look at other teams are stacking up coming into 2018.

I'll start with the East Division. It's routinely weaker and referred to as the Least Division , though it has produced the last 2 Grey Cup Champions so maybe they are onto something.

My methodology is simple: I use where they ended last season as a starting point, factor in key additions and deletions and then make a sweeping generalization about how I think they will do next season. What I lack in rigour and sound reasoning, I make up for in confidence in my overtly biased analysis.

Adds: QB James Franklin, DB TJ Heath, LB Taylor Reed, DB Ronnie Yell
Loses: OC Marcus Brady, DC Corey Chamblin, WR DeVier Posey, DB Mitchell White
From a player perspective the defending champs have managed to maintain most of the group from last season with minimal loses. Their offense should be better with a full season of Wilder and Franklin ready to step up when old man Ray goes down (previously no Ray meant no win). While they still have the players, the question on D is how they manage with the departure of Chamblin and a new defensive system. I see them as the top team in the East coming into the season. They should even hit double digit wins.

Adds: K Lirim Hajrulahu, Orlando Steinhauer
Loses: QB Zach Collaros
The Ti-Cats firmly believe that the team they were at the end of last season was their true form and not the utter garbage they were to start the year. That's why they have essentially changed nothing about their roster, choosing continuity instead. Getting Steinhauer back is huge. I don't care if he's not the D Coordinator in name, he will have a huge influence on the D and they should improve as a result. Offensively, a healthy Terrence Tolliver gives Masoli 3 big time weapons. I don't suddenly expect them to be a super power but I think you can expect them to contend for second in the weaker East division. 

Adds:  Noel Thorpe, DB Josh Johnson, DB Louchiez Purifoy, LB Kyries Hebert
Loses: DL Zach Evans, LB Taylor Reed
Ottawa has all the offensive firepower one could need: Ellingson, Sinopoli, Spencer, Shaw, Powell. Defense is where I have my concerns. Obviously swapping Noel Thorpe for the guy who couldn't figure out he needed to pressure Kevin Glenn is a huge boost but I don't think they have the talent they need. Their D line just lost is best player in Evans. They seem to think that Newsome and Leonard will be an awesome pass rushing duo... but just ask the 2016 Riders have that will work out. They currently have one of the weaker D-lines in the CFL and they are relying on a 37 year old to anchor as less than stellar LB group. While their offense will keep them competitive, I see them getting edged out by Hamilton and finishing third (a dangerous spot given the usual strength of the West).

Adds: DB Tommie Campbell, DB Mitchell White, DL Jamaal Westerman, WR Chris Williams
Loses: They quite frankly had no one that anyone else wanted.
On paper the Als have absolutely improved their roster (not hard given how awful they were last season). Campbell and White are arguably the top CB pair in the CFL. Westerman (and possibly Muamba) add quality Canadian content. They should actually be able to play somewhat decent defense (the interior of the DL remains a question mark though). Offensively they have the weapons in Jackson, Williams and Cunningham. But here's their biggest issue... their whole season rests on the success of QB Josh Freeman. Now Freeman isn't quite as big a pipe dream as Vince Young was but he's also not anything close to a safe bet. They also have done very little to shore up the O-line in front of him. So Josh Freeman and his zero CFL experience behind a shaky OL with only Drew Willy to save them when he inevitably fails... Kavis might as well start planning who he will take 1st overall in the 2019 CFL draft (assuming they haven't wizened up and fired him by them).

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Collective Bargaining Problem

With no real Rider news to discuss (other than the news destined to break 5 minutes after I post this) I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss everyone's favourite topic: collective bargaining. There has been a lot of talk about negotiations between the CFL and CFLPA with the current contact set to expire after this season. Given the nature of topic this will likely be less funny than my usual commentary... unless of course you don't find me funny in which base this post will be as funny or more funny than usual.

Collective bargaining is actually a topic where I'm qualified to opine. Unlike football, where I'm really just on opinionated jackass, I actually have university education and work in the human resource field. So that means I'm an opinionated jackass with a couple expensive pieces of paper attesting to my superiority. 

I'm going to go through a few of the major hurdles I see facing the CFLPA. Historically they have been at a disadvantage in negotiations and I think will continue to be.

The football clubs in the CFL exist to make money, not operate a charity (even and I would say especially the community owned ones). So like any business their aim is to maximize profits by minimizing operating costs. Labour costs are generally the biggest those. So while it might be nice to think they should do things like up the minimum salary out of the goodness of their hearts, that would be contrary to what makes a business successful. Why should they pay someone $75,000 when they have an abundant supply of people willing to work for less? And while certain players will likely say no to the CFL based on the low salary, on the whole, teams still have no problem finding import players to play for league minimum. Until that changes there is little pressure on the teams to up minimum salary.

Union strength is built on solidarity with ones brothers and sisters in the union. A union's ability to have everyone work together for the same goal can dictate their ability to succeed. This is where the CFLPA has a major weakness (and the owners are well aware of it). You can essentially split the CFLPA into 3 camps: Canadians, import veterans and import rookies. Much has been made about the needs of the rookies: minimum salaries, option years, etc... But the problem is that Canadians (and to a certain extent import vets) don't care about those. They aren't making league min so they want the cap to grow so they can get more of the pie. Who runs the CFLPA? Canadian and veterans. Who already have the most benefits and job security? Canadian and vets. So the desires of the rookies (or 2nd year Americans) tend not to make it to the top of the agenda. The other thing is that newcomers are the least likely to strike because they need the $$ the most. The owners know this and so by giving a few shreds to the Canadians and vets they can play hardball with minimal risk of a strike. If the CFLPA could ever get completely united on one of 2 key issues and flex their collective strengths, they could probably force the owners' hand. But currently their interests are too diverse and divided. Until that changes, advantage owners.

So while I expect these negotiations to be nastier and more public, I have little reason to believe the owners won't prevail with another lopsided deal.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Snow Day

Between my general lack of ambition due to the snow and the general lack of Rider news I've decided to take a snow day. And yes, I understand the lack of logic in saying the snow prevent me from doing something I can do without leaving the bed. 

I'll be back next Monday with my normal sentimonies (assuming it has stopped snowing by then).

For now please enjoy this ad for Mr Plow.