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.
I like the signings & it does give us ratio flexibility. But we lost 4 All-Stars. My areas of concern -OL, LB & receivers. Two of those may surprise you. Johnson is a good replacement for Shepley but where we had Bladek, Blake, Bennett & Schram we now have Schram & St. John. Clark was healthy for the 1st time in 6 years, LaBatte missed 27 games in the last 4 seasons & they're 2 years older. Only BC allowed more sacks in the West. What happens under Maas' pass happy offence? At LB does either Herdman add up to Judge?. Have we got an all-star SAM in our roster? Maybe if we use Onyeka/Bouka @ CB. Lastly, the only 1 of our receivers with more than 2 seasons is Harty who hasn't played since 2017. If W-Lambert fills the Roosevelt role, do we play 2 Nationals? Lenius, McInnis & Picton have less than 150 career yards total. Yes, the first 2 are 6'5" highly ranked draft choices but so was Devon Bailey. DItto Pierzchalski. So I'll reserve judgement until I see some results. We're solid but no, not improved over 2019.
So the Riders lowballed Judge claiming they had no money for him. Well, as suggested elsewhere, we could get a young guy in the dual kicking role & "punt", no pun intended our current guy. Always a way to find the cash for someone like Judge. According to the same source, the Riders weren't waiting on Judge. They likely knew he was gone as soon as the offer was made. Wow.
Anon 1 - The Evan JOhnson signing is a big boost to our OL. You have to add 2020 first round pick Mattland Riley to the depth there. Him and Schram leave us solid (I honestly have zero expectations for St John). Also if you go OL with the second overall pick (which they should then we are solid). Obviously Labatte and Clark are concenrs but overall our line has gotten way younger. Remember that we had Blake and Coleman in there before. So with Coefield, Vaughn and Johnson we have 3 starters under 30 (not sure when the last time that happened). The Herdman's are obviously not a Judge but they should be at least decent with Dean and Micah leading the way. The big concern remains replacing Moncrief. We have guys like Jerome or McCray or Purifoy bumping down but nothing guaranteed yet.
Overall I would agree with the "solid but not improved over 2019" assessment.
I am not at all concerned about WR. Evans and Moore are legit stars and now that he's fully focused on the CFL Lambert as your number 3 is going to remind people why we were so high on him in his rookie year. 4th WR likely stays American with a guy like McRoberts, Henderson or a newcomer like Coates or Ayers. Lenius and McInnis split the Cdn spot (and they get like 1 pass a game so even if they aren't great its not a huge impact). Harty is a wildcard. Hard to count on him but if he is anywhere close to his time in Ottawa he becomes an impact starter and takes the 4th WR spot.
Anon 2 - Moving on from Judge was definitely O'Day's choice. As I wrote in the blog, there was no guarantee even if we waited that Judge would sign here. SO O'Day opted to spend the money now on sure things (Micah, Dean, white Johnson, Oneyka, etc..) rather than risk losing him to Toronto and having a money but no one left to spend it on. It's a risk because of how good Judge is but how much more pissed would fans be if O'Day waited on Judge and lost him anyway? O'Day made a business decision to minimize risk. It might still blowup on him but at least he has the stones to make a tough decision.
Also if we "punt" our current guy how will we ever replace all the single points we'd lose out on :).
When I look at our OL depth I harken back to comments on 3 Downnation last December noting that our National depth consisted of a total of 5 starts between them, all of which belonged to St John. The only OL prospect in the 2020 draft which was a consensus starter was Jack-Kurdyla. In fact Mattland Riley was rated #37 on their board. For every Shepley who can step in right away, you have a St John, Bladek or Schram who take a few years to become true starters, if at all. So for me I don't see what I would call depth, certainly not the kind of depth we had where Schram, the next guy up now, was behind Shepley, Blake, Bladek & perhaps even Bennett who retired as did Vincent Roy more recently.. And no matter how the local media spins it, the Herdmans are not Judge &, combined with the loss of Moncrief, our LB trio is downgraded considerably. Sad, but true.
Yeah when we had Labatte, Shepley, Blake and Bladek we had an embarrassment of riches. We were just super lucky, most teams wouldn't have depth that has many more starts than we do currently. Hamilton doesn't. Edmonton doesn't. Calgary doesn't. Winnipeg has one guy with starting experience. So we while it would always be nice to have more experience, we aren't behind other teams on this. Schram has game experience stepping in mid-game and he didn't look out of place. I'm not sure how you can even think that Bennett and Roy are relevant to the conversation. Roy never came close the field and Bennett dressed in one game and didn't play. 3 Downnation are good journalists but I would take their player rankings with a grain of salt. 3 of the OL they had in their top 25 were taken in the 6th round or later. Can't write Riley off before he's even been to camp.
Lbs, yeah I'm with you its a downgrade.
I agree, Prophet, Bennett & Roy aren't relevant. But for the same reason neither are Riley or draft picks who haven't seen the field. The top team as far as sacks allowed 2 of the last 3 years was Edmonton. O'Donnell is the only one gone & only played 12 games in 2019 before being replaced by Saxelid who started the rest of the season & wasn't out of place. Since then they have added Rogers, Dennis, a West All Star in 2019, Randy Richards, the Stamp starter in the 2018 Grey Cup & Roy, a starter in BC in 2019. The point is they are stacked with veterans with lots of starting experience. Draheim, Kelly, Beard & Ruby are long time CFL veterans as are Rogers, Dennis, Richards & Roy - that's 8 veterans, never mind being able to develop Jack-Kurdyla in 2019. That is decidedly better depth than here. And if you take a close look at the Lions, they also have 8 veteran starters. Is Winnipeg worse off than us - IMO no. Partly this is because their OL doesn't need to pass protect much. They run more than anyone & their reception leaders were Harris & Demski (avg pass in the air - less than 2 yds over the LOS). Calgary is in trouble. I love our starters, barring health issues, but our depth is thin IMO, certainly not up to the top OL's in the league.
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