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)