Monday, January 31, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agent Shopping

The negotiation period, aka legal tampering, has started. That of course means that good old fashioned illegal tampering has been going fast and furious for months. Free agency opens on Feb 8. So let’s take a look at what is left in terms of Rider potential free agents and where O’Day might be looking.

The Riders still have a pretty extensive list of free agents but for me there’s a “Big 3” that are priorities and then there’s the rest that are less of a big deal. Originally it was a Big 4 as Brett Lauther was on the list but we locked him up which is huge. If you want a cautionary tale on assuming kickers are easily replaceable look at BC, Winnipeg and Hamilton last year. 

 My big 3 are as follows:

Louchiez Purifoy – I still don’t think he gets enough credit for how good he is. I’ll add that he is still just 29 years old. Versatile, impact defender. Keeping him would allow us to roll with a secondary of Marshall, Purifoy, Edem, Webb and J Clark. That would be pretty darn good.

Duke Williams – This is the one everyone is talking about. Duke has said he is making his decision this week (that could mean signing here, that could mean deciding to wait until Feb 8 to officially sign with another suitor). He’s an impact player, plain and simple. At no point in 2021 did we field a healthy Duke, Shaq and Moore together, that would be some firepower. I will say this though. With Evans and Moore under contract I could see O’Day getting outbid on Duke and waiting to find a more economical option in free agency. There is a ton of "name" receivers hitting the market and there's not enough money for them all to get huge contracts (Ellingson, Walker, Bailey, Lawler, Wieneke, Cunningham, Posey, Rogers, Collins) Not saying I like that but it’s a possibility.

Michah Johnson – Dude is still a beast in the middle of the DL and makes everyone around him better. Issue will be money. We didn’t want to pay him headed into 2020 so he signed with BC (remember that?). They mysteriously dumped him in favour of an all rookie D-line (how’d that work out?) and he came back here on a very reasonable contract for 2021. He likely deserves a bump in pay. Do we keep him? Or does BC try and swoop him again?

Other needs:

If I started with any other position other than OT you’d ridicule me right? Obvious to everyone that its our #1 need. Rykar Matthews tops the list of people we should be calling. Also in there would be Joel Figueroa and Justin Renfrow. Based on last season they could announce they are bringing Gene Makowsky out of retirement and I’d consider that an improvement.

Linebackers is another area of need. Other than Teitz we don’t have anything set. We need a middle linebacker where there are in house options like Larry Dean and Deon Lacey. Or free agent options like Darnell Sankey, Micah Awe, Justin Tuggle and Jovon Santo-Knox. Jameer Thurman would be a hell of an acquisition but I don’t see him leaving Calgary. We also need a cover LB and there are a number of good options there including our old friend Derrick Moncrief, Anthony Cioffi and Patrick Levels.

Should we not retain Micah, we will need help at DT. Some interesting options there are Sheldon Richardson (a very talented dude who gets overshadowed by Jefferson and Jeffcoat in Winnipeg), Dylan Wynn, David Menard and a more value option like Drake Nevis.

Not a pressing need but there will be some talented DBs hitting the market like DeShaun Amos, Jonathan Mincy, Jamar Wall, Frankie Williams and Winston Rose. Would not be opposed to adding one of them at the right price.

I also have a list of people I hope we don’t look at. It’s Andrew Harris and Brandon Banks. 

For Harris is goes far beyond the general Rider hatred of the guy. Look, we’ve managed to stomach the likes of Dwight Anderson and Diamon Ferri before, so I’m sure we’d survive after some initial griping if that was it. But Harris is on the downslope of a very impressive career. If he wasn’t, Winnipeg would have re-signed him by now. He’ll be 35 come the season and despite a full year off, only managed to be healthy enough to play in 7 games last season. If we really want an old RB we should just keep Powell. He's at least durable... and infinitely more likeable.

Banks is a similar story. He can still be an impact player in spurts but at 34 he’s clearly slowing down and his durability is in question. Not worth the money he’ll be looking for. Also, with Kyran Moore in tow, I don’t think another small quick receiver adds much to our offense. What we need is a possession receiver who can win the deep ball.

Monday, January 24, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Re-signings

Like many GMs, Jeremy O’Day has been slowly chipping away at his list of pending free agents. Today we’ll take a look at what he’s done so far as well as look at other Rider news including NFL tryouts. 

NFL Watch

We know that Brayden Lenius signed with the Falcons. Happy to see him get an opportunity. He put in a lot of work to improve for 2021 and it paid off in his performance. The odds are always staked against a receiver making the NFL (not due to talent but since they don’t play special teams they need to outright win a roster spot) so we may see him again in the fall. Two other notable Rider notes in regards to the NFL. Both Jonathan Woodard and Anthony Lanier had a tryout with the NY Giants. Now one tryout likely means that odds are low they end up with a contract but certainly worth keeping an eye on. Our D-line recruiting class for 2021 was outstanding and keeping as may of those guys as possible is important. 

Re-signings So Far

AC Leonard – This was a big one. Leonard got paid with a contract reportedly in the $200k range but he deserves it. Since 2016 he has 36 sacks including 20 in the last 2 seasons. If you want some context on how good that is its more than Willie Jefferson (19), Ja’Gared Davis (19) and Jackson Jeffcoat (14). He has increased his sack total in each of his past 4 season. He’s an impact player. He’s also one of the few whacky Chris Jones experiments that panned out. Remember that Leonard was a TE until he showed up here in 2016. 

Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans – Everyone is eager to see Duke re-sign and I would certainly love that but let’s not underscore the importance of keeping these 2. Moore was leading the CFL in catches prior to his season ending injury. He was also among the leaders in missed tackles. I’m a big Kyran Moore fan and think he can be a key part of the offense. The big question with Shaq is do we get 2019 or 2021 Shaq? No guarantees but I’m willing to bet 2021 Shaq was more hampered by injury than anyone ever let on. I think he rushed back and it affected him. The thing about both these guys is that Fajardo trusts them. Keeping continuity with offensive guys who have a connection is important. 

Terran Vaughn – He was projected to start at offensive tackle but a shoulder injury ended his year in training camp. That hugely impacted our offense in 2021. A healthy Vaughn is definitely a boost to our biggest area of weakness.

Mike Edem – Edem is a reliable Canadian playmaker but I don’t think we realized his true impact until he missed the last half of the season with a wrist injury. Defense still did good and Purifoy can certainly play any position in the secondary but it just seemed to be more solid with Edem in there. Nice to have him back.

Charbel Dabire – I may be one of his biggest boosters. Have liked him since his rookie season. He’s a solid Canadian DT

Jamal Morrow – I hope with the benefit of hindsight, our coaching staff realize how wrong it was that Morrow sat on the practice roster for the first 3 games and then was inexplicably benched for 3 more games mid-season. He was far an away our best returner and made plays when given the chance. He will have a legit chance to compete for starting RB in 2022 and I’m all for it. 

Justin McInnis – Mentioned in a previous post that while Schaefer-Baker is our best Cdn WR we need depth behind him. The departure of Lenius only reinforces that need. We still have yet to see the talent that made McInnis a first round pick in 2019. Injuries were a factor in 2021. Be nice to see him do like Lenius and take a big step forward.

Jake Harty – This is the one I’m most meh on. Harty is a valued contributor on special teams and technically helps with Cdn depth at receiver but when you consider that pretty much every Cdn receiver on our roster got reps ahead of him and when he did get reps he had some notable drops I think we are at a point where his special teams play is the only reason he is here, not his offensive play. Always good to retain those “grit” Canadians that contribute on special teams but I’m neither excited nor mad about this one… as I said, just meh.

We also added a couple CFL veteran free agents in OL Na’ty Rogers and FB James Tuck. Rogers has CFL experience playing tackle so I’m very happy we are bringing players to have an actual competition there. But I’m tempering my expectations. Rogers comes from Ottawa… remember that the RedBlacks OL was one of the few that made ours look good by comparison. Willing to give him a chance but let’s not assume we’ve solved the OT issue yet.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Catching Up

With the new year upon us, GMs are hard at work trying to whittle down their list of pending free agents, which is most team’s cases represent like 90% of their team. Most of the top end talent (or those with a competent agent) will wait until free agency to see their true value. But O’Day has managed to re-sign a few. So today we will take a look at the re-signings so far as well as what’s remaining on the potential free agent list.

Most of the re-signings so far have lacked the wow factor but quietly O’Day has been working to keep our Canadian depth in place. Most people probably couldn’t name our longsnapper but that’s because he does his job so well we take Jorgen Hus for granted. Kienan LaFrance is also not a top end guy but fills an important role on teams with the ability to step in a contribute on offense when needed. I was among our O-line’s biggest critics but I think maintaining some continuity there is important. Logan Ferland had a pretty solid year for someone who had never started a game outside of junior. I see him as someone with a very high ceiling as he gets more pro experience. Evan Johnson was somewhat of a disappointment in 2021… not bad, just average. But at just 27 its reasonable to expect him bounce back. Him and Ferland help keep the core of our OL young.

Had you told me a year ago that in a press release featuring the re-signing of Marshall and Teitz that Teitz would be one I was excited for I would have laughed at you. Keeping Teitz was important as he became a strong Canadian starter. You know my thoughts on Marshall, so I have very mixed feelings on that re-signing. I would have been fine letting him walk. But then you look at how he played in the playoffs and see a guy who still has the top end talent… even if we are starting to see it way less consistently. I hope we bring in some CBs to push him because if he’s starting in 2022 I want it to be because he earned the spot again, not just because of his past reputation. I’m genuinely puzzled why either us or Paul McRoberts would be interested in an extension. His role on our team has pretty much been absolute last resort but only if the only remaining option is fielding a scarecrow at WR. I like the guy and want to see him succeed but each season seems to be like Ground Hog's day for him.

So what’s left…

Obviously the big names we need back include: AC, Micah, Duke, Lauther, Purfoy and one of Dean or Lacey at MLB. There are also a few less heralded names on my list:

Charbel Dabire – You all know I’m a big fan of his and keeping a young Canadian DT certainly helps us.

Mike Edem – We definitely missed him at safety after he broke his wrist. I know he’s starting to get up there in age but he’s a versatile guy and as much as Purfioy can play anywhere, our secondary plays best with Edem at safety and Purifoy at HB.

Elie Bouka – Durability is his main issue. But when healthy he can play multiple spots in the secondary as a Canadian and make plays like he did in the playoffs.

Shaq Evans/Kyran Moore – Obviously a down year for Shaq but I really think the injury played a bigger role than he let on. A fully healthy Shaq is still a force to be reckoned with. As for Moore he quietly led the CFL in receptions prior to his injury. I know stupid swing passes inflated those numbers a bit but I don’t think he gets the respect he deserves for how good he is yet. If we want to rediscover our offense we need to keep our offensive playmakers, particularly the ones the QB actually trusts.

Justin McInnis/Mitch Picton – Lenius is off to the NFL and while Schaefer-Baker is obviously the future, we are going to need depth. Picton is a reliable token Canadian receiver you can line up on the wide-side. McInnis I think has a higher ceiling but hasn’t stayed on the field long enough to show it.

A dark horse name is Takoby Cofield. He opted to sit out 2021. If I am O’Day I would literally be begging him on my hands and knees to return.

Here’s a few names I would be perfectly ok with letting walk:

Brett Boyko – Other than his passport is there anything of value with him? The only scenario I want him on our team is as the 6th OL. He’s a serviceable injury replacement but the only people who want him starting again are opposing D-lineman.

William Powell – This is not a knock at Powell. Great guy. Has been a solid runner for us (those rare times we actually committed to the run). He will be 34 come next season. At some point we need to go younger there. You’ve seen that Morrow can be a playmaker. And if you can’t recruit an RB in the CFL, you don’t deserve to be a GM.

Isaac Harker – Another player I like as a person but he’s simply not progressing as a QB after 2 full years in the league. Might as well given some other QB prospects the chance as they at least may have a higher ceiling. I think we’ve seen Harker’s ceiling and only Weston Dressler would we able to stand under it.

Ed Gainey – A bit torn on this one. He exceeded my expectations in 2021 and played really good. But you always want to be 1 year too early in letting a guy go than 1 year too late. We would be solid with Purifoy and Webb and HB. So unless he’s coming dirt cheap, I sadly don’t see Gainey as a priority. If this is indeed the end of his Rider career, mad respect for all he accomplished here.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Surprises

Welcome to the new year. Normally I would express a hope that 2022 be a great year for all, but given how the last 2 years have went I think we would all just settle for 2022 being not a craptastic.

Before I turn my attention to the 2022 CFL season (free agency, drafting, etc...) I want to take on more look back at 2021. I want to take a look at players that surprised me by their performance in 2021, both good and bad. This is by no means an exhaustive list but a few notable ones that I thought worthy of mention.

Also note that this is a list of surprises. So a guy like Brett Boyko does not make the unpleasant surprise list because while it was certainly unpleasant, it was not a surprise, everyone but the Riders seemed to see it coming.

Pleasant Surprises

Micah Johnson – This may have been O’Day best move of the offseason and no one is talking about it or giving Micah near the hype he deserves. We got Micah cheap, mainly because most teams assumed his best days were behind him. Turns out, he’s still Micah. He was an absolute force along the D-line and I don’t think any other player on that line puts up near the stats they did without him there. I was not in the “Micah is done” camp but his performance certainly exceeded my expectations and let everyone know he’s still one of the best D-tackles in this league. And for all the talk of his durability, he only missed one game due to injury this season. I just hope the pay increase he deserves doesn’t put him out of our price range.

Ed Gainey – I was vocal about my belief that Gainey was done after 2019. I did not expect him back in 2021 and was pretty ok with that. So when he eventually re-signed I was very “meh” on it. But he ended up being a very reliable player in 2021. He’s certainly no longer peak Gainey from say 2018 but he once again proved he can still be a reliable cover guy playing one of the most difficult spots in the secondary.

AC Leonard – What people will remember about 2021 Leonard was his 3 game suspension. What people don’t seem to notice is that he put up 11 sacks. That’s impressive in a normal season. Leonard did it in 11 games! I long wondered whether he was good or just the product of playing alongside elite pass rushers like Jefferson and Hughes… turns out he’s legit good despite not being considered among the best pass rushers in the league for some reason.

Deon Lacey – I won’t lie, I was incredibly scared for our linebackers. It would have bad enough going from the trio of Judge/Elimimian/Moncrief to Larry Dean and 2 people with no starting experience. But then Dean was lost for the season due to an achilles injury. Without much fanfare, Lacey stepped in and was a major stabilizing force. The Riders were #2 against the run and Lacey just made plays.

Micah Teitz – Teitz was one of those 2 people with no starting experience I mentioned in the last paragraph. He had one career start coming into 2021 and through the first few games he looked like a guy with one previous start. But he just steadily kept improving over the year and became a key Canadian starter. Never expected him to be more than a career special teamer when we drafted him in 2018. And if that’s how he can play in his first year as a starter, I fully expect his ceiling is higher than we have seen yet.

Unpleasant Surprises

Cody Fajardo – I don’t want to dwell on this one but do feel I need to address it. Based on 2019, I think we all expected more out of Cody this season. Here’s the thing though, he had a good OL in 2019 and in 2021 had 5 guys who could only have been less effective if they had physically carried opposing pass rushers and deposited them on Fajardo. Give him a good line again and you’d be amazed how quickly he “improves”. I’ve heard others say this and I agree… I don’t think Fajardo is as good as we saw in 2019, or as bad as we saw in 2021. He’s somewhere in the middle and that still makes him a bona fide starting QB that I have faith in.

Evan Johnson – He wasn’t bad, just ok. But we fully expected a top tier lineman when we signed so “ok” was a disappointment. Obviously playing alongside a mildly competent tackle would help his performance, but his individual play was underwhelming. I’m fine with bringing him back, he is only 27 after all, but he needs to show more than he did in 2021.

Gary Johnson – This has nothing to do with talent or on field play. I was a big hyper of Johnson coming into the season. I thought he had a legit chance to start. And when he was on the field, he looked damn good. He led the team with 10 special teams tackles and looked good when he got reps on defense. Problem was he could not stay on the field. Here’s how his season went: played 2 games, missed 1, played 1, missed 6, played 2, missed 1, played 1, missed 2. Getting 10 special teams tackles in just 6 games certainly catches my eye but never being able to play in more than 2 consecutive games is an issue.