When it comes to free agency there is only one of 2 reactions that ever occur in Riderville. Either we start planning the parade route based on how many great signings we have made or we question the competency of the GM for not doing anything and assume the sky is falling. That’s it. There is no in between. This year we are leaning to the latter.
Before I get into my thoughts on how the Riders have fared so far in free agency let me just point out that if your team is super active in free agency it probably means you were terrible last year (i.e. Ottawa and BC). Good teams, by their nature have less holes to fill and need to be less active. So if you are measuring success by the number of signings, you are in for a disappointment down the road. Many years the Bombers “won” free agency only for their season to end in disappointment. More recently they have opted for stability, similar to Hufnagel’s approach in Calgary and they are winning. (Side note it seems that Toronto likes Hufnagel’s approach so much that they also have adopted a policy of signing only Stampeder players).
Those expecting big Rider news this week have clearly been underwhelmed. O’Day opened with 2 massive signings Tuesday. Signed a receiver we are likely to cut in camp on Wednesday and actually cut a player Thursday. But you have to look at the whole of O’Day’s work, not just what he did this week.
Wisely deciding that continuity was important for a team that as been to back to back West Finals, O’Day did the bulk of his work in December. He locked up Ferland and the white Johnson (a young interior that should continue to improve). He kept Terran Vaughn, who when healthy is a legit starting tackle. He kept Shaq, Moore and Duke, along with McInnis and Picton. He made sure that AC Leonard stayed in the fold coming off his best season ever. He kept key Canadians in Teitz, Edem and Oneyka. He brought back Dean and Marshall. He made sure everyone’s favourite kicker stayed in Green and White. He kept a strong core in tact and as a result didn’t have to be super busy come free agency.
Bringing back Derrick Moncrief is massive. He’s one of my favourite players in recent years. He locks down one of the toughest positions on defense. As a reminder, last year that spot was an ever changing roulette wheel that included Hendy, Oneyka, Dearborn and Bouka. The stability and excellence that Moncrief brings will be a huge plus. Given that we re-signed Dean I was surprised to see us target Darnell Sankey. Makes me think that a) Dean came relatively cheap and b) he may not be ready for week 1. Never a bad thing to add the league leader in tackles to secure the middle. Sankey is a playmaker. Think back to last year when we were looking to replace Judge/Elimimian/Moncrief and the only experience LB we had (Dean) blew his achilles. We are miles ahead of that and LBs will be a strength for us this season.
But I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass (odd expression by the way) and say that the Riders have improved as a team. I would say, at best we have maintained.
Offensively, a full season a Duke is certainly a plus. I have zero concerns with Morrow if he’s our starting RB. Vaughn helps the OL but there are still concerns there. Yes we added Na’ty Rodgers but he comes from Ottawa… the only team to allow more sacks than the Riders last season. So our O-line is still the big question mark. We also have no proven depth at QB… though honestly its not like Mason Fine is much of a difference from entering 2021 with Harker. So based solely on Duke, I’ll say the offense is slightly improved from 2021.
Defensively though it’s a different story. As mentioned our LBs are stacked and will be solid. But we lost a ton in the other positions and didn’t add any replacements. Along the line we lost Micah, Henry and Woodard and have signed zero replacements. AC is a stud and I like the potential of Marino, Robertson and Lanier in year 2 but at this point I would have to say our line is a downgrade from last season. Not doom and gloom, but a downgrade. Overall the secondary is solid with Edem, Webb, Clark and (sigh) Marshall. But we lost both Gainey and Purifoy. That’s 2 starting HBs. Webb takes the place of one of them no problem but the other? We currently have nobody else who has played HB on the roster (except Marshall but he is a trainwreck at HB). So again 4 out of 5 is pretty solid but our secondary at this point is not as good as last year. Jason Shivers showed last year that he can cobble together a solid D with whatever rag tag roster you give him so we are in good hands despite the uncertainty.
There are still some names out there in free agency that could help us. Also don’t forget that the season doesn’t start next week and we still have new recruits and the CFL draft to fill out the roster. He’s a few areas I would like to see us address.
O-line – As mentioned, tackle is still a concern. That might have to be addressed through recruiting (we did so well at that last year) as the only vet left out there is Justin Renfrow. We have also been linked to negotiations with Nolan MacMillan. I see him as a better Boyko. Primarily a guard but can play tackle in an emergency. Would be a nice depth add ideally as a back-up.
Receiver – I’m pumped about our top 4. Duke, Shaq, Moore and Schaefer-Baker. Man if Cody has any protection at all that’s a dangerous combo. But I also remember that last year I was pumped about Shaq, Moore and Williams-Lambert and 2 ended up not finishing the season and one missed significant time. My point is, depth is going to be needed. There are some intriguing names still out there that would bring great depth probably at a reasonable price. A few former Riders are out there. Ricky Collins just keeps producing everywhere he goes. Armanti Edwards and Kenny Stafford are also vet options. Possibly also DeVier Posey.
D-line – Nevis Drake is still sitting out there. Man do I want him. Some other options along the edge like Thiadric Hansen, Cordarrow Law and Chris Casher to help with the loss of Woodard. We will need to look to the draft to add some Canadian depth here.
Secondary – Most HBs have been snapped up. Jamar Wall is an intriguing name. At 34, I’m not sure if he intends to keep playing. But he is a guy who can play safety, HB and cover LB. Jeff Richards is really the only other true HB on the market. There are also a number of cornerbacks out there and for the right price they could provide great competition in camp. Guys like: Frankie Williams, Jonathan Mincy, Jonathan Rose, in that order of preference.
Defensive Canadian Depth – With 3 defensive starters last seasons, we routinely rostered 7 Canadian defenders. We currently have 11 total on the roster and that includes 5 draft picks/new recruits who have never taken a snap. Getting Lokombo on the field is a big plus and I’m a believer in Cimankinda but it would be nice to have an actual competition in camp and some depth there. Draft will be the primary way we address this but a couple vet Canadians from free agency would be nice as well.