Monday, April 12, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Defensive Line

We move now to the defensive side of the ball as we continue our preview of the 2021 Riders. I guess I could have written about the Global Draft that’s happening this Thursday (the Riders pick 5th incidentally) but it would have been the world’s shortest preview. Something like this: I know nothing of about the prospects nor who the Riders are targeting.

So I’ll stick to what I actually know.

Projected Starters: AC Leonard, Micah Johnson, Charbel Dabire, Freddie Bishop

In the mix: Chad Geter, Mak Henry

The Rest: Mathieu Breton, Sterling Shippy, Corey Thomas, Demetrius Harris, Jordan Reaves, Markus Jones, Keion Adams, Pete Robertson, Garrett Marino, Trenton Thompson, Tim Williams, Anthony Lanier, Chris Livings

Its been a bit of a roller coaster for the status of our front 4 since our last game in 2019. We lost Micah but he came back. We thought we were keeping Charleston but he left. And we mercifully decided that maybe Zach Evans’ best days are behind him. I do like the pairing of Leonard and Bishop. Leonard has 5 sacks or more in 4 straight seasons and Bishop had an 11 sack season before going to the NFL and 6 last season playing on a not very good Argo DL. But I was still worried about them until we added Micah back. He’s a game changer and should allow those 2 more space to work.  The stats may have been down in 2019 but the tape doesn’t lie, he was an impact player even if it didn’t translate into a ton of sacks. You’ll note that I have Dabire ahead of Mak Henry and I stand by that. Henry is a good rotation guy but is not a fulltime starter. Dabire should me enough is limited reps last season to make me believe he can play. Even if I’m wrong about his potential (I’m sure you’ll agree that’s doubtful) at worst he can be a Canadian who occupies the space beside Micah… and thus seamlessly take over for 2019 Zach Evans.

Chad Geter is a guy who does not get enough love. First and foremost, he is a key special teams player. Go back and look at how bad our coverage was at the start of 2019 and how it seemed to coincidentally improve around the time Geter returned to us from Montreal. But he also had 3 sacks in 6 games as a rotation guy. He needs to be in that D-line rotation. Henry will rotate with Dabire and Reaves will be in the mix primarily on special teams.

But what about the new recruits?

I would love for us to find a stud D-end. You pretty much have to go back to John Chick for the last time we did that. We have had good D-ends over the years but we find them on the free agent market (Jefferson, Hughes, Bishop). Mixture of guys here. Some straight from college (Harris, Livings), some who have bounced around NFL practice rosters (Jones, Adams, Robertson). Biggest name in the mix is Tim Williams, a 3rd Rd NFL pick in 2017 out of Alabama with 20 NFL games under his belt. 

The competition at D-tackle is important. Clearly Micah is the guy but it would be nice to find someone who could step in if he gets hurt or at least spell him off when he is nicked up (like he was for a chunk of 2019). Competition here in includes Thomas (the biggest of the bunch at 312), Lanier (who spent 5 seasons in the NFL), Thompson (who has time in the NFL, XFL and AAF), Marino (who I will just assume is Dan’s brother) and Shippy (who spent 2019 on our practice roster)

Prophet’s Players to Watch: At D- End I like Demetrius Harris undersized guy from a Div 2 college. We are the first pro team to let him show his stuff. At Tackle I like Sterling Shippy. He was on our neg list while he was with the Colts and spent last year learning the game.  Could be a guy who is worth the wait.

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): Chad Geter has a breakout year and gets 8-9 sacks. Consider this, he’s just 26 and has been primarily a rotational d-end. He notched 3 sacks a rookie and 3 more in 6 games last year. While Bishop will primarily fill in for Charleston, Geter could see an increase in playing time. 

Monday, April 5, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Receivers

Not sure about you guys but I need a break from all the XFL talk. So let’s get back to talking Rider football. We’ve already previewed the O-line, QBs and RBs. So let’s finish off the offense by looking at the receivers.

Projected Starters: Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Paul McRoberts, Justin McInnis.

In the mix: Carlos Henderson, Jake Harty, Brayden Lenius

The Rest: Rashad Greene, Xavier Ubosi, Randy Satterfield, Sammie Coates, Charone Peake, Demarcus Ayers, Kermit Whitfield, Kian Shaeffer-Baker, Mitch Picton, Max Zimmerman

The good news here is that we retained our top 2. Shaq Evans blossomed into a true #1 receiver/deep threat in 2019 with over 1300 yards and 5 TDs. It’s clear that Fajardo trusts him both on those short slants and on the deep bomb. Kyran Moore also took a huge step forward, coming up just 4 yards short of 1000 and notching 6 TDs. I still think there is another level to this guys’ game. Not saying he’s on par with Brandon Banks yet but the parallel’s are there.

Williams-Lambert will be the number 3 assuming he can regain anything close to the form he had in 2018 when he had 4 TDs and 700 yards. I don’t get the concern over him. He has a full year to prepare for the CFL game (instead of trying for the NFL like 2019). He’s a big bodied guy who will do well in the space created by Moore and Evans.

The 4 spot is wide open at this point and the spot to watch. I would give Paul McRoberts and Carlos Henderson (who actually suited up for one game in 2019) the edge given that they spent a year with the team. But the Riders have brought in a wide range of guys to compete. Big name guys like Sammie Coates. Literally big guys like Ubosi (6’3), Satterfield (6’3) and Peake (6’2). Speedsters like Whitfield. It will be interesting to see who wins out.

At Canadian, the biggest thing to watch is Jake Harty. We signed him in 2018 with much fanfare but his knees apparently did no share the enthusiasm for the move west as he never played a game do to injuries. He’s a guy that can have an impact on special teams and be a reliable receiver when called on… IF he’s healthy. We are still in good shape with McInnis and Lenius if not. I do feel for Mitch Picton who despite what seems like 10 years on the practice roster, seems doomed to once again not get his shot. The one thing that may be different about a Maas offense is that he’s not afraid to use Canadian WRs as just token 1 catch a game guys. Natey Adjei caught 58 passes despite competing for touches with Ellingson, Collins, Daniels and Tevaughn Smith (also a Canadian but on a different tier talent-wise than our Cdns).

Prophet’s Players to Watch: Two guys are on my radar. I normally shy away from big name NFL guys (because they tend to succeed about as often as Bart Andrus). But Sammie Coates is super intriguing to me. Pittsburgh has a pretty good history when it comes to WRs. He wasn't a big name guys there but certainly showed flashes. The other guy I’m watching is Whitfield. He was a prolific returner in college (7th all-time in NCAA history). At 5’8 he did not fit the NFL mould. The CFL has a history of being kind to undersized fast guys who do well in space.    

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): I think there is a chance that Shaq Evans doesn’t lead the team in receiving yards and could finish as low as third. Its nothing to do with his skill. He’s still a true #1 in my opinion and our best receiver (something that 2018 me wouldn’t have fathomed being possible). But #1’s get game planned for as its no secret that slowing him down is key to slowing down our offense. Spread the ball around to Moore and JWL and Shaq’s numbers could drop.   

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Tuesday Morning Sentimonies: Competitive Advantage

After many, many years of making fun of Manitoba and generally advising against voluntarily travelling there, I am now coming to you live from like the worst place in Canada to be right now. They are actually advising people against coming here. Oh the cruel irony. Its almost as if having the least stringent Covid restrictions in the country was a bad idea…. But let’s not go down that rabbit hole.

Let’s talk football.

As much as I’d like to talk Rider football and continue gearing up for the 2021 season, the talk of the sporting world continues to be the CFL/XFL discussions and what will come of it. There is a ton of articles and chatter out there on this ranging from reasonably well informed and thought out to outright ridiculous. I have no insider information or anything to tangibly add to the news cycle, so I instead thought I would spend today talking about a question that’s been bugging me for a while: What is the business angle of the CXFL?

Dolla Dolla bills yall is the name of the game and RedBird Capital would not be involved in talks with the CFL if it didn’t think it would make them money. People seem to have this misguided view that this is a one-sided transaction. i.e. The CFL needs money and this is all about how much they need to sacrifice to get it. But that view is wrong. The XFL is not exactly a money making venture at this point… or any point in its history. And history is littered with so many failed American football leagues its almost comical that anyone still thinks it’s a viable business venture. So the bottom line is that this is a two-way discussion, RedBird needs something from the CFL in order turn the XFL into anything more than a licence to lose money, just as much as the CFL needs financial stability.

This gets me to the concept of competitive advantage, basically what strengths a company has that would allow it to be successful. The XFL has just one solitary competitive advantage. It operates at a time in the calendar where other football is not being played. That’s it. It’s been repeatedly proven that then potential market for non NFL/NCAA football is tiny at best. So basically the XFL chances at success hinge on people being desperate for football and the XFL being the only game in town. People will try and point to their “unique” rules as another potential advantage but that is purely false. It’s a clever marketing tactic but the point remains if the XFL isn’t the only option for American football all its creative rules don’t matter. Its suicide to compete directly with the NFL and NCAA and any attempt by the CXFL to do so would fail just as quickly as every other attempt at an alternative American football league.

This brings me to the CFL. Unlike the XFL they do have some competitive advantages. It has a niche market of fans and despite half its season going head to head with the NFL it is not a direct competitor given that niche market. It is also a different game. I know I just said above that the XFL rules were not an advantage but Canadian football as a brand is at the core of what drives the CFL. Three downs, bigger field, 12th man (I’ll save the non-Riders fans the time and make the obligatory 13th man joke here) and pre snap motion make it a different game and its rooted in 100+ years of history. On its own, the Grey Cup game has value in that it is one of the most watched programs in the country year after year. So the CFL has lasted this long, not by trying to compete with the NFL but by targeting a specific section of football fans, with a specific type of game (Canadian rules football). The size of the Canadian market certainly limits the upside potential of this strategy (hence the interest in the XFL and globals) but as compared the XFL, AAFL and all the other failed American leagues over the years, it has at least been a quasi-viable strategy. Hell at least the CFL manages to get paid for their TV contract (something the XFL did not).

The ratio is another aspect. I think people underestimate the value of this. I am not a “Canadians” at all costs guy. I want the best players to play for a high quality on field product (Americans have and will continue to be a key part of our league). But I do think a core set of Canadian players is necessary. Would increasing the ratio add more fans to the CFL? No. Would dropping it to 5 drastically impact fans? Not likely. Would dropping it to 0? Yes.  People are talking lots about the failure of the league to attract younger fans. Killing the ratio would have a trickle down effect on U-sports, high school ball and minor football. This is how you grow the next generation of football fans. Its important to the ongoing success of the CFL.

Here’s where the rubber hits the road for me. Any departure from the Canadian game would jeopardize the existing core of customer to chase the “people looking for football after NFL ends” market in the US. Anyone who can’t see that adding a 4th down and playing on smaller fields fundamentally changes the CFL game is fooling themselves. The extra down radically changes play calling. Will you lose all customers? No. I might be pissed if the Canadian game changes but as long as there is a Rider team, I’ll probably be in the stands (and I think more of you fall in that category than you’d like to admit). But there will be a loss of fans. So the CFL needs to gain more American fans than they will lose in order for a merger to be profitable. Are Americans going to flock to the Canadian game? History would tell us no. Will Canadians flock to a non-NFL American league? Again history tells us no. So back to my original question, what’s the business angle?

Sure a merger likely creates some operating efficiencies by consolidating central office staff from both leagues. Though I will tell you that the actual gains in efficiency from mergers of this sort tend to fall drastically below what people predict in their business plans. Would a league with more teams/content be better positioned to negotiate things like TV contracts and gambling rights? In theory yes, but the CFL has already been working with ESPN to broadcast CFL games down south so its not like there is this massive untapped market that the CXFL could suddenly capitalize on. Plus, as previously mentioned, the XFL couldn’t even get paid for their own games. Why do we suddenly assume that with the CFL in tow they could find hundreds of millions of dollars? Not to mention the logistical issues that come with an XFL season that operates from February to April when it would be stupid to play in Canada (and don’t forget my point about the only advantage XFL has is being the only football on TV so they can’t deviate from this) and a CFL season that for all but 3 months competes directly with the NFL.

So while I do think there is serious talks about a merger going on, I honestly can’t see how anything beyond one central league office with the CFL and XFL continuing to operate as separate entities and maybe a few interleague games would be a smart business plan. I realize that I am biased as a Canadian fan and would fight any attempt to americanize our game but even objectively speaking I don’t see how you would make money even if you did that.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: CXFL?

Its kind of amazing that a league that hasn’t played in 16 months and one that folded for the second time a year ago are the talk of the sporting landscape. But such is life after the bomb dropped that the CFL and XFL were engaging in talks.

I’ll admit that I was initially among the most dismissive of folks regarding the news. I saw it as somewhere between a publicity stunt or an agreement on how to cohabitate at worst. I didn’t think the term “merger” would play out. But I may have changed my tune…

Look there is a lot of hysteria out there on the matter and in this internet age this leads to a whole bunch of misinformation. Hell last week when I jokingly tweeted out that the CFL measures stats in meters not yards, I had someone dead serious correct me and tell me that no, the CFL does in fact measure in yards. This is the hysteria I’m talking about. People take a joke tweet from a dude who dresses in a beard and robe seriously.

But even if you drown out the hysterical noise, enough reputable reporters are talking… and the message is pretty consistent. A merger is definitely what the leagues are discussing. Will it come to that? Remains to be seen. But there is a lot more going on here than just casual chats on coordinating schedules and player movement.

If that scares you as a Canadian fan, it should. There’s no way any kind of merger doesn’t result in some kind of changes to our beloved game. And before you downplay the odds of this, just take a second to think of the financial state of the league. Outside of the 4 prairie teams, 3 of the remaining 5 teams are doing quite poorly financially (before the pandemic) and sadly those 3 represent the 3 biggest markets in Canada. I mean you would be better to invest your money in scratch and win tickets rather than a CFL franchise in terms of rate of return. So add a pandemic on a league that is already not making big coin and survival becomes a very serious question.  

Now the XFL itself is not going to save the CFL (their rate of folding makes Ottawa look like a historically stable football town by comparison) but they have 2 things that might. #1) $$$$$ The Rock is not exactly poor (mostly because I don’t think he has ever turned down a script in his life and just spends him time going from movie to movie collecting big cheques) but more importantly RedBird Capital (the equity firm that was part of the XFL purchase) has massive money. They were just part of deal involving LeBron buying part of the Red Sox. #2) Is the Rock’s star power. I guarantee that any clip on social media of the Rock even uttering the term CFL has more view that any CFL game. You want to grow the league then a glorified hype man like the Rock brings instant attention. So its pretty clear that the CFL sees this partnership as a path to (finally) financial stability and growing the game exponentially more than a Humpty’s commercial featuring Weston Dressler ever could.

What remains to be seen is exactly what the CFL would have to give up to get it. Despite its wealthy and famous owners the XFL is lacking a few things that the CFL has… mainly teams, coaches, staff, refs  and general existence. My guess is that they see the CFL’s existing football operations infrastructure as a quicker path to being a thing again than starting from scratch for a 3rd time.

So what we know is that the regular old CFL is targeting to play some kind of season in 2021. 2022 is a bit of a question mark but possibly another CFL season. But come 2023 I do now think there is a very real possibility of some kind of combined XCFL league happening. But who knows what that would look like.

I’m not saying I like this. The thought on my beloved Canadian game changing in any significant way is about as appealing as the Bombers winning on Labour Day. But here’s the question that I hear lots of reputable people asking: If the choice is a merger or no CFL, would you still be opposed to any kind of change? It’s a scary question but it’s the one that is driving the CFL to talk to the XFL. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: QBs and RBs

As the internet laments the death of Canadian football and XFL takeover that is such a sure thing that we might as well pre-emptively spray paint an X on the Grey Cup, I’m going to actually talk about Canadian football. Something may come of the XFL talks but let’s maybe hold off on the full on freak outs until we know more about what that something is.

So to restore some sanity to the world, let’s take a look at the Riders’ QB and RBs

Projected Starters:

QB: Cody Fajardo

RB: William Powell

In the mix:

QB: James Franklin, Isaac Harker.

RB: Kienan LaFrance, Albert Awachie (FB)

The Rest:

QB: Mason Fine, Luke Falk, Tony Flacco.

RB: Jeremy Langford, Jamal Morrow, David Savard, Xavier Turner, Ralph Webb, Jonathan Femi-Cole

This might be the 2 most boring positions to preview as I expect no surprises. At QB Fajardo will start backed up by Franklin and Harker. The only real competition is for the 3rd QB spot but by virtue of having actual real game experience and a year of development Harker is so far ahead of the other 3 that they would have to show something phenomenal to get anything but a practice roster spot at this point (also I like Harker and want to see him continue to develop).

At RB, Powell will be the guy. LaFrance and Awachie will make the roster to block, play on teams and touch the ball once every 5 games. The only real thing to watch is that the departure of Marcus Thigpen leaves us will an opening at back-up RB/returner. Now we have enough returners at DB and WR that retuning might not be a requirement but it would certainly help the chances of making the team. Langford bring an NFL resume. Turner is the biggest back. Savard and Femi-Cole are likely only auditioning for a role behind LaFrance or Awachie since we type-cast Canadian RBs.

Prophet’s Players to Watch: At QB I guess Luke Falk would be the guy I’m watching of the newcomers... though if I’m being honest that’s at least 50% due to the potential of saying “What the Falk?!” and “Get the Falk out” if he makes the team. At RB my eyes on Jamal Morrow. We invested a year in developing him and are bringing him back, which tells me we see something in him.

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): There is nothing this province loves more than QB controversy (and creating it where it doesn’t exist) so it would be easy to sell you on some notion that a QB shake-up is possible… but its not. We will all have raging Fajardons as Cody is the guy and Franklin was brought in specifically as insurance in case Fajardo gets hurt. End of story.

Also, as interesting as it would be to speculate on old man Powell not winning the spot, dude scored 14 TDs last season and had a full year to rest his old man body. He’s not being unseated. Enjoy watching the completion for 3rd QB and 2nd RB because that’s as interesting as its going to get here.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Offensive Line

Starting today I’m going to break down each position on the Riders’ roster… beginning with the O-line. The Riders currently have 108 people on the roster and at their current pace of signings should qualify as Saskatchewan’s 3rd largest city by mid-May. So I thought it would be good to start reminding ourselves who makes up our roster and who may be worth monitoring if/when training camp occurs.

O-line has undergone some super unexpected but welcome changes over the past few weeks. Back in January we had 4 of our 5 starters (a great spot to be) and a few promising prospects to fill the last spot. Our depth was not the greatest but the 2nd overall pick would certainly help with that. Well an influx of local boys has suddenly made us very deep here and may have drastically changed our plans for that draft pick and O-line overall.

Projected Starters: Takoby Cofield – Brendan LaBatte – Dan Clark – Evan Johnson – Terran Vaugh

In the mix: Brett Boyko, Braden Schram, Mattland Riley

The Rest: Logan Ferland, Josiah St John, Cameron Jefferson, Sentrel Henderson, Cyrus Kouandjio, Chidi Oneke, Jesse Lawson, Andrew Lauderdale, Antonio Garcia, Rene Brassea

What I like first and foremost is the age of our starters. We had depth in 2019 but our starters (Blake, Coleman, Labatte, Clark) were old. Suddenly we have 3 projected starters under 30. Dan Clark went from being one of the “young” pups to one of the oldest at 32. (By the way, to be fair to Clark I do need to concede that despite my ongoing hatred of him, he actually did very well in 2019, fingers crossed that wasn’t just some fluke side effect of his car accident). LaBatte is the old guy at 34 but I think a full year off might do him a ton of good. He probably hasn’t been 100% in years (resting just enough to get back in the game despite mounting nagging injuries). Also a potentially shortened season certainly favours and old man like him

There’s an outside chance we could go 4 Canadian OL now that we have Boyko and Johnson but I think its more likely (and smarter) to keep with American tackles since we have 2 good ones (also given that we signed 6 import OL I have a feeling we plan of needing more than one throughout the year). I think Cofield has been under the radar good for a while now and Vaughn took some big steps forward in 2019. I had assumed that Schram and Riley would be our 6th and 7th OL but Boyko suddenly makes this a competition to watch (and a good problem to have).

I don’t see anyone unseating Cofield/Vaughn amongst the Americans but the sheer volume we have signed tells me we are interested in putting that theory to the test. We have brought in a ton of size… note one of them under 6’5. And some impressive resumes in there: Garcia was 3rd round pick in 2017, Henderson has 29 NFL starts over 4 years, Kouandjio was a 3 year starter at Alabama and a 2nd round pick in 2014. Not saying any of them will amount to anything but on paper O’Day seems to be bringing in some quality.

Prophet’s Player to Watch: Seantrel Henderson. This one is the most intriguing for me. He’s a mountain of a man at 6’7, 350 lbs, has significant starting time in the NFL and is only 29. Now the cynic in me would say that with those measurables there is likely a reason he’s not in the NFL anymore but on the off chance dude still has game I think he’s worth a look.

Wild Possibility (something that may not be likely to happen but is not outside the realm of possibility): Hear me out. In any given season, your high priced, older vets are always facing a bit of risk that someone younger and cheaper shows up in camp. At 34, LaBatte has a ton of hard miles on him. And while no one is making big coin in the Covid times, I would imagine he’s up there in terms of OL pay. The arrival of Johnson and Boyko suddenly create a scenario where we could go younger and cheaper at guard if we wanted. That would of course leave Dan Clark as the veteran leader of a very young group and that scares the hell out of me (despite him making me not hate him for once in 2019) but for the first time in a long time I don’t think LaBatte will be an unquestioned starter coming into the season.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Thoughts On The East

Last week I took a look at the teams in the West to give my initial thoughts. All part of my “try and remember what the hell is going on the CFL” journey. Today, we turn our attention to the teams in the East. In case you forgot the East is traditionally the Cooper Manning to the West’s Peyton. The No Name Brand Orange Beverage to the West’s Premium Tropicana. And so on and so forth.

Hamilton

Essentially the exception to the rule about the East being terrible. Though they did epically choke in the Grey Cup, forcing the rest of us to endure a world where the Bombers have won a Cup since 1990. The rest of the CFL still hasn’t forgiven them for that and no longer feels bad about them now having the longest drought in the CFL.

Strengths: No reason not to expect them to top the East again. The combo of Banks, Addison and Posey at receiver is almost not fair. They have Masoli and Evans at QB. If Erlington-Thomas is healthy they also have the bonus of a solid Canadian Starter. Their D-line is also scary. I would argue that Davis, Laurent, Wynn and Howsare are the best front 4 in the CFL. Rest of their defense has a ton of big names too: Lawrence, Santos-Knox, Breaux, Frankie Williams, Ciante Evans.

Weaknesses: For me, the only weakness I see at this point (other than now bearing the curse of the Bombers and doomed not to win a Cup for another decade yet) is their O-line. They have lost start tackle Rykar Matthews (which is a big deal) and starting C Landon Filer and other than top draft pick Coulter Woodmansey, have yet to replace them. Not in dire straits but something they will need to address if they want to return to the Cup.

Montreal

The other not terrible team in the East. Though if history has taught us anything its that Danny Maccioccia will be sure to change that before too long.

Strengths: Under Khari Jones’ leadership that offense took a big step forward and returns all the key players: Adams, Stanback, Cunningham, Lewis. They also added Roosevelt.  O-line depth is pretty decent.

Weaknesses: While Montreal has made attempts to improve their woeful defense with the additions of Usher, Sewell and Money Hunter. They are also losing Tommie Campbell, Ciante Evans, John Bowman and (at least at this point) Henoc Muamba. Given these loses I don’t see them suddenly becoming one of the top D. Their secondary will be alright but their front 7 is still mediocre and possibly worse unless they do end up retaining Muamba to secure the middle.

Ottawa

Except for that one game where Dominique Davis clearly sold his soul for one day as a top tier QB (I will remain bitter about that anomaly for a long time), the RedBlacks were abysmal in 2019. GM Marcel Desjardins decided it was clearly Rick Campbell’s fault (and not his inability to build a roster with sufficient talent) so he’s gone and replaced by LaPolice. Now LaPo is a great hire but let’s not pretend that the talent level in Ottawa has suddenly increased… given their “stand pat” offseason strategy.

Strengths: Pretty much anybody would be an improvement over Davis. And Matt Nichols just happens to be “pretty much anybody”. Not great but with LaPo’s help, should at least make the offense quasi-respectable. They still have pretty good Cdn content (OL, Coombs, Sinopoli, Pruneau) despite some departure.

Weaknesses: There still is not a ton of talent on that roster. They were the worst team in the CFL and have only added Nichols and Micah Awe essentially. That doesn’t scream sudden turnaround to me. Their D-line is pretty meh outside of Laing and while they have a lot of “decent” offensive weapons, they lack game changers and probably have the worst receiving core in the CFL.

Toronto

We end with the talk of the CFL offseason. Toronto seems to have been on a mission to sign pretty much everyone. I can only assume my contract offer is in the mail as well. It has led to all kinds of wild allegations of conspiracies and salary cap circumventions. If we could pause the hysteria for a second, bear in mind that half the players they have signed will be cut before the regular season starts (including most, if not all, of those big name NFL players). Also, that given how much salaries have come down across the CFL and the fact that the Argos had very few good players to keep from their 2019 season, its very likely that all the these signings do indeed fit nicely within the cap. Honestly the only thing I don’t get about all of this and the one thing no one seems to be talking about is “How was Martavius Bryant able to sign in the CFL when he is currently suspended by the NFL?” Pretty sure there is a rule specifically against that. 

Strengths: On paper this is a talented team. Front 4 that features Hughes and Law with Willis as your rotation guy and Nevis Drake inside. Judge, Woods and Richardson are up there for top LB trio in the league. At receiver you have Daniels, Rogers, Brescacin and Sinkfield (and in the off chance Bryant or Kendall Wright do anything it’s a huge boost). Pretty good Canadian depth across the board too.

Weaknesses: Two big ones that I see. First is that this new super team all hinges on Nick Arbuckle. Now he could very well be good but its certainly no guarantee. Remember that Ottawa gave up the first overall pick to get him in 2020 only to release him without ever taking a snap. Now that might say more about the roster management of the Redblacks than anything but it makes you wonder. The second concern and the far bigger one is that this is a brand new team with a brand new coach who has never been anything more than a positional coach. Most teams have a veteran core to build upon which will be super important in a year where training camp/preseason are likely to be severely shortened. So Toronto’s success hinges on a rookie head coach (with a staff whose most experienced member is OC Jarious Jackson… who you might remember as the OC who couldn’t field a competent offense with Mike Reilly as his QB) managing to bring a brand new roster together and getting them to gel in a shortened preseason. So spare me the hype on all the signings that have occurred. I’m not ready to anoint the Argos anything more than just the next team to  “win free agency” and have it count for nothing when the games start being played for real.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Thoughts On The West

As the prospect of an actual CFL season becomes more and more plausible, I am being asked the same question more frequently “How do you think the Riders stack up to the competition?”. My honest answer is that I have no freakin’ clue. I have only recently started reminding myself who even plays on the Riders and other than being able to name the other 8 teams (the Barracudas are still a thing right?) I know very little about the other teams. Free agency helped a bit but while I used to be able to name you the starting 12 on all CFL teams (a super productive use of my finite brain space) I could barely name 5 starters per team.

So I am setting off on a journey of rediscovery. That is a very fancy way of saying that I am pulling up each team’s roster and giving it a cursory glance. Then, based on a solid 30 seconds of analysis I am going to give you my thoughts on the strengths and weakness of each rosters… starting this week with the West Division. Full disclosure, I will probably make some false statements or overlook some important fact but I am doing my best* (*Best being defined as the absolute minimum required to sound like I know what I am talking about).

BC

In 2019, BC managed to miss the playoffs despite having Mike Reilly. Instead of him leading a high powered offense, they pretty much just let him drop back and get sacked a whole ton while trying to throw deep. They also had a relatively useless defense. So they fired Devon Claybrooks and brought in Rick Campbell.

Strengths: On paper BC has brought in the pieces required to improve their D. Guys like Chris Casher and JR Tavai will boost their non-existent pass rush. Other guys like Marcus Sayles, Anthony Cioffi and Kenny Laddler should improve their back-end. Adding Rykar Matthews should also make Mike Reilly feel better about life.

Weaknesses: No gapping holes but while Bryan Burnham is a stud with Rhymes as their number 2 they don’t have the most intimidating receiving corp. Also while Tavai and Casher boost their D-line, it takes them from utter garbage to half decent. They still need to fill out the other half of that line if they want to make some noise.

Edmonton

A lot has changed since November 2019. Jason Maas was their coach. He was fired. Milanovich was hired. He quit and now the Jamie Elizondo era is upon them.

Strengths: Offensively Trevor Harris throwing to Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson will certainly keep opposing DC’s up at night. Pretty solid D-line with Boateng, Ceresna, Moore and Lemon. They beefed up their secondary with Grymes and Jonathan Mincy.

Weaknesses: The loss of Matt O’Donnell doesn’t leave them with great Canadian OL depth. Also, while Diggs is a stud, the linebacking group as a whole is the one area of their D I’m not convinced of at this point. 

Calgary

Every ounce of my wants to talk about how much talent the Stamps have lost and how concerned they should be that this is finally the year they slip from dominance. But just like every other year where this happens, we all know they will just find new players and go on being great. Betting against John Hufnagel even when the odds appear in your favour is not a profitable venture.

Strengths: They have added back some big name talent back from the NFL in DeShaun Amos and Jameer Thurman. With guys like Jamar Wall, Richard Leonard and Royce Metchie I think their back 7 will be fine. Obviously anytime you have Bo Levi Mitchell under centre you feel pretty good about your offense. And you can bet that a fully healthy Kamar Jorden will once again be chewing up big yards.

Weaknesses: Were it not for the whole Hufnagel effect I would be telling you that the D-line is a glaring concern. They lost Chris Casher and Cordarro Law and have added nothing to replace at this point. Other than Mike Rose there is no one on that roster that remotely concerns me. Also outside of Jorden, their WR groups seems to lack playmakers. OL depth took a hit too with a couple retirements. Still I am not counting out the Stamps despite the large amount of evidence that I should.

Winnipeg

Lots of optimism in Loserpeg that their team is poised for a repeat given that they have managed to retain most of the group that won the Cup in 2019. While this is mostly true, it overlooks a few key details, which I will get into below.

Strengths: Defense remains pretty solid and it starts up front with Jefferson and Jeffcoat. Bighill leads a solid LB group. They are returning all members of a solid OL. Adding Bryant Mitchell to Adams and Demski gives them a solid WR group. Plus Andrew Harris has had a full year of no drug testing so look out!

Weaknesses: The most obvious and glaring one is that the entire repeat scenario hinges on Zach Collaros staying healthy. Last year was the ideal Collaros scenario. He was only needed for 3 games. He’s great when healthy but are any of you putting money on him playing a full season? Even if it’s a shortened one? It would honestly be a better investment to bet on Edmonton being named the Roughriders. Add in the loss of one of the best OC’s in the league in LaPolice. In what can certainly not be a good omen for Collaros, LaPo’s replacement is Buck Pierce (let that one sink in). So yes, if Collaros stays healthy and if Buck Pierce manages to run an offense even remotely as good as LaPo’s then the Bombers will be world beaters. I would also add that the Bomber Secondary lost their 2 best DBs. They did add Josh Johnson in free agency but it’s a downgrade to that unit at this point.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Assessing Free Agency

Free agency opened Tuesday and Jeremy O’Day was a busy man. Seven players were added to the mix. Some of them were expected. Some of them came as a surprise. Let’s take a look at how we made out.

We’ll start with “the big 3”. Three big name players that are important adds: Larry Dean and the Johnson brothers (Micah and Evan). Evan Johnson (henceforth known as the white Johnson) was an expected move. We had a hole to fill at guard with Shepley leaving. Johnson is a great replacement. Young, talented, local product, has some experience starting at tackle which adds great depth/flexibility to our line. You can never go wrong prioritizing a strong line.

Dean is an important add given that we had exactly zero starting LBs on the roster. Elimimian’s surprise retirement certainly made the MLB market a lot smaller and signing Dean all the more important. Dean will ensure we continue to have a solid playmaker to anchor the middle of our D.

Micah was the surprise. A pleasant one, but a surprise. He will nicely fill the void left behind by (checks notes) Micah Johnson's departure. This signing makes me feel a whole lot better about our D-line. With Hughes’ departure we were lacking a game changer there. Micah will instantly make Bishop and Leonard a lot more imposing pair. According to Justin Dunk, we got him for an insanely reasonable contract. Strong play in the trenches is essential so I like that O’Day got us impact players on both sides of the line.

We also made a number of other signings that don’t have the same high profile as the Dean and the Johnsons but could still be important pieces for us in 2021.

DB Lorenzo Jerome – Played in 7 game with Calgary last year starting 2. The important detail is that those to starts were at the cover LB spot. Not saying he’s the next Moncrief but he has actual starting experience at the spot which is more than anyone else on the roster can say.

LB Justin and Jordan Herdman-Reed – Unlike the Johnson brothers, these 2 are actual brothers. They are an important piece of the Cam Judge replacement plan. Justin has played in 40 games over 3 season. He has 7 starts at MLB in 2019 making 37 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. Jordan also plays MLB he has 52 games played, 13 starts in the past 2 years and 93 T, 25 STT, 3 sacks and 1 FF over that time. Obviously neither is the impact player that Judge is but we probably got both of them for less money that Judge will end up costing.

DB Godfrey Oneyka – Continuing the theme of “O’Day apparently only likes to sign people with the same last name”, Godfrey joins cousin Nakas on the roster. Godfrey was the 10th overall pick in 2018 and started 5 games  for Edmonton last season (3 regular season, 2 post season) at wide side CB. 

What these 4 Canadians give the Riders is a ton of ratio flexibility. Judge was a stud playmaker and we need a starting Canadian to replace him. While we didn’t get “the next Judge” we did give ourselves options. You could use Godfey and Bouka to start a Canadian at CB. That would allow one of McCray or Purifoy to bump up to LB. You could use a combo of Teitz and the Herdmans to keep the OLB spot Canadian. You could go Canadian at MLB and bump Larry Dean outside. You could do all of that within the same game depending on the situation.

Losing Judge sucks but I think O’Day did the right thing in deciding early whether we were waiting for him. You have to set aside a good chunk of cash to sign him. So there was a very real risk that we waited on him, missed out on a bunch of other FA signings and still lost him to a higher bidder leaving us with absolutely nothing. The choice between spending the money now (and getting guys like Dean, the Johnson and the Canadians for sure) is a wiser choice then saving it for a chance to sign Judge.

We filled a number of holes in free agency and aside from not having a kicker, we now have no glaring roster deficiencies. I really like our Canadian depth and we brought in some impact defenders to offset the loss of Hughes, Moncrief and Elimiman.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency

Editor’s Note: I made the mistake of trying to get ahead in life and wrote this on Friday. I have spent the ensuing days rewriting sections as people signed who I made the mistake of mentioning. Also, I’m sure by the time you read this more it will be rendered irrelevant. Let the lesson be that procrastination pays off.

CFL Free Agency opens to tomorrow. This is the time of year I usually make a “Free Agent Frenzy” joke but let’s be honest… I’m so starved for Canadian football that I will hang on all 4 things that actually happen tomorrow.

Most of the players have opted to lock down contracts early, anticipating a very stingy market in free agency. But a few big names will be available. There’s some starting Canadians like Cam Judge, Henoc Mumba and Chris Ackie. A couple impact OL in Mike Filer, Evan Johnson and Matt O’Donnell (side bar: remember when we drafted O’Donnell and he tried literally everything under the sun to avoid playing for us including trying out for the NBA. Then we traded him for Greg Carr straight up. One went on to be a reliable Canadian starter and all-star. One caught sixteen total passes has been out of the league for 8 years. Good times.) If defense is your thing there’s Micah Johnson, Almondo Sewell, Larry Dean and Solomon Elimimian.

As for what the Riders need and what we can expect from them…

Clearly priority number 1 is linebackers. The ones currently on our roster have a combined 1 career start (that being Teitz). Re-signing Judge is our top priority but he will have other suitors. The big issue is that if we lose him then we are short a Canadian starter and its not like we have a back-up plan on the roster. Henoc Muamba could fill to hole both in terms of being a Canadian and an MLB. I still wouldn’t rule out Elimimian returning. If we want to dip into the market, then Justin Tuggle and Patrick Levels need to be in the discussion as Moncrief going to the NFL has left a massive hope at the cover LB spot which is one of the toughest spots on the field. Some slightly cheaper options there might also be Don Unamba or Rico Murray. Larry Dean would also be of interest. My honest guess is that our plan is to sign Judge get a veteran for one LB spot and fill the other internally with a new recruit. That wouldn’t be my preference but I just don’t see us making 3 FA linebacker signings unless its just to bring back Judge, Elimimian and Foster. An under the radar name to watch is Deon Lacey. We did sign him in advance of 2020. He opted out to pursue NFL interests but those have yet to pan out.

One name we are expected to pursue aggressively is OL Evan Johnson. The logic is simple: we have a guard spot to fill with Shepley gone and Johnson is a very talented young guard who just so happens to be a Saskatchewan product. I think we could fill that spot with a combination of Mattland Riley, Braden Schram and the 2nd overall pick in the draft but I won’t complain about building strong Canadian depth at OL.

I would like to see us try and bring in some more competition at DL. Bishop and Leonard starting calibre ends. You know I’m high on Geter as a rotation guy. I think Dabire will actually be an upgrade from what was left of Zach Evans. That said I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a bit concerned about our D-line. Don’t forget that in our last game our D-line was Hughes/Micah/Evans/Leonard. Hughes and Micah are among the best at their positions so if we are being honest unless we find a stud new recruit to step in at DT our, D-line has been downgraded on paper. I don’t think we are in a mad panic but certainly something worth paying some attention to.  With names like Adrian Tracy, Craig Roh and a dark horse name in Canadian Jonathan Kongbo out there its worth looking into whether you can land another impact d-line piece within our budget.

I had mentioned RB Shaq Cooper last week. Well turns out he is asking to be paid like William Powell. Unless your agent happens to be the guy who got Kirk Cousins $60 million guarantee… good luck with that.

A couple other under the radar names worth keeping an eye are on special teams. The Riders’ own Alex Chevrier will be hitting the market. He has 16 and 12 special teams tackles in each of the past 2 season. Also Kerfalla Exume will be hitting the market and he had 25 STTs as a rookie. If you want to know the value of quality special teams paly just go back and watch early parts of 2019 when the Riders were giving out return TDs like they were free samples.

Overall I would not expect us to be super active but I do expect 2-3 signings involving starting players and maybe a couple more for depth guys. What I can guarantee is outrage over whoever we don’t sign. Rider fans are fickle at the best of time let alone when they’ve been cooped up for months on end with nothing to do but yell at the internet.  

Monday, February 1, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agency Coming

CFL Free Agency is rarely super-duper exciting at the best of times. Its kinda like NHL trade deadline but without the over the top non-stop hype of TSN (which is somewhat ironic when your consider which of the leagues TSN has the rights to). But the 2021 version of CFL FA is likely to be even less eventful than normal. 

You see normally you would have players hitting the free agent market in the hopes of making more money with a different team. This year there is no money, no greener pastures and only a handful of good players brave enough to try their luck fighting for the few scraps that are left.

The Riders, like most teams, enter free agency with most of their core intact. We have our QB stable, we have a RB, we have receivers, we have most of an OL. We have our entire secondary and enough guys that we could cobble together a decent D-line if needed. We also have our long snapper. So what does that leave you ask? (Why are you talking to a screen? If it starts talking back you should seek help). Well we could use some Cdn OL depth (though I expect that to come through the draft). We could still benefit from coaxing Charleston Hughes back. We have absolutely no starting LBs (a bold strategy indeed) and we have no kickers for the aforementioned long snapper to actually snap to.

Clearly money is getting tight because some reports have us no more than $15k away from Charleston Hughes' demands. We also have indicated that it’s unlikely that both Hughes and Elimimian return (unless both want to accept a significant pay cut… much like I assume Gainey did). Clearly we have money set aside to try and retain Judge but unless you are a starting Canadian under the age of 30 your “leverage” in this particular free agency will be lower than Milanovich’s win total in Edmonton.

So if we look outside retaining our starting 3 LB (Judge, Elimimian, Foster) what might be out there if we do decide to dabble in the free agency pool?

There’s your big names like Henoc Muamba, Almondo Sewell, Larry Dean, Cordarro Law and Micah Johnson that we could certainly use but I doubt we’ll be in on any of them unless they are coming cheap. I mean we didn’t want to pay Micah when we had money.

Then there’s the next tier of guys we could be kicking the tires on. Not sure we’ll be aggressive enough to land any but there is a chance. Names like: Adrian Tracy, Chris Casher, Craig Roh and Nevis Drake along the DL. At linebacker (our primary focus) Patrick Levels, Micah Awe, Justin Tuggle, Don Unamba and Christophe Mulumba (if Judge ends up not returning). Another name that caught my eye was RB Shaq Cooper. Now, we don’t need an RB and paying for an RB in normal times is usually not worth it but I just mention him because a) he’s really good and b) our current starter will soon be 33. I don’t it happening but a man can dream.

Legal tampering is now open… meaning actual tampering has been in full swing for a couple months now. I expect a few more dominoes to fall before free agency open on the 9th.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Riders Sign 2020 Draft Class

The signings continue to roll in for the Riders. It almost seems like a daily thing now. In the back of my mind I keep thinking that this has to stop at some point. I mean, we already have 92 people signed… and given that we have no starting LBs or kickers and the 2021 draft class to go we clearly aren’t done. We are on pace for the Riders to qualify as a village come training camp.

 Now some of these guys will clearly be on the roster. Guys like McCray, Moore, Williams-Lambert and Vaughn are important signings that project as starters. Side note: How awesome is it to have Cofield and Vaughn locked up? When was the last time we had to starting tackles under 29 years old? (Any mention of Charles Thomas will get you smacked). Anyway… but we have signed dozens of what would normally be “training camp fodder”. Guys like the other Flacco and what I can only assume is Dan Marino’s brother Garrett. Sure some of those guys will end up making the team and becoming household names. But given the high probability of a delayed season and shortened training camp, how many of those 92 players never set foot in Canada?

One interesting set of signings was our 2020 draft class (minus 8th round pick Neville Gallimore, who is preparing well for the perennial disappointment of playing for the Riders, in Dallas). Really interesting year for draft picks. First round picks like Mattland Riley will make the team. The hope is that between Riley, Schram and the OL we will take 2nd overall in the 2021 draft (spoiler alert) that one can be the new starting RG and one can be the 6th OL. But for the remaining guys (Schaefer-Baker, Allen, Femi-Cole and Lawson) they unfortunately have the worst timing possible.

Its tough for those late round picks to make the team. One guy may make it as a special teamer. A couple may stick on the PR and wait a chance to step in as an injury replacement. But not only do they have the usual odds against them, they will also be competing against a whole other draft class at the same time. The 2021 picks will also be competing for those very few spots. And then, add in that with a shortened training camp and good odds of no preseason games, the chance to show your stuff will be severely limited. I expect lots of teams to use their 2021 picks to take flyers on guys who they might have to wait a year on (or in later rounds guys who may go back to school).

Overall I like how our roster is shaping up. We have no starting LBs, we need a HB (assuming Gainey doesn’t return), we need kickers, we need Hughes and we need OL depth. Considering we are in January that’s not bad.

Last thing I’ll touch on is Greg Ellingson. Lots of talk linking him here due to the Jason Maas connection. Obviously I would love to have him but with Evans, Moore and Lambert under contract we don’t NEED him. If the price is right do it. If not, don’t. And the price may be right. A few top end WR are trending to free agency: Ellingson, Burnham, Posey and Rogers. Normally that would mean teams would be opening their wallets to attract them. But teams have no wallet this year. So one of the them may get more money by hitting free agency but the others will likely end up with less because teams will spend the few $ they have rather than waiting on them and end up getting a few of them super cheap. So there is a chance that Ellingson comes just cheap enough to fit in our cap. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Quasi Coherent Thoughts

Oh how I long of the days when January was a quiet time in the world. We were all on our post-Christmas hangovers (physical, mental and financial) and the sporting world was quiet with the exception of switching between over emphasizing Canadian hockey dominance or calling for a hockey summit based on the results of the most recent World Juniors.


But in today’s topsy turvy world we have a raging pandemic, attempted democratic coups and only 354 days left of this crazy year left to endure.


We also have the weird phenomenon of more CFL signings in the past 2 months than in the past 5 Januarys combined. The good news is that gives us something to talk about to distract from the crumbling of our world as we know it.


The big news was obviously the Fajardo extension. A move that likely simultaneously extended the Fajardons of many Rider fans. This isn’t all that surprising… O’Day wants him, he likes it here and this is about the worst time in the history of the CFL to be looking for alternate employment. But it is reassuring to have QB certainty for the next 2 years. If Fajardo’s agent was smart he would have negotiated a $5 bonus on every Saskatchewan born kid named Cody over the next 2 years.


 We have also slowly been chipping away at our potential free agent list. Shaq Evans was a big signing (particularly given that Kyran Moore is getting some NFL looks and Williams-Lambert remains unsigned). Jake Harty was a pleasant surprise. He was a highly touted signing back in 2018 but injuries led to him never playing a single snap. I (like many) just assumed he was never going to don the green and white again but he is back. If he’s healthy we get an impact Canadian WR who has underrated skills on special teams. With McInnis, Lenius and Picton it would also solidify our Cdn depth there. No guarantees he can still play at his old level but definitely worth the risk. Nick Marshall is back (an important piece in our secondary). Blace Brown is back (I really like his potential as a DB). And we added Freddie Bishop (11 sacks in 2015 with Calgary, 6 last season in Toronto, an NFL stint in between). He’s potentially an impact addition to our DL rotation.

 

As much progress as O’Day has made on our roster there are still a number of fairly significant holes still left to address. We need another WR to complement Evans. Moore, Williams-Lambert… maybe Ellingson? Shepley is gone and Terran Vaughn remains unsigned so we are still missing half a line. I imagine the guard spot gets filled through a combination of the draft and last year’s draft pick Mattland Riley. We have no starting LBs… like none. Much like our OL we are also missing half a secondary with McCray and Gainey left unsigned. We also have no kickers… but that one doesn’t really concern me much. We’ll fill those easily.

 

One last comment to leave you with. I know I’m super late to this but the whole Chris Streveler thing bugged me. It didn’t bug me that Boomer Esiason slighted the league of seemed to know nothing about it. There are likely endless American’s who know nothing about the CFL. Just because they cover the NFL doesn’t mean they are obligated to learn about the CFL. It’s more so on the CFL to promote itself better. But I digress… My real issue is that thousands of American’s now think that Chris Streveler the best QB the CFL could produce. He might be one of the worst (and I have personally watched Michael Bishop, Nealon Greene and Brandon Bridge). He just happens to be a very skilled runner who can lob up the occasionally hail mary on the run (and Arizona inexplicably refused to run him).