While the sporting news reel is dominated by the Astros cheating scandal, Tkatchuk and Kassian’s drama and whatever OBJ did or didn’t do at the College championship game, CFL free agency is quietly approaching. Quite frankly I’m sick of all the other crap and look forward to the 15 minutes of fame the CFL will garner.
Between NFL signings and team re-signings the list of potential free agents slowing continues to whittle down. There is still an extensive list of people poised to hit the free agent market on February 11. In this 2-part series I will preview free agency. Part 1 (today) will look at the Riders left unsigned. Part 2 will look at the potential FAs of other teams and identify any potential targets.
Cameron Judge – Obviously the #1 most important pending FA on our list. An impact Canadian starter. With only one workout so far, it’s looking like the NFL might not scoop him up. It’ll cost us to keep him, but he’s one of those top end talents that’s worth the investment.
Micah Johnson – He didn’t turn in the season we were expecting when we signed him in the offseason… that said don’t write him off. Sacks may not have been there but he was impactful… maybe just not to his 2018 standards. No way Hughes leads the CFL in sacks without Micah’s impact and I honestly saw him miss at least 6 sacks by inches because he made a great move but just couldn’t squeeze the tackle. He started slow but I think improved as the year wore on. He will once again be courted by many teams and big cheques… be nice to keep him but no guarantee.
Shaq Evans – Despite getting an NFL tryout I don’t see that panning out. His growth from year 1 to 2 was phenomenal. He went from a guy I referred to as the American Chris Getzlaf to a true game breaker. The chemistry he and Fajardo have both on the deep ball and those quick crossers is something I don’t want to lose. My sense is we will give him the bump in pay he’s looking for and he’ll be back.
AC Leonard – Death, taxes and whoever plays opposite of Charleston having a career year… the 3 certainties in life. I initially had Leonard pegged as purely a product of the Chris Jones system but after 6 sacks in Ottawa and 9 last season, I’m having to admit that he may just be a good player. Given that Hughes is old and we have yet to develop the next best thing is pass rushing, we either need him back or need to go out a buy a DE on the AF market.
Namaan Roosevelt – This is the one I struggle with the most. I am a HUGE Roosevelt fan. Love his heart, love how he gives 100% on every play, love how clutch he is on second down. He’s a savvy vet receiver and exactly the kind of guy you want in your locker room. But… I can also see the case for this being it for him. Assuming you re-sign Evans, you have Moore, Evans, Williams-Lambert and Stafford (with new guys like Henderson and McRoberts raring to go). How much money are you willing to invest in Roosevelt at this point? It’s not about talent or fit. This one will boil down to whether O’Day is willing to cut a cheque in an amount Roosevelt deems sufficient… I’m not convinced at this point that will happen.
Ed Gainey – Halfback is always a tough position to properly assess as they routinely draw the toughest coverage assignments but my sense in watching Gainey is that he is slowing down. It’s not just the lack of INTs but just some of the catches allowed this past season. I can see the team wanting him back but with a pay cut. I can see him not wanting to take a discount and looking elsewhere. HB is a tough spot to fill but unlike past years I don’t see him as a must sign.
Thaddeus Coleman – He has missed just 1 start in 4 years which is damn impressive. He’s been solid at right tackle (not outstanding but solid). All things being equal I’d say bring him back. But… he will be 35 next season and likely up there on the salary scale. We have an opportunity to get cheaper and (more importantly) younger along the O-line.
Phillip Blake – Trading for him was a nice boost for our Cdn O-line content but I'm just assuming he won’t be back. We already have old man Labatte (33) and Clark (31) under contract. With Shepley ready to go I don’t expect Blake back due to salary and age (not talent).
Alexandre Gagne – Led the Riders with 19 special teams tackles last season and was 3rd in the CFL in 2018 with 23. We’ve seen the disastrous results of poor play on special teams last season. I would be doing what I can to keep our top end special teamers locked down.
Solomon Elimimian – 2019 started pretty slowly for Elimiman and left many of us wondering whether it was a mistake to take a chance on him. Once he got healthy and on the field he showed he was still Elimimian. Clearly he’s not the MOP level player he once was. But he’s still a solid presence in the middle of our D. I’d rather we go younger but MLB is such a key position and if not him, then who? Other than Larry Dean (who will be pricey) or Justin Tuggle there’s not much else for proven MLB’s on the FA market.
Jon Ryan – It’s well documented that I’m not among the many who get wet even at the thought of Ryan punting. That said, I am not opposed to him returning. It’ll mean enduring another season of ridiculous over-hype but at this point we don’t really have a back-up plan. He may not be the best punter in the CFL but we could certainly do worse.
Takoby Cofield – He’s a key signing if we are moving on from Coleman like I speculated. I thought he was among our best linemen in 2018. Last year was a bit of a down year (not sure if injuries played a factor) but I would love a combo of him and Vaughn manning the tackles.
Dariusz Bladek – I get that he’s not a top end OL (he takes a lot of penalties and will get beat from time to time) but he brings a nice bit of nastiness to the line and quite frankly we need young Canadian OL. He can start if needed or be a stellar 6th OL. I want him back.
Brandyn Bartlett – He’s been with the team for 3 years and yet to appear in 18 total games. He’s nothing more than a depth/special teams guy and he’s clearly behind Chevrier, Gagne and Teitz. If we re-sign him, fine but he’s hardly a priority.
Denzel Radford – Very torn on this. In 2017 he was our best special teamer. He lost 2018 due to injury and returned to make some spot appearances in 2019. We need Canadian depth behind Edem and Bouka and a guy with top end special teamer potential would certainly fit the bill but he’ll be 3 years removed from showing that top end ability so who knows.
Sam Hurl – I’ll cut to the chase here. If you can get him cheap as a depth guy great. But at this point he’s not worth getting in a bidding war over.
Dyshawn Davis – He stood out in a huge way in the preseason… and then disappeared so abruptly that I’m sure many of you forgot he still played with us for the duration of the 2019 season. He had 9 ST tackles so it’s not like he didn’t contribute but I thought we’d see a lot more. Given that we currently have no LBs under contract I would be ok with bringing him back again to see if what he flashed in preseason can actually be replicated when it matters.
Emanuel Arceneaux – He was brought in last year to be Geroy circa 2013. Vet to help a younger receiving core improve and contribute here and there to get us deep in the playoffs. He filled his role perfectly but neither he, nor the team are interested in doing that for another year. He gone.
Marcus Thigpen – He’s a game breaker both as a returner and an RB (running or receiving) but he’s going to be 34. Given that our starting RB is over the age of 30 it would be nice to find someone sub-30 to be the back-up RB/returner.
Albert Awachie – A bet not many fans even know his name but I can guarantee you Fajardo and Powell like him a lot. For the first time this season, I really noticed his blocking abilities as a FB. It’s a dirty, thankless job but he does it well. I want him back.
Lavar Edwards – I’m not convinced he’s fulltime starter material yet. But he’s one of the few D-lineman we’ve actually recruited so I’d like to see if he can take a step forward in year 2.
Jordan Reaves – I willing to bet his absence from the lineup can explain some of our early struggles on special teams. He’s a risk coming off injury but likely a low risk investment.