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).


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.


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. 


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.


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.