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.
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.
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.
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.
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.