Monday, February 25, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Where To From Here?

Well, we might as well talk football. Gotta do something to take our minds off the dreadful cold snap we're going through. It's been cold so long here than even Bomber fans think its been a long time (and they measure lengths of time in decades). Just for the record, putting on sunglasses and a sumbrero and drinking margaritas while listening to Hawaiian music only helps beat the cold until you run out of booze and the hangover kicks in.

Obviously we are all excited that the 2020 Grey Cup is coming back to Regina. My liver has been forewarned and will be starting training immediately.  While it is exciting news, I thought the video of the people jumping up and down and screaming at the announcement was a bit ridiculous. That had to be faked right? The motto for 2020 had better be "Experience Regina" or we are missing out on a marketing gold mine here.

Anyway, now that Free Agent Frenzy has passed I thought I'd take a look at what roster building is left for the Riders before training camp and where they might find the needed pieces.

QB - My guess is that the 3 we currently have signed will be the 3 we enter the season with but we do need at least one more arm in camp. Maybe Paul Jones can turn the tide of terrible QB recruiting we've been on.  The good news is that it won't be Brandon Bridge. He's a good guy, a good Canadian but just not a good QB.

RB - Pretty much set, through the combo of Powell and Thigpen gives us the oldest RB combo since... well since Messam and Thigpen last year. Be nice to find a new recruit to stash on the practice roster and develop for when one of the old guys throws his back out while yelling at an episode of Matlock.

WR -  Given Roosevelt's durability concerns and Arceneaux's who knows when he'll play concerns, I would like to bring another vet WR into camp to make it a real competition. Chris Matthews and Terrence Tolliver are still out there but I doubt we bring a "name" guy like them in. We've done well recruiting WRs of late so hopefully we can unearth one or 2 more. 

Canadian WR - We're in trouble here. Watson is old. Lavoie is more of a utility FB/TE/part time SB than a fulltime solution. I'd love Picton to be awesome but at this point with Harty out again everything currently rests that. This will need to be a priority position in the draft unless we can swing a trade. We could always bring back Bagg or Bailey, which would seem to fit O'Day's current MO.

O-line - We are actually pretty solid here. Both starting tackles are back and we have 5 Canadians for the 3 starting interior spots. I'd still love to find a centre so we can finally end the Dan Clark experiment but I've given up hope on that. We do need at least one more Canadian for depth. St John is still out there. Also Dakota Shepley has yet to sign in the NFL (he would be a huge add). We will also likely look to draft here as well.

D-line - We pretty much have our 6 man rotation set (Hughes, Leonard, Geter, Johnson, Evans, Henry). We have guys like Maggit and Edwards back to compete for the import depth. We could use at least one more Canadian body to back up Evans. Steele is still out there but we will likely lean more to developing young guys like Breton or Mufata or drafting for depth.

LB - We almost have too many Canadian LBs but I guess there are worse problems to have. Assuming Dyshawn Davis and at least one new recruit at LB pan out we should be OK. That said, with guys like Knox and Ball still available another vet would be good.

DBs - Are starting 5 are rock solid. Depth behind them... particularly Edem is scary. We could always have Elam at safety and play an extra Cdn LB if needed but I'd rather have some actual depth behind Edem (beyond Radford who is an emergency fill in). Likely need to draft for that but guys like Adam Thibault and Anthony Thompson are still out there. Our back up import DBs will come from new recruits. We seem to be good for at least one stud DB recruit per year so fingers crossed that continues. Eli Bouka just got cut from the NFL. He's a free agent but hopefully we earned some good will by releasing him early to take that NFL opportunity. He will fill that need nicely.

Special Teams - We are set and likely just waiting for the right offer to trade Crapigna. If we had to keep him around have 2 solid kickers is not awful but he should have value and we have greater needs. My guess is we hold onto him until training camp waiting for another team to get desperate.


Monday, February 18, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing Free Agency

Reaction to the Riders’ moves since free agency opened on Tuesday have ranged from anger to sadness to apathy to “at least we didn’t sign Brandon Bridge!”… ok that last one might have been me. The general consensus though is that people are not happy about how we fared in relation to the rest of the West division.

Let me start out by stating what should be obvious… Grey Cups are not won on paper based on rosters on Day 2 of free agency. Many teams have been crowned the “winners of free agency” only to have it be the biggest victory they manage that season (the 2016 Riders and Winnipeg many, many times come to mind). A lot can still happen between now and the regular season. Also, keep in mind that the Riders won 12 games last season and retained a large part of their core. We are not in a full rebuild mode so the lack of a flurry of moves does not mean we are screwed. This is to hopefully clam down the overly outraged portion of Rider Nation (not sure that is possible, but one can try).

Let me also state something to address the other side of spectrum... the overly optimistic members of Rider Nation. The Riders’ key weakness last season was the lack of anything resembling a passing game. So what did O’Day do to remedy that? Re-signed a QB with a concerning concussion history and equipped him with a bunch of 30+ year old receivers with injury concerns of their own. You’ll forgive us for not finding that very confidence building. On paper we currently have the 5th best passing attack in the west (and I don’t even think it is close). Not doom and gloom but just honest.

I think many of criticism’s being thrown at O’Day are unfair. Lack of signings does not mean lack of effort on his part. We know for sure he made a huge offer to Bo Levi Mitchell. He was also for sure pushing for Derel Walker and Shaq Johnson (probably others too). So did he do nothing? No, he tried hard. Did he improve the team from where we ended 2018? I would also argue no.

Let’s look at who we did sign.

Zach Collaros – Look, by virtue of not being geographically closer to Seattle than Vancouver, we never had a shot at Mike Reilly. We tried our darndest but Mitchell was unlikely to leave Calgary anyway. As for Harris, we lacked the connections that Edmonton had. I told you heading into free agency that we were unlikely to land one of the big 3 (it's as if I was prophetic in that statement). In terms of combing the left overs, Collaros isn’t the worst option (now being the not the worst of a bunch of bad options doesn't make it great but...). He’s familiar with our system (this will be the first time in a long time where we have the same OC and QB in back to back seasons). He had his moments. Hiss durability is concerning as hell to me but O’Day opting for a known quantity over a question mark like Jennings is not the worst decision. Doesn’t make us better but doesn’t make us worse.

Cody Fajardo – So do we pronounce the J like in fajita or it a silent J like in jogging? By virtue of not being Brandon Bridge I like this already. We needed a back-up for Collaros and rather than bring in old men like Lulay or Glenn, we opt for a 26 year old with 3 years CFL experience. Will he amount to anything? Who knows but at least we are looking towards the future at QB for once. Lord knows we can't recruit a QB to save our soul. 

William Powell – Powell is an impact RB no question and given Tre Mason’s injury we did need someone. I’m always hesitant to spend on a “name” RB when you should be able to recruit one… also Powell is 31 (a theme among O’Day’s signings). But given that I don’t see our passing game improving anytime soon, a strong running game is needed and Powell gives us that. This move more shored up an existing strength rather than improving our O as a whole.

Micah Johnson – This is THE big signing for us. Johnson is the best DT in the CFL. Pairing him with Evans makes for one hell of a push up the middle. This is a great signing! I do wonder how quickly him and Labatte will make up. They did not like each other at all the last time we met. 

AC Leonard – I always thought Leonard was overrated and benefited from playing beside Jefferson in his first run here. That said he did hold his own in Ottawa, notching 6 sacks on a far weaker line. As a rotation DE along with Geter I think we should be ok along the D-line when you consider who the other starting 3 are.

Namaam Roosevelt – When we struck on all the other top end WRs out there it was predictable that we came back to Roosevelt. I love the guy. He is a heart and soul player. I would have preferred finding a younger #1 WR with less miles on them but he’s an OK consolation.

Manny Arceneaux – The value of this signing depends completely on his timeline for being healthy. Arceneaux says he’s pushing to be in training camp but there are unconfirmed reports that Labour Day is more likely. Much like Roosevelt, Manny is the wrong side of 30 and has a ton of miles on him but when healthy dude can still be an impact player.

Cory Watson – Makes Manny and Roosy seem like youngn’s by comparison. I guess as a depth Cdn WR he’s OK but with Harty once again lost to injury we need a lead Cdn WR not just depth. Solid meh on this one.

Dyshawn Davis – Very solid special teams guy (22 ST tackles last season). May be a guy who is ready for a larger role on defense. He will hopefully be in the mix to replace Eguavoen.

So here’s my overall assessment of Free Agency: Underwhelmed. It’s not doom and gloom but we are arguably a worse team at this point then when we ended the season. Defense was our strength last season (and by that I mean they bailed our asses out of sure defeat on many occasions). We lost 3 of our top impact players in Jefferson, Anitgha and Eguavoen and replaced them with Johnson. A one for 3 swap is not great. On offense we improved our run game which was not a weakness last season. In the passing game we essentially changed nothing. Swap Williams-Lambert for Arceneaux essentially. I expect guys like Moore, Cannon and Evans to take a step forward in year 2 but will it be enough to keep pace in the West?

We still have the draft and recruiting to fill out our roster and some of our best players have come from there in the past (Moncrief, Eguavoen, Marshall, Antigha, Lambert, Cofield, Geter). O’Day approached free agency like an old lady at a supermarket, looking only for deals and not wanting to spend big money. He is betting on the existing core of this team and their recruiting ability. Will it work out? Who knows. I have my doubts but I’m certainly not about to write off the season in February.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Primer

Free agency opens tomorrow across the CFL (though truthfully covert tampering has been going on for months). It will be interesting to see what strategy new GM Jeremy O’Day will take to free agency. Will he want to make a big splash to assert his place as a top dog in this league? Will be take a cautious approach and opt more to build from within? Will he do what Chris Jones always did and sign a bunch of guys that he ends up cutting before mid-season? Who knows?

Let’s take a look at our needs:

QB – It’s already been talked about endlessly but in case you have been living under a rock (or live in Manitoba and lack the electricity and 3rd grade education required to read internet content) the Riders need a QB.
Whose out there?
There are essentially 3 tiers available on the market.
1 Elite – (Mike Reilly, Bo Levi Mitchell, Trevor Harris) – These guys are gonna get paid. Get the money, dollar dollar bills y’all. Odds are Reilly to BC, Bo to the NFL or a return to Calgary, and Harris stays in Ottawa but you can bet we will be making big time offers. Bo is the interesting one for me. He’s in an interesting spot where he may want to hold out to see if a decent NFL offer arises but if he wants to maximize his CFL $$ he needs to sign quickly. Teams can’t afford to wait in limbo on a $600K+ contract offer.
2 – Serviceable – (Jonathan Jennings, Kevin Glenn). At least 5 teams will be vying for the big 3 QB. A few of them are going to lose out. Despite their glaring deficiencies, in a very thin QB market guys like Jennings and Glenn suddenly look better than nobody. Obviously Jennings (based on age) is the preferred guy but as long have you have an alternate plan come playoffs I do think Kevin Glenn can get you there.
3 – Last Resorts (Travis Lulay, Zach Collaros) – Look when healthy these 2 are great options but if you honestly think you can count on either as a fulltime starter at this point you simply have not been paying attention. If you have a young guy you want to take a chance on, either would make a great back-up option.
Outlook: I don’t see us landing one of the big 3 (though we will certainly try). I’ve been touting Jennings as a likely target since the season ended. If not him then as sad as it is to say, we are probably looking at rolling with a combo of a young guy and either Glenn or Collaros. You’ll note that Brandon Bridge did not even crack my Last Resort list. I stand by that evaluation.

D-Line – Clearly we all want Willie back, if for no other reason than his long draw out touchdown runs. But if he is not in the cards then we need another strong end. Hughes still has a lot left in the tank (clearly) but his production declined as the season wore on and at his age I don’t think he can carry a D-line by himself for a full season. We also need some Cdn depth for Zach Evans.
Who is out there? Willie Jefferson, Ja’Gared Davis, Frank Beltre, Ken Bishop, Victor Butler, Shawn Lemon, Tristan Okpalaugo, Cordarro Law, Jesse Joseph(cdn), Eddie Steele (cdn)
Outlook – The NFL is a possibility for Jefferson but I do think if he stays in the CFL, we will be willing to pay him what it takes to retain him. If not him then I think the next most likely is either Okpalaugo or Law.

Wide Receiver – Two main needs here. We need a go-to #1 receiver… unless we run the same offense as last year, then never mind. Lots of big names will be hitting the market and this is a place I could see O’Day spending some money. The other need is somewhat contingent on the health of Jake Harty (remember him?) In theory, if he is healthy, then we are in good shape at Cdn WR but if there are lingering health concerns then we may need to add someone, even if just for depth
Who is out there? Da’Varis Daniels, Derel Walker, Manny Arceneaux, DeVier Posey, BJ Cunningham, Greg Ellingson, Chris Matthews, Kenny Stafford, Namaan Roosevelt, Terrence Tolliver. For Cdns, Nic Demksi, Juwan Brescasin Nate Behar, Shaq Johnson, Mike Jones
Outlook: The only “big” name guy I could see us landing is Ellingson (at which point people would suddenly remember and be outraged about his DUI that has been forgotten about). Outside of that we are more likely to land a Cunningham, Matthews or Stafford. I don’t see us spending big on Cdn WR.

Linebacker – There is a giant Sam Eguavoen-sized hole in our linebacking core. It will be tough to replace a player of his calibre but we do need to look at someone who can at least start in his place.
Who is out there? Jeff Knox, Jovon Santon-Knox, Maleki Harris, Micah Awe, Bo Lokombo, Larry Dean, Simoni Lawrence, Marcus Ball
Outlook – Jeff Knox strikes me as the most likely both from a cost and fit perspective.

Offensive Line – Need depth. For once we actually had OL depth last year and we need that to continue. Last year we lost Bladek, Clark and Labatte (a few plays here and there) but managed to not be overly impacted by that as we had St John, Blake and Schram to step in.  While we still have Blake and Schram in addition to the starters from last year (Labatte, Clark, Bladek) so we are in decent shape but one more Canadian OL would be good. This need goes away if 2018 draft pick Dakota Shepley ends up signing but there still appears to be NFL interest in him.
Who is out there? Josiah St John, Jon Gott, Suhk Chung, Tyler Holmes, Phillippe Gagnon
Outlook: I doubt we sign a big name player like Chung or Holmes but a Gott or Gagnon are a possibility as is a return for St John.

Depth at safety – Depth behind Mike Edem does not exist. This is a bold strategy. Thing is there isn’t much out there for depth. There are top end guys like Loffler and Ackie but with Edem already locked up I don’t us targeting them.
Who is out there? Anthony Thompson, Tunde Adeleke
Outlook: Most likely we need to look at the draft to address this.

CFL Ins and Outs

In: DB Mike Edem, DL Makana Henry (contract extension), DB Valentino Blake, RB Taye Davis, DL BJ McBryde, WR Doug McNeil, LB Deion Pierre, LB Louy Compton (free agent signing)

In: RB Terry Williams, LB Cory Greenwood, OL Brad Erdos, LB Wynton McManis, OL Shane Bergman, OL Ucambre Williams, DB Brandon Smith, DB Jamar Wall (contract extension) LB Dwayne Norman (free agent signing)

In: WR Bryan Burnham, DB TJ Lee, RB Wayne Moore (contract extension), WR Marquess Wilson (free agent signing)

In: DL Kwaku Boateng, WR Kevin Elliot, LB Taylor Reed, WR Natey Adjei, LB Korey Jones, LB Blair Smith (contract extension), WR Kenny Shaw, DL Gabriel Bagnell, WR Harry McMaster, WR Bryce Bobo, WR Anthony Mahoungou, LB Caleb Bailey, DB BJ Clay, DL Ben Sorensen (free agent signing)

In: DL Jackson Jeffcoat, DB Anthony Gaitor, LB Shane Gauthier, LB Thomas Miles, DB Jeff Hecht, LB Kyrie Wilson (contract extension) QB Bryan Schor, WR Garrett Johnson, RB Jalen Simmons, DB Mykkele Thompson, WR Rasheed Bailey, WR Don Williams, DB Dexter Janke (free agent signing)
Out: OL Matthias Goosen (retired)

In: WR Brandon Banks, RB Alex Green, DB Mike Daly, DL Nikita Whitlock, DL Justin Vaughn, DB Cariel Brooks, DB Richard Leonard (contract extension) WR Rashad Lawrence, WR Cam Echols-Luper, QB DeVante Kincade, RB Ray Lawry. DB Robert Porter, DB Joel Ross, DL Jamal Marcus, LB Chris Frey, DL Joel Van Pelt (free agent)

In: QB Dominique Davis, OL Jason Lauzon-Seguin, DL Avery Ellis, DB Jonathan Rose, DL Michael Klassen (contract extension) DB Chris Randle (free agent)

In: DB Robert Woodson, DB Jermaine Gabriel, LB Terrance Plummer, LB Bear Woods, OL Chris Kolankowski, WR Alex Charette, OL DJ Sackey, DB Abdul Kanneh, RB Brandon Burks, LB Akeem Jordan, DB Alden Darby, FB Simon Gingras-Gagnon (contract extension), DB Devin Butler, DB Trey Caldwell (free agent signing)

In: LS Martin Bedard (contract extension)

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Looking Ahead To Free Agency

CFL Free Agent Frenzy (editor’s note: it is unlikely to be an actual frenzy) opens next Tuesday. Now that we have a GM and Coach in place we can turn our attention back to the players. We have a bunch of current Riders eligible to become free agents next week. Compared to other teams we have been almost deathly silent when it comes to player re-signings.

I was actually starting to get concerned about the silence until the Mike Edem announcement came down. He is a big time re-signing. His name isn’t talked about much but he is a versatile player and an impact Canadian starter. Glad he’s sticking around. Other than him, all we have re-signed is Zach Evans and Purifoy. Both are good signings but it would be nice to see a few more.

Today let’s take a look at our remaining free agents and who among them is worth keeping. We’ll also look at some under the radar free agents from other teams that may be of interest.

DL Willie Jefferson – Hands down the #1 name on our priority list (and likely a few other teams to). His tone has changed of late. Originally it was “I’m not trying out for an NFL team, they know want I can do and can find me if interest” and “if I’m back in the CFL it’ll be in Saskatchewan”. Now he’s actively looking into NFL options and less comital on us as a landing place. Some of that may be just him/his agent doing what they need to maximize his value and not take a “hometown discount” but with Jones gone, there’s no guarantee he comes back. Thing is we NEED him back. Back up the money truck and get this done.

OL Josiah St John – We invested 3 years developing him and for the first 2 it looked like we’d wasted a 1st overall pick. But when called on last year, I thought he stepped in just fine. He’s young as far as OL go so I would like to see him retained as you can never have too much depth here. He says he wants to stay.

DL Tobi Antigha – The rare safety/d-end role he plays is probably not as coveted now that Jones is gone. But even as a pure D-end I liked the guy. Assuming Jason Shivers ends up as D-Coordinator I can see Antigha back. Fingers crossed.

WR Namaan Roosevelt – Had Williams-Lambert not got poached by the NFL and had Jones still been the GM I would have bet against Roosevelt coming back. Age and durability are starting to become a concern. I think we need a strong veteran presence amongst all the young guys (Evans, Moore, Cannon) and on a personal level I would love to have him back. But there are a number of top end receivers hitting the market so no guarantee he’s back.

QB Zach Collaros – I like Collaros but you simply can’t count on him as a starter at this point based on his injury history. If he’s willing to sign and incentive laden deal for backup money I’d be interested. There’s not enough good QBs to go around this season so once the Reilly’s and Harris’ of the world get signed those left empty handed may have to look his way.

QB Brandon Bridge – Good riddance. He’s heading into his 5th year and has shown zero upside. We damn well better not be interested and at this point, I’m not even sure who else would be.

WR Rob Bagg – He pretty much said last year that the team didn’t want him back but that was Chris Jones. With O’Day calling the shots there is a chance. We need some veteran presence amongst our WRs and quite frankly we have yet to find a younger Canadian that is better than him (not a glowing endorsement of our recruiting in this area). Unlikely but possible he returns.

WR Devon Bailey – Tall guy that can win a circus jump ball… beyond that hasn’t shown much else as a receiver. At this point in his career we’ve likely seen his ceiling so I’d be ok giving guys like Picton a chance or drafting someone with more potential.

WR Caleb Holley – Went from rising star 2 years ago to being passed by four rookie receivers last season. Not a great career trajectory heading into free agency. I don’t expect him back.

RB Cameron Marshall – I love Cameron Marshall. He’s not a homerun hitter but he’s a far more explosive player than Tre Mason who is more a pound it for tough yards guy. As long as he’s healthy I want him in camp.

DL Mic’Hael Brooks – was a huge boost to our interior DL and by in large avoided the dirty plays that he was famous for in BC. Not sure where he is at recovery-wise but I’d take him back.

DL Eddie Steele – Need depth for Evans and Steele is a great guy as part of the DL rotation. Don’t have much else for Cdn depth at DL so unless there is a plan to draft one or find one in free agency, he’s important to retain.

DL Makana Henry – Very unheralded but valuable Canadian. One of those role players any good team needs. He likely comes cheap so I see him being retained.

LB Sam Hurl – Wasn’t awful last year… which is as close to compliment as you will get out of me for Hurl. If he’s willing to accept back-up money to be depth behind Judge then from a depth perspective he’d be alright to keep.

DB Marc-O Brouilette – I assumed he would re-retire last year, he didn’t. Assumed he would re-retire this year and thus far has not (update: he may actually be retiring now). Depth behind Edem is next to non-existent so I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss his value but I honestly don’t see him as an impact player anymore. Could likely go younger and cheaper… not to mention Brouilette’s injuries starting to add up.

LB Kevin Francis – He’s a young Canadian who we have been developing for a while. Likely no more than a back-up/special teamer… but you need those guys. If he stays great. If he goes, no big loss.

WR Brian Jones – Honestly showed the most of any of our Canadian WRs (which is like saying he was the best…  (the bar is not set high). I’m indifferent on him returning but I would take him over say Devon Bailey.

DL Cory Johnson – In an ideal world we retain one of him or Brooks.

DB Jovon Johnson – Like most people I assumed old man Jovon was done a couple years ago, yet he still seems to have value. I see him as a guy you call if you have an injury in camp or mid-season but we should have a strong enough group in the secondary to not need him at this point.

Under The Radar Free Agents From Other Teams
So obviously guys like Mike Reilly, Micah Johnson, Bryan Burnham and Delvin Breaux will be free agent targets of many teams so I’m not going to even bother talking about them. Here are a few less heralded names that I would be interested in if I was shopping for free agent finds.

Calgary – Bit of a stretch to call him under the radar but DB Tunde Adeleke is an up and coming guy to watch. Canadian player who can impact in both the return game and on defense. Can’t see the Stamps letting him go especially with Singleton gone but if he hits the open market I’d put in a call.

Edmonton – Less heralded than guys like Walker or Ellingson but Kenny Stafford has twice topped 700 yards (including this past season) and had 9 TDs in 2015… all while being the 2nd, 3rd or even 4th receiving option. Also keep an eye on Kevin Glenn… seriously! There is a lack of top end QBs and plenty of teams in the market. The quintessential insurance policy still has value in 2019.

BC – Not a ton of Canadian’s out there who can be impact players on defense but Bo Lokombo is one of them. Great on special teams and while he wasn’t lights out last season when he hard a starting role, he showed enough to garner interest come free agency.

Winnipeg – We have a hole at LB with Eguavoen gone, Jovan Santo-Knox is potentially available and would certainly help fill that void. Also if you are looking to build Canadian depth you could do worse than Trent Corney.

Montreal – Nobody… seriously their free agency list is garbage. Other than Cunningham and Heath the only other name that interests me is OL Phillip Gagnon

Hamilton – In 2016 Terrence Tolliver put up 1000 yards and 9 TDs in 13 games. Injuries have held him back since but I think there is still big upside for the 6’5 receiver for anyone willing to take a chance.

Toronto – Going off the board with this name but Victor Butler. Dude had 10 sacks in 12 games in 2017. He did not play in 2018 due to a contract dispute with the Argos. He’s a free agent now and would likely want good $ to return to the CFL but given his potential he is worth looking into. I would also add Jeff Knox to the list. We need an LB, he’s very familiar with Saskatchewan.

Ottawa – Most of Ottawa free agents are big name guys Harris, Ellingson, Rogers, Ackie. Outside of that group a name worth watching is Jonathan Rose. While I don’t approve of his ref punching policy. I do approve of his 7 INTs over the past 2 seasons.