Monday, February 24, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Potential Playoff Changes

Randy Ambrosie is out on his annual cross Canada tour. As part of that, last week he floated out potential changes to the playoff format that could come into effect as soon as 2020. The current playoff format has been the subject of much debate, particular in light of the ongoing trend of the East Division being awful relative to the West. So I think looking at alternatives is certainly a worthwhile endeavour.

But while I support reviewing the current format and like some of the ideas being proposed, some the ideas are stupid (It’s Monday morning… I haven’t had enough coffee for subtleties)

Let’s start with the positive. Under the proposal, the first place teams in the East and West would continue to get a first round bye. What would change is that the four next best teams (regardless of division) would make the semi finals with the 3rd and 4th place teams hosting a home playoff game. That way, the best 6 teams would make the postseason and the best teams would be rewarded with home field advantage. Had it been in place in 2019, the semi final matchups would have been Calgary hosting Edmonton and Winnipeg hosting Montreal. In 2018 it would have meant that the Eskimos (who finished 5th in the West) made the playoffs instead of the Ti-cats (who finished 2nd in the East)… and the Riders would have played Edmonton instead of Winnipeg (not that it mattered as Brandon Bridge wasn’t about to beat anyone that day).

While the current crossover rule generally ensures the best teams make the playoffs (2018 is the only year in recent memory where it didn’t), it has led to a lot of inferior East teams being rewarded with home playoff games while superior West teams are forced to travel (2015 is the only time since Ottawa returned to the league where the host of the East Semi had the 3rd or 4th best record in the CFL). So I’m all for this.

Here’s where Ambrosie loses me though…
Under his proposal, the team that finished first overall would then have their choice of which semi-final winner they want to play. The theory here is that this would create intrigue and bulletin board material and what not.  My issue with it is that it’s a gimmick. A stupid, hokey gimmick. I hate gimmicks. They cheapen the product we are trying to market… and before you give me the “but, but MLB is considering it and they are way bigger than us” let me just say that a bigger league considering something stupid, doesn’t make it any less stupid. Also, MLB is a league that can’t even properly deal with a massive cheating scandal so maybe not the best comparison bar at this point.

The CFL is a league that has survived and thrived based on its long and storied traditions. When we have strayed too far from the core of who we are and into the gimmicky it has rarely been successful (see: American expansion or anything related to the Gleibermans). Change and adaptation are important but only when they make sense and enhance your product… not cheapen it. We are a football league not a reality TV show. Leave the rose ceremonies to the idiots on reality TV and focus on being a respectable football league.

So keep the top 6 teams make it concept, but then #1 plays the lowest remaining seed in the West Final and #2 plays the highest remaining seed in the East final (and yes I am just assuming the West team will be better than the East team most years, it’s pretty much science at this point… 2019 was an anomaly). It’s fair, its simple, it avoids lame-assed attempts to drum up publicity.

I’m the Rider Prophet and I approve this message.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing Week 1 of Free Agency

Free agency opened on Tuesday but it would seem the Riders did not get the message based on how active they were. Foster, Franklin and St John… it honestly seemed like O’Day just said screw it and dusted off Chris Jones’ 2016 recruiting plan. But before we start freaking out (as Rider fans have been known to do form time to time) let’s remember that the teams not being active in free agency is a good thing. It usually means your team is already good (unless you are Ottawa). The most active teams are usually the ones that have the most holes in their roster. Also remember the collective success record of teams that “win” the first day of fee agency. O’Day did a lot of good work before free agency retaining guys like Judge, Shaq, Purifoy, Marshall and Leonard.

Today we will take a look at the people the Riders did sign (we have ample space for it since we signed all of 4 people) and then look at how our current roster stacks up on both sides of the ball at this point.

While it came with only a fraction of the fanfare that it would have just a couple years ago, I do like the Franklin signing. For $115k he is a value signing and really strengthens our QB depth. I like Harker but at this point Franklin is a far more proven option at #2. Given that that non #1 QB played a full season in 2019, a reliable #2 is important.

I see Otha Foster as a lotto ticket. If he is anywhere close to the level he played at before then he slides into the Moncrief spot almost seamlessly. But at 31 years of age and coming off a year away from football, that’s a BIG if. I like Foster, I’m just hoping we aren’t putting all our eggs in one basket at cover LB.

Retaining Elimimian was good. We need a strong veteran in the middle of our D. Hearing Hamilton landed Larry Dean for $40K less makes me wonder a bit, but still... when you think our of best Defenses, they always have a strong MLB. It will be nice not to have him sit out all of training camp and miss the start of the season. It took him a few games, but once he got going, he was still pretty good. 

Josiah St John, is purely a CDN OL depth signing. I get that we’d like something better but there really wasn’t much else and for what we are likely paying St John (i.e. not very much) it’s a low risk signing. The Riders are really high on Braden Schram (whose progress I have liked) and we also have Jake Bennett who we got in the supplemental draft last year and played in one game. So St John is at best our #8 OL heading into camp. Hell, based on his history, just getting him to camp is a victory unto itself. 

Offensively, we shored up our QB depth, which is a positive. Our biggest offensive free agent acquisition actually came much earlier when we landed Jason Maas. That improves our O a lot. Our OL depth took a hit but with Schram, Bennett and (to a much lesser extent) St John we should be able to survive.

Defense is a different story. People are pointing to the fact that we are bringing back 10 of 12 starters from last season. Don’t get me wrong, that is a great and we have a solid defensive core. That said, those 2 guys we aren’t bringing back just happen to be among the best in the league at their respective positions. You can’t lose one of the top DTs in the league and (I would argue) the top cover LB in the league, not replace them and try and argue that your defense isn’t worse on paper. It’s certainly not doom and gloom but currently our D is worse than last season.

The pressure is now on O’Day to prove he can recruit the next wave of players needed to sustain our success

Monday, February 10, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Start Your Bidding

Players have been able to legally talk to teams for a while now and the deals they have been working on can become official on Tuesday when free agency officially opens. Personally I hope Ed Hervey is the first person to sign someone, just seconds after things open. Legal tampering is after all essentially the Hervey-rule.

The Riders have done a ton of work leading up to free agency. They locked down Cam Judge and Shaq Evans, both key pieces to the team (can you imagine if someone had told you in 2018 that Shaq Evans would be a key signing?). They also managed to retain Ed Gainey, which quite frankly surprised me. I kinda got the sense we were ready to move on. Continuity in the secondary is important so it’s a pleasant surprise… provided he has to win his job in camp and not just be appointed. I wonder if Gainey utilized the legal tampering period to find out the lowish offer from the Riders actually reflected what other teams thought his market value was.

One person not likely coming back is Namaan Roosevelt. A move that has me very conflicted. Look from a purely numbers sense, I get it. We have Moore, Evans, Williams-Lambert and Stafford. All are capable of 1000 yard seasons and are all younger and (with the exception of Evans) cheaper than Roosevelt. Hard to justify investing what Roosevelt is probably worth. But as much as I get it, I hate seeing him go. He’s been one of my favourite players since the 2015 season when Cory Chamblin mysteriously refused to acknowledge his talent. He’s a heart and sole guy that gave his all even when he was playing on crappy teams in crappy games (see the majority of 2015 through 2016). We will need someone to step up and fill the void because he was money on second down. I wish him the best in whatever comes next. I just hope its not with the Bombers… which means knowing my luck, he’s definitely going to the Bombers.

Some people are speculating that we will bring in SJ Green to replace him…. Which is stupid! Why on earth would we deem the 32 year old Roosevelt expendable only to replace him with the 34 year old Green. Doesn’t make sense.

Word is Micah Johnson is heading to BC. Which leaves us a void at DT. I would grade our current D-line was decent to above average at best without Micah. We need a strong push in the middle to help out Hughes and Leonard and I don’t see our current guys being able to do that on their own. Obviously Dylan Wynn would be nice but he will also be $$$$. Another option more reasonable option may be Drake Nevis. Or an even cheaper option, Davon Coleman, though the quality diminishes quickly the less you are willing to pay.

We also still need an MLB and cover LB. Names like Larry Dean, Justin Tuggle, Micah Awe, Don Unamba, Patrick Levels and Anthony Cioffi come to mind. My guess is we an only afford 2 big name players on D so that means one of DT, MLB and cover LB will likely need to be filled by a new guy.

One final note. I love Willie Jefferson and think is the every bit the freak that his hype makes him up to be. But… if Toronto really thinks that paying him $300,000 is going to help turn their team around… that’s a bold strategy I don’t see panning out.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Remaining Pieces

The 2020 Rider roster is slowly coming together. It took a big step forward Sunday when Cameron Judge was re-signed. Retaining the impact Canadian was really important. A less heralded but important piece was locking up Takoby Cofield. I've said previously I thought he was out best lineman in 2018. The combo of him and Vaughn likely means we are going younger and cheaper at tackle and Thaddeus Coleman (a mainstay since 2016) is done.

So with legal tampering upon us and free agency looming, what's left for the Riders to round out their roster?

Impact WR - You can build a solid receiving core with Moore, Williams-Lambert and Stafford but you need one more explosive piece to really make it work. The logical target here is Shaq Evans. I think building on the chemistry he and Fajrado found in 2019 will be important and if he can get that much downfield love from McAdoo, just imagine what Maas can do with him? If it's not him, other potential targets include DeVier Posey, Darvaris Daniels (who will have some familiarity with Maas), Derel Walker and Darvin Adams. With the exception of possibly Daniels, I don't see us targeting an outside WR in free agency though.

Defensive Tackle - In theory you could roll with a rotation of Evans, Dabire, Henry and Faulk but I don't think that will be enough to maintain the impact we need at D-line to make our D run. Micah is still in the mix but we won't be willing to pay him top dollar like last season. Other options include Dylan Wynn, Drake Nevis, Woody Baron or Davon Coleman.

Middle LB - My theory is that given limited salary $, we will need to go young and cheap at one of the Lb spots. Knowing O'Day my guess is he will value a veteran in the middle more and be willing to roll the dice on the outside. A return of Elimimian would be the most logical but Larry Dean, Micah Awe and Justin Tuggle could also be available.

Cover LB - My guess is we go young/cheap here but if we choose to dip into free agency, Marcus Ball, Anthony Cioffi, Don Unamba and Patrick Levels would be options. As would Rico Murray (who is also an option at HB)

Halfback - Really getting the sense we are moving on from Gainey. As mentioned Rico Murray is a potential replacement. Other DBs out there include Richard Leonard, Frankie Williams. This is the one position I have the least sense what direction we are going. 

Punter - The longer this drags out, the more the question become: If not Ryan, then who? Outside of someone new to the league, options are pretty limited. There;s Bartel (who Coach Dickenson pretty much said was too much of a wuss to attempt to tackle on special teams, so I don't see a return there). Toronto's kickers are available but that's for good reason. So we will likely just wait on Ryan... he may pull a Favre and not commit to playing until after training camp.