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.