Monday, March 27, 2023

Monday Morning Senitmonies: Kian Schaefer-Baker and the Rider Receivers

Big news this past week in Riderville was that Schaefer-Baker had undergone hip surgery and would miss “at least the first part of the season”. This is a rumour that had been floating out there for a while but you need to be pretty careful in terms of what Rider rumours you put any stock in otherwise you might still be wondering what Bo Levi Mitchell did with that house he bought in Regina.

Obviously this hurts the Riders in the short-term. Not only is Baker a stud receiver, we are currently a team without a bona fide #1 receiver and he had the best odds of being that guy. Apparently this is something that had been nagging him for a while. So for me the silver lining is that there is a possibility that when he does come back, he will somehow be better than what we have seen so far. A Baker at 100% down the back half of the season and into playoffs (if we happen to be so lucky as to be in contention for that) would be outstanding.

My concern though is the wording they are using. They aren’t really giving a time estimate (though the first third of the season has been mentioned i.e. 6 games). Also, they are using terms like “at least” and vague statements like “the first part of the season”. Reading between the lines I don’t think this is something we should expect an early return from. I’m also a bit worried given our recent history. Just last year Micah Teitz had a hip issue heading into the season that not a lot of details were given on. As the season wore on, the only thing scarcer than offensive TDs was Teitz. He did not play one snap. Now Teitz apparently got injured in May and had a groin issue to go along with it so Baker is certainly further ahead. But the point is that hip issues can drag on. Let’s all keep positive thoughts that it will be sooner rather than later that we see Baker doing his thing on the field again. My early wild ass guess is he makes his triumphant return on Labour Day.

This injury may explain how the NFL seemed to inexplicably pass on him after he tried out for a third of the league.

The short term impacts of Baker’s absence will be double. First and foremost he is our best receiver. Some of you will disagree and point to Walker or Wieneke. I have said this before and will reiterate that I believe both have potential but Walker hasn’t been a number one guy in 4 years and Wieneke has always played beside Geno Lewis and we don’t have a Geno on this roster. Both could be great but are far from a sure thing at this point. The other impact is that Baker is a Canadian. In theory, Lenius, Picton, Brescacin and Emilus should be able to step in. But even communism works “in theory”. I honestly worry that this will make O’Day think he needs to draft another Canadian receiver in the first or second round, ignoring far greater needs elsewhere.

For now we wish Baker a speedy recovery… and eagerly await the chance to talk about positive Rider news… at some point… right?

Monday, March 20, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Random Quasi-Coherent Thoughts


-        Like most of the world I am furious that my absolute zero knowledge of NCAA did not translate into winning my March Madness pool.  I am outraged that teams I put zero effort in to researching failed to make it out of the first and/or second round rather than making the Final Four as I expected.

-        Lots of CFL talk about expansion this week. A tenth team would be great and should be a goal. Not only for the good news story it would be but also from a balanced schedule and increase in TV product.

-        That said, asking someone to own a CFL team at this point is the equivalent of that time Bart Simpson asked to be Mr. Burns’ heir. You are asking people to take on a liability that will at best break even most years. I think the CFL needs to first focus on improving the financial sustainability of their operations through things like expanded US TV deals, streaming deals and more year-round money making events (like CFL week). If people see a reasonable  chance to actually make money they may be more likely to invest.

-        The Riders seem long overdue to release a new overt money grab… err I mean jersey. Even if the jersey is terrible, it’s a guaranteed cash injection in Sask. They could even up the ante and give people what they want… Black Jerseys. Some people love, em some people hate em but they will sell like crazy.

-        St Patrick’s day got me thinking about how its kinda surprising the Riders don’t sell green beer on game day. They could charge $0.50 extra for “Rider Pride” beer (aka low-grade Pilsner and food dye) and people would be all over it.

-        While we are talking easy money makers the Riders are missing out on… Bobby Jurasin bandanas.

-        All I ask is a small commission in return as my consultant fee.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Canadian Receivers

I’ll warn you in advance that today we are going down a rabbit hole. I stumbled down this rabbit hole while researching last week’s post on O’Day’s drafting. While I’m sure this information is relatively useless in the grand scheme of things, I’m sharing it anyway because maybe one of my half dozens of readers will find this as interesting as me (aka I'll feel reassured if someone is as boring and lame as me).

So we know from last week that O’Day likes to draft receivers early. So that led me to a very simple question of “How successful are Canadian receivers drafted in the first round?”. Basically, what is your likely return on investment for a first round WR.

The results are pretty awful. Now I’ll will preface this by saying that receivers are not always unique in this. The number of 1st round CFL picks that pan out is not huge. But receivers appear to be even riskier than the norm. I’m sure teams are worried about passing on the next Clermont or Fantuz but the reality is that is a pretty small risk. 

Here is a list of every receiver drafted in the first round since 2011:

·        Anothony Parker

·        Jade Etienne

·        Marco Iannuzzi

·        Nate Coehoorn

·        Shamawd Chambers

·        Devon Bailey

·        Nic Demski

·        Brian Jones

·        Tevaughn Smith

·        Danny Vandervoot

·        Nate Behar

·        Mark Chapman

·        Justin McInnis

·        Hergy Mayala

·        Dejon Brissett

·        Jalen Philpot

·        Sam Emilus

·        Tyson Philpot

What jumps out about that list? … It contains very few studs and very many duds. I’ll reserve judgment for on the Philpott’s for now as they look to have high ceilings. But so far there is only one guy on that list that is a stud. That being Demski. He is literally a once in a decade talent. Other than Demski only two other people on that list has got over 650 yards in a season and only three others have put up 5 or more TDs in a season. That means you have less than a 50% chance of getting even a moderately impactful player and more than a 50%  chance someone who will never top 350 yards. Also worth noting that over the past 10 years, only twice has a receiver drafted in the first round led the league in receiving yards by a Canadian (Fantuz 2016 and Demski 2021).

So based on how many 1st round WR end up being mediocre or worse, it got me wondering how a GM would fare if they adopted a policy of never drafting a receiver in the first round. Not saying someone would or should do it, just curious how it would pan out in theory.

Since 2011, there were 4 years that you would have had to use a 1st round pick to get the best receiver. But the other 7 years, if you have avoided the first round, you still could have gotten the best receiver in the draft (in my opinion). That includes 2011 when a record 4 receivers went in the first round but the best receiver ended up being a 4th round QB (Sinopoli). It also included 2019 when 4 receivers went in the first 2 rounds and the Argos patiently waited and got Kurleigh Gittens in the 3rd. And 2020 when the Argos were at the other end of the spectrum, using the 2nd overall pick on Dejon Brisset when the best receiver was still available 28 picks later in the 4th round when the Riders took Schaefer-Baker.

Not only are your odds better of finding the best receiver in the draft outside of the first round, if we go back to the stat that over the past 10 years, only twice has a receiver drafted in the first round led the league in receiving yards by a Canadian, in the remaining 7 seasons the top receiver was a second rounder 1 time (Durant), third rounder 1 time (Gittens), a fourth rounder 3 times (Sinopoli x 3), fifth rounder once (Getzlaf) and undrafted once (Bagg).

All this to say that while some 1st round WRs do end up being worth it, overall prioritizing drafting Canadian receivers may not be the most effective strategy.

This concludes this week's installment of insight and analysis that is most likely useless.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: O’Day Don’t Draft OL

We are heading into our third year where the primary topic of discussion when it comes to the Riders is the O-line… or lack thereof. A consistent question I have kept hearing over the years is “why does O’Day (an all-star lineman in his day) seem to struggle with that position above all else?” I will add a further element to the question… How does a former all-star o-lineman inherit one of the best OL in the CFL coming out of the 2018 season and turn it into a laughing stock in under 3 years? 

Obviously a lot goes into how well an O-line plays: coaching, health, play calling, whether your QB pre-turtles or spins left right into the pass rush repeatedly. Also some things happen outside of the GM’s control. Shepley going to the NFL and Cofield opting out after Covid set us back a lot and were not O’Day’s fault.

That said, the hypothesis I aim to prove this morning, is that O’Day's approach to drafting is a significant factor in how we got to where we are. As the title of this post implies, that hypothesis is that Jeremy O’Day Don’t Draft O-lineman… or at least, he does not believe that it is a priority. 

Here’s some stats to back my claim:

-        In 4 years as GM, he has drafted a total of 6 O-lineman. Of those, only 2 were drafted in the 1st or 2nd round (and thus far have combined for 0 starts and 1 game played)

-        In those same 4 years he has drafted 6 receivers. Of those, 4 were drafted in the 1st or 2nd round.

-        He has used exactly 1 of his 4 first round picks on an OL.

-        In half of his drafts he has not drafted an OL until the 5th round.

Do these look like the actions of a GM who believes in making Canadian OL a priority? Or someone who thinks the secret to winning a Grey Cup is Canadian receievers? 

If you want a comparison point, over 3 drafts Chris Jones drafted 8 OL and used a 1st or 2nd round pick on an OL every year he was here. People will point to St John but he also brought in Bladek and Shepley (and hell, at least St John at least played football for us). 

Now, I could look individually at each draft and maybe rationalize each decision in isolation. In 2019 we had a stacked OL and a need at WR. In 2020 was a pretty thin OL class and we tried. 2021, Lokombo fit a need in terms of Canadian depth on defense. 2022 the best OL were gone by our 1st round pick and we got a good one in round 2 (supposedly). But the issue is the sum of all these individual decisions. Over a 4 year period, O’Day has not made drafting OL a priority and it caught up with him in a big way.

If we look at the measuring bars of success Winnipeg (the best team in the West 3 years running) has used a 1st round pick on OL twice as much as O’Day. Toronto (reigning champs) have done it 4 times as often. Yes that is not the sole determinant of a championship team but it certainly helps. Also, there are only 2 teams with less 1st round OL picks than O’Day: BC and Montreal. Again OL is not the sole determinant but coincidentally those 2 teams have the longest Grey Cup appearance drought spanning more than a decade each.

 So if O’Day is serious about building a sustainably successful OL, then he needs to alter his approach to drafting and actually make it a priority. O’Day seems to be way more effective at drafting in the later rounds than the early round. His picks in the 4th round or later have netted us Schaefer-Baker, Dabire and Dalke. Outside of Lenius his early round picks have thus far failed to make a noticeable impact. 

Will O’Day learn his lesson? We will see come the 2023 draft in May. Though based on his drafting history it would be a way safer bet to put money on another early round WR being drafted than an OL that will do anything for this franchise.

Monday, February 27, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Take A Look Around

The dust has pretty much settled on free agency. So this morning I thought I would take a look at how each team stacks up on paper at this point in the offseason. We will look at a strength and potential weakness heading into the season.


Strength – BC was 3rd in sacks. They didn’t really lose anyone from that D-line and could potentially add Steven Richardson to the mix, who missed all of last year due to injury.

Weakness – Pass protection stands out for me. BC allowed the 5th least sacks but that stat is very skewed by who the starting QB was. They allowed 10 sacks in 10 Rourke games but 29 in 8 Adams games. At that pace had Adams played the full year they would have been 2nd only to the Riders in sacks allowed. While they upgraded at centre with Couture they lost Joel Figueroa at tackle in the offseason.


Strength – Chris Jones year 2 is generally a good enough reason for me but while its just generally assumed the D will continue to improve, the Elks caught everyone’s attention with what they did on offense. Despite having stud rookies in RB Kevin Brown and WR Dilon Mitchell, they didn’t stand pat. They went out and got Geno Lewis, Steven Dunbar and Kyran Moore. That’s a lot of firepower if Cornelius can start playing with some consistency.

Weakness - Outside of the D-line (which is coming along nicely) I’m not convinced Jones has enough horses yet on D. They will certainly be better but the secondary really only has Purifoy and Grymes and the Linebackers aren’t super impressive. The D will certainly continue to improve under Jones but he may be one season away from the dominant D we typically associate with him.


Strength – That is a damn good defense and I see no reason that won’t continue. You would think losing Ormiolade, Thurman and Banks would be an issue but they added Howsare, Vaughters and Awe to offset.

Weakness – I’m not sold on that passing attack. Their run game is scary but they were 7th last year in passing and did nothing to address that. In theory you should be good with Begelton, Henry and Philpot but it didn’t work great last year and they also lost one of their tackles in Julian Good-Jones. They also have no one to fall back on if Maier falters.


Strength – Depth is a concern but assuming the starters are healthy the defense is shaping up nicely. Micah, Lanier and Robertson up front. Teitz, Dean and Moncrief at LB. Secondary has Marshall, Milligan and Clark. Plus we will have a damn good D-Coordinator in Shivers.

Weakness – Going to reserve judgement on OL but obviously that remains a giant question mark but even if we get that back to mildly competent I don’t think we have a bonafide #1 receiver. Pretty much every other team does. I think we have a lot of solid #2’s like Lenius, Wieneke and Bane. Schaefer-Baker is the only guy with the potential to step up into that #1 spot. But at this point there is no one that defenses have to game plan for specifically.


Strength – Collaros + Lawler + Schoen + Bailey + Demski. Good luck defending that passing attack.

Weakness – Winnipeg is a team getting old quickly. Jefferson, Bighill, Jeffcoat, Bryant, Hardrick, Neufeld all are 32 or older. D-line was still good but amazingly second last in sacks and now they lost Casey Sayles who had 6 sacks last season. I still expect Winnipeg to be good but they are approaching the end of the window with this group. Just remains to be seen if they can squeeze one more year out.


Strength – Their D-line features Ja’Gared Davis, Casey Sayles, Dylan Wynn, Ted Laurent and Kwaku Boateng. Assuming Boateng is back to full health that’s an intimating front 4.

Weakness – I remain firm in my belief that Bo Levi Mitchell’s body can’t stand up to a full season. I expect him to look like a world beater for 4 games but then what? You are either rolling with a broken Mitchell or hoping Matt Schiltz can carry the load.


Strength – Toronto does not have an OL older than 29. That group includes proven players like Ciraco, Hunter, Bladek and Allen. They are in an enviable position with the youth and depth they have there.

Weakness – Going to ignore the obvious (the unknown at QB) and go with pass defense. In 2022, they were the 2nd worst against the pass. They lost their best DB in Jamal Peters to the NFL and didn’t add anything really. They have an impressive front 7 but that back end could continue to be an issue for them.


Strength – Jason Maas. Haha just kidding. But he does have a significantly better OL at his disposal. Guys like Lawrence, Lestage, Rice, Matte and Jameison. Lots of question marks in Montreal but OL is in a pretty good place.

Weakness – Even if Jason Maas manages to get his offensive groove back and even if Fajardo can regain his form, I’m not sure who they are throwing to. Their best receiver is a 34 year old Ellingson (who hasn’t played a full season in a while) and then ?? Reggie White maybe. Lot of question marks with that offense. Their best asset is the running back and Jason Maas has no use for that.


Strength – You have to go back to 2018 to find a time Ottawa did not have exclusive possession of last place in the East. Is there hope of a change in fortune on the horizon? I’m not so sure. I honestly struggled with this. I think Bob Dyce will bring some much needed stability to the coaching there. But the closest thing I could find to a strength was the D-line led by Mauldin and Laing.

Weakness – While I expect a healthy Masoli to boost the O, I don’t hold out as much hope for the D. They allowed the most yards and 2nd most points last season and I don’t see any offseason upgrades. I don’t see Santos-Knox and Brooks being the solution when their addition is offset by the loss of Pruneau and Williams.


Monday, February 20, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: How Did We Do?

We are now a week into free agency. The Riders were fairly active as expected. Now before we start the stupid annual tradition of crowning who won free agency let’s remember that the worst teams are the most active in free agency. The good teams don’t need to be active. I’m certainly not prepared to say the Riders are a good team yet. But considering that just a few weeks ago we were trending towards dumpster fire, we are certainly in a better spot than I expected us to be.

Here’s essential what happened in free agency. We traded:

Cody Fajardo for Trevor Harris

Dan Clark and Terran Vaughn for Peter Godber and Philip Blake

Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans and Duke Williams for Jake Wieneke and Shawn Bane

Justin McInnis for Juwan Bescacin

AC Leonard for Micah Johnson and Stefen Banks

Let’s take a more detailed look at who we signed.

Trevor Harris – Somehow a team in the most need of a QB had the best one on the free agent market fall into our lap. I don’t think Harris is the second coming of Doug Flutie but I do think he will bring some much needed stability to the QB position. He has a career TD/INT ratio of 154/71 and a completion percentage of 70%. Also, as much as I liked Cody I think Harris will bring some much needed veteran leadership to the offense. The theory is that he is a quick release QB and can help our OL. I only buy that to a certain degree. If a D knows all you can do is short passes your O won’t be effective for long. Harris will go as far as our OL and offensive scheme will let him. We should still be happy to have Harris.

Jake Wieneke – Its nice to get a WR that our new QB already has a ton of trust in. Also a bonus that he scored 18 TDs in 2019 and 2021 combined. For a team that just lost all its American receivers, he was needed add. Now here comes me being a negative Nancy. I don’t think he’s a #1 receiver. All his best years in Montreal he played alongside Geno Lewis. So he benefited greatly from the space he created. He’s like a more talented Getzlaf. Can find great success in the space created by others but can’t carry the load on his own. I don’t think we have bonafide #1 on the roster other than possibly Baker.

Shawn Bane – Fills the Kyran Moore role. Speedy receiver/returner. Will be a good add if we can find a way to utilize his speed in space.

Juwan Brescacin – This was the one signing I did not understand. Don’t get me wrong Brescacin is a good depth Canadian WR but that was one of the few positions we did not have a need at. With Baker, Lenius, Picton and Emilus already I’m juts not sure why he was needed. Canadian depth is never a bad thing just not really a priority need.

Peter Godber and Philip Blake – Rider Nation has been eagerly awaiting what we were going to do to fix our embarrassment of an OL so these signings were some welcome news. Again, negative Nancy here: given that we missed out on Figueroa, Desjarlais, Ciraco, Couture and Chung we at best got the 6th and 7th best options available. They are still an upgrade by our standards. Blake is a Canadian who can play every position on the OL. I know after years of being told Canadians like Boyko and Campbell can play tackle we are skeptical but old man Blake can legit hold his own there. Did it in the Grey Cup against Jefferson and Jeffcoat. Also, with Godber replacing Clark we will need Blake’s leadership.

Side note: I have been one of the harshest critics of Clark’s in the province. To the point where they threatened to revoke my Saskatchewan citizenship. But dammit if I don’t respect the heart and soul he poured in this team. His journey is a hell of a story if this ends up being it.

Micah Johnson – I was at least 50% joking when I said that Micah was due for his every other season stint in Saskatchewan. 2019, 2021 and now 2023. Might as well place your bets now for a 4th stint starting in 2025. At 34, Johnson is not the dominant force he once was. But he’s still pretty damn good. Pairing him with Lanier in the middle makes for a formidable force up the middle. Word is we got him for a steal of $118k. Similar to Blake, I think Johnson will bring some much needed leadership in the trenches. 

Stefen Banks – I think Banks has the highest ceiling of any of our signings. Back to back 4 sack seasons as a rotational player in Calgary. I think with full time reps (especially getting to play alongside Micah, Lanier and Robertson) he could be in for a breakout season. He’s only 25.

Quick hitters: Godfrey Oneyka is a needed depth signing on D as he can fill in on multiple spots. Herdman-Reed is a similar Canadian special team. Not a sexy signing but needed. We also signed global player Valentin Gnahoua… he likely has to make the club on special teams.

 Overall, as I said, we are a better team and trending in the right direction but we are still not ready to ascend to the upper edges of the West just yet. I say we still have needs at WR, depth at LB and DL and our OL is based on the theory that one of our signings can play tackle. 

Monday, February 13, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agent Frenzy 2023

Teams have been negotiating with pending free agents for a week now and while the rules say they can’t actually sign deals yet, many have been agreed to. Let’s take a look at what the Riders have done so far and what remains on the to do list.

Some of the best news came in regards to who were are keeping. The biggest (literally and figuratively) was Anthony Lanier. Top end D-tackles do not grow on trees. So yeah we had to pay him but he’s worth it. We needed a strong DT. Add in Robertson and Dean and our defense has a pretty solid foundation at this point. On offense we kept the very versatile and very underrated Mitch Picton (I am an unabashed Picton fan). The biggest news may be a certain other Canadian receiver who hasn’t signed elsewhere yet. I don’t want to jinx it by actually saying anything specifically but if said receiver does not sign a deal by tomorrow they would be coming back here. That would be massive.

I should also be upfront that I am not a CFL insider. Like the rest of you I get my news from the actual reporters. Right now Justin Dunk and Farhan Lalji are the go to sources for knowledge. So I have no special insight into who may or may not be coming/leaving here. I just make educated guesses based on available information.

Change is coming (and we knew that). Looks like gone are Fajardo (Mtl), Evans (Ott), Moore (Edm) and Duke (Ham). So it will be a new look offense. Odds seem next to nil that Sankey will be back (my gut says he lands in BC).

We do appear to have found a QB. Montreal’s gross incompetence has someone led to us getting Trevor Harris. O'Day has pulled a Homer (if you are not a Simpsons fan like me just Google it). Look Harris is no miracle worker or Flutie. But he is a reliable seasoned vet and for a team that entered the offseason as close to a dumpster fire as you can get without lighting a match, we are fortunate to get him. I think he will bring much needed stability to the offense… until he gets killed behind our line. He’s also bringing Jake Weineke with him. Last year was a down year for him but with 19 TDs in the 2 seasons before that Weineke will be a good add. Word is we will also likely land OL Darius Ciraco (finally a much needed boost to our OL) and Stefen Banks (who I see as an up and coming pass rusher). 

So what’s left? Well we still need Offensive Tackles but with Figueroa (the only real tackle on the market) rumored to be heading to Hamilton the answer to that position is not available in free agency. Good thing O’Day has such a great record when it comes to recruiting OL (almost typed that with a straight face). Other needs are more OL help, an American WR, depth a Canadian LB/safety. We have Tietz, Lokombo and Dalke. 2 of them will be starting so depth behind them is a concern. LB depth would also be nice.

When looking at guys that haven’t yet reportedly agreed to sign elsewhere, here are some names that I’d have interest in if I were GM.

WR Kamar Jorden – I keep saying that his value will never be lower coming off his worst season as a pro. I think he is primed for a bounce back and I’d love that to be with us.

WR Markeith Ambles – Another guy I think comes cheaper than the top end guys going for 200-300K but would still be a valuable weapon.

OL Justin Lawrence – He plays centre like Ciraco but one could easily move to guard. I somehow doubt this happens as I think O’day still sees Ferland and Johnson as starters and Lawrence ain’t coming for back-up money. But a man can dream.

DB Elie Boula – Not a top end or sexy name but he’s a versatile Canadian defender that would add great depth if we brought him back

DL Micah Johnson – For the right price I still think he can be part of a solid DL rotation.

LB Micah Awe – Hard hitting LB.

OL Ucambre Williams – Not a top end tackle but certainly better than anything we have.

WR Brandon Banks – Just kidding, mostly just testing to see if you are still paying attention.

Certainly interested to see what tomorrow has in store.


Monday, February 6, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Free Agent Shopping

As of right now, CFL teams can “legally tamper” with pending free agents. They can talk but not actually sign deals until Feb 14. Some players may find out that the free agent market isn’t that different than what their team was offering and end up re-signing prior to Feb 14 (we are still clinging to the vain hope that Lanier falls into that category). Others may find out that the grass is indeed greener on the other side and be gone.

O’day has placed himself in a situation with money to burn. There is virtually no one currently on the roster that we are paying. No QB, no WR, no one on defense other than Moncrief and now Robertson. O’Day is walking into the strip club of free agency with many stacks, ready to make it rain (where else can you find top notch football analysis like this?).

Now of course the reason that we have all those stacks is because we basically need everything. We have great RBs and are pretty good at DB. Outside of that we have glaring needs everywhere. O’Day seems primed to swing for the fences. He might connect and come away a winner… odds are probably better that he whiffs and whiffs hard though. We shall see shortly.

Yet again the Riders did not formally ask for my advice but he’s how I would assess our options heading into free agency.

Priority 1 – O-line

I know we don’t have a QB, but if we don’t fix our O-line then it won’t matter who our QB is, they will spend more time on their back then the redzone. There are 6 guys that I think are worthy of targeting. The options at tackle are pretty much non-existent. Its Joel Figueroa or nothing and given that he’s the only top tackle hitting free agency there will be a bidding war. A discount option could be Ucambre Williams who can play multiple spots including tackle. Other top names include Michael Couture (an all-star centre), Sukh Chung (he’s not the most technically refined blocker but might bring some much needed physicality to the line), Justin Lawrence (anchored the Grey Cup winning line) and Darius Ciraco (solid lineman at just 26 years old). At a minimum we need to land one of these. I think ideally you manage to get 2. Given that Dan Clark remains unsigned and 2 young centres (Couture and Lawrence) will be hitting the market, it makes you wonder. 

Priority 2 – D-Tackle

Go back and look at how useless our D was when both Marino and Lanier were out. Without at least one quality tackle we get not pressure, can’t stop the run, and might as well not pay good DEs because they will just spend their time being eaten up by blocks. The best option remains Anthony Lanier and I can’t understand how this isn’t a priority. If not him then maybe you go after Casey Sayles from Winnipeg. Otherwise you are looking at some grizzled vets like Micah Johnson or Ted Laurent.

Priority 3 – QB

May seem counterintuitive to have QB so low on the priority list but good teams win the in the trenches and if we don’t address our trenches then it really won’t matter who our QB is. The growing dysfunction in Montreal will inexplicably see Trevor Harris hit free agency. I say inexplicably because Maas and Harris are like a predestined match. I don’t like that Harris is 37 but if we have a chance to get him we need to try. My concern here is that he probably wants a Bo-type deal (i.e. $450K for 3 yrs). Harris ain’t playing here for 3 years. So as much as Harris is the better QB (and thus the primary target), I think you can make a case for saving some money and going with a younger/cheaper Dane Evans and investing in a better supporting cast. The awkward Cody reunion remains the other option but that would kinda be the fallback option if everything else failed… though the way things have gone that probably means we’ll need to consider it.

Priority 4 – WR

All the talk is of course about a potential Geno Lewis-Harris combo. This would be great but a) Lewis has been vocal about leaving Montreal due to front office disfunction and we aren’t exactly the stability he is looking for. b) it’ll probably take $250-300K to get him. For a team with needs across the board I think we need to spread the money around better. I would prefer to look at a guy like Kamar Jorden. Coming off the worst season of his career, his value has never been lower. But I still think he can be a bonafide #1. You could probably get him and a guy like Markeith Ambles for about the same cost as Geno and be a better rounded team. Other guys on my radar would be Jake Wieneke, Steven Dunbar, Tim White. Even would consider Duke if his price drops enough and you think you have a QB that can keep him in line. I just honestly worry that O'Day will blow all his cash on Harris and Lewis and have their talent wasted with a crappy supporting cast. 

Priority 5 – Linebacker

Assuming Micah Teitz is back we really only need a MLB but I would prefer some depth there as well. If we aren’t going with Dean or Sankey then you need to look at guys like Jameer Thurman, Avery Williams or Micah Awe.

My honest prediction is that we are very active and (as happens every year) people assume that “winning” free agency means we will be a good team… we need a good free agency or we are in big trouble but even with a good free agency we have a long way to go.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Defensive Free Agents

Last week we looked at our pending free agents on offense. This week we shift and look at the defensive free agents. Given that our defense actually occasionally did their job, there is a higher likelihood that we may want to retain these players… well at least that’s what I think. While lots remains to be seen, early indications are that O’Day may have a different perspective.

We have a bit more stability on defense heading into free agency. Jason Shivers is back so we have continuity in coaching (and a very good one at that). AC Leonard, Derrick Moncrief and most of the secondary (Marshall, Clark, Milligan, Henderson) will be back. We should add back Teitz and Lokomobo assuming they have recovered from the injuries that derailed their 2022 season. Teitz might actually be dead, we haven’t actually seen him since 2021. Still lots of holes to fill. 

DL Anthony Lanier – Last year the performance of our defense was directly related to how many stud DT’s we fielded. Early in the year we had both Lanier and Marino and looked downright destructive. When we only had 1 of the 2 we we’re still pretty good. When both were gone, things got ugly. Now Marino ain’t coming back. But Lanier remains a flat out stud. In 2022 he had 8 sacks in just 11 games. Only 5 players in the entire CFL had more sack over the entire season. He is a disruptive force. If anyone on our free agency list deserve a dump truck full of money to keep him, its Lanier. Problem is, O’Day may disagree. Now all we have to go on at this point is a cryptic tweet from Lanier saying “free agent” so hopefully we are reading too much into it. We don’t currently have a stud DT and unless we do, there is no point in playing big money to AC Leonard only to have O-lines erase him with a running attack or double team.

DL Pete Robertson – Robertson has 14 sacks in just 25 career games including 9 in 14 games in 2022. He led the league in sacks even weeks after a cheap shot landed him on IR. He should be another priority re-signing. We literally spent over a decade between John Chick and actually recruiting a star D-end vs. having to pay for one in free agency. Be nice to keep some continuity there.

DL Charleston Hughes – At 39 years of age, despite being the best pass rusher in the  recent history of the CFL, its clear Hughes cannot be an every down starter anymore. But I thought we used him perfectly last year. When he played he was a rotation guy and we didn’t play him every week. He’s the embodiment of the Toby Keith song “Ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.” I don’t consider him a priority re-sign but I think he’s a great to have as DE depth. He’s clearly a respected leader. I distinctly remember that the last pure moment of joy in an abysmal 2022 season was his TD against Toronto. The team, the fans, everyone was fired up. That TD being called back started a downward spiral.

LB Darnell Sankey – Another guy making concerning vague comments on social media. He was our prized free agent acquisition in 2022 and man did he deliver! Lead the league in tackles, helped anchor the middle of our D, nose for the ball, incredible contributions to the community. He was the total package. Now I worry that despite all that O’Day may lose him because he cheaps out. I understand that you can’t pay everyone but currently I’m not sure we are paying anyone of use and a stud MLB under the age of 30 is something worth investing in. Every good D has a rock solid MLB anchoring it. If not Sankey, then who?

LB Larry Dean – If the CFL had a comeback player of the year, it would be Dean. After losing a full year to a blown achilles and facing questions about his ability to comeback at his age, he went out and put up one of his best statistical seasons to date. I’d love to have him back but the unfortunate part of football is that you have to look at his age (he’ll be 35 in August) and question how much money you feel good investing in him. We can’t lose both Dean and Sankey and while Sankey is definitely the priority, Dean may be a more affordable fallback.

LB Gary Johnson (aka Gary Johson) – From a talent point of view, I seriously think Johnson has Defensive Player of the Year talent and have for a while now. Watch him play and I think you’ll agree, he’s special. The problem is that he has all the durability of those crappy paper straws you now get. He has been here 3 years and never managed to play more than 6 games and rarely even 2 in a row. He’s only 26 so I’d be inclined to give him one more shot but at some point maybe a guy you can count on to be a stud but only in every 3rd game is no longer worth it.

LB Nigel Harris – Another talented but oft injured LB. He’s less durable than Johson. And while he’s looked good on special teams, doesn’t jump off the page to me as a guy with fulltime starting potential.

LB Jordan/Justin Herdman-Reed – I know its disrespectful to lump them together but I honestly can’t tell these 2 apart and consider them both essentially the same. Depth Canadian special teamers who can start in an injury situation but you’d hope you had better options first. I cold see one (or both) being a late re-addition or mid-season add.

DB Blace Brown – He is a frustrating player that gives me some minor James Johnson vibes (hat tip if still get that reference). As a rookie I thought Brown had major potential. Then we let him start and he sucked. Just a major liability. So we moved on. Then injuries set in and we brought him back and dammit if he doesn’t play a couple half decent games (including a not completely awful Banjo Bowl where he had to be driven to the game by Craig Reynolds the morning of and warm up at the field minutes before kickoff). He remains wildly inconsistent and I could honestly go either way with whether we bring him back.

DB Mike Edem – Edem flew on to the scene as a rookie with Montreal then almost as quickly faded to the background. A couple disappointing season in Montreal, then Hamilton, then a so-so season in BC in 2016. So when Chris Jones brought him here in 2017, we weren’t sure what we were getting. We got a stud. Over 5 seasons in Green and White Edem as been an impact Canadian. He can play multiple positions and play them well. He’s exactly what you want to be anchoring your secondary. He sounds like he’ll be good to go after ending 2022 with a scary neck injury. But the Riders haven’t spoken with him yet so odds are he will be moving on. He’ll be 34 this season so these are sometimes the tough decisions you have to make. If this is it, I have nothing but respect for what Edem did as a Rider.

DB Godfrey Oneyka – Similar to the Herdmans, Oneyka is a solid special team Canadian who can in theory step in and start at multiple positions but you’d hope for better options. Over 2 seasons he has played just 11 games for the Riders including 2 last season. Maybe he’s been unlucky and regain the form that made him a starting CB in Edmonton but I have my doubts and think the Riders may agree.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Offensive Free Agents

Since the calendar rolled over, many CFL have started using their 2023 cap money to re-sign some of their free agents. The Riders are not included in that group. Now there could certainly be a lot of factors in that. Negotiations are fluid things, so conversations are likely happening and lots could happen before free agency opens in February. But the outside silence certainly doesn’t do much to build confidence at this point.

In fact the only free agency related things we’ve heard is cryptically negative social media posts from our top 2 pending free agents (Lanier, Sankey). As shocking as it may be, a couple words on social media may not tell the full (or even truthful) story. But remember that Willie Jefferson decided to take up permanent residence in Winnipeg rather than here, in large part due to the fact that our current GM didn’t feel he was a priority to re-sign. You know negotiation didn’t go well when someone willingly concludes moving to Winnipeg is the better option. Let’s just hope there is a larger plan here that O’Day is working on that will become clearer as things move along.

For now let’s take a look at our pending FA’s on offense. While Mr. O’Day doesn’t feel the need to consult me on these matters, I will offer my "expert" advice on what we should do with each. I only ask a nominal consulting fee. We spent last week talking QBs so I will leave that out of this discussion.

OL Dan Clark – My views on Dan Clark have been a rollercoaster ride over the years. When he was a TD catching rotational tight end, I liked him. Then we made him a starter and I spent many years hating him. He was a trainwreck at guard and a mediocre at best centre. Then he got in a car accident and suddenly had the best season of his career. Are their better centres out there? Yeah. But even I think we need Clark back. You need a leader if you want to rebuild this OL. For all his faults, Clark cares more than anyone on that field.

OL Terran Vaughn – Really torn here. Prior to the shoulder injury that wiped out his 2021 season he was an up and coming young stud tackle. In 2022, young was about the only remaining word that applied. I would still bring him in to compete for a tackle spot, mainly because I don’t think there is a saviour on the free agent market that is coming here.

OL Jamal Campbell – I, like many of you, was excited when we signed Campbell last season. A young Canadian with starting experience and the ability to play tackle. What a find! What we got was someone so terrible he couldn’t even crack the starting 5 of the worst OL in recent league history. That’s like the equivalent of being so bad at reading, even the library won’t let you come in. I have to think coaching played a role in this. Campbell is not an all-star but I also don’t believe he’s as bad as he looked here. Likely somewhere in between. He is exactly what you want in a 6th OL and I think that’s his ideal role. He will likely want more money than we are willing to pay for that role. So while I’d take him back, I don’t see it happening.

RB Shaq Cooper – He gone.

FB James Tuck – You need a guy like Tuck to do the dirty work blocking and on special teams. But Tuck will be 33 soon and we already have Awachie and LaBelle. Also, the triple I formation likely disappears with Maas’ departure so I pray we find a better way to construct our roster than having 3 fullbacks.

WR Kyran Moore – Timing was not on Moore’s side in 2022. He missed the start of the year recovering from a late season knee injury in 2021 and when he was finally healthy the team was well into a downward spiral. He’s only 26 and I have always been a huge fan of Moore’s. He’s the kind of weapon we need if we are going to get this offense back on track.

WR Shaq Evans – Another guy timing has not been kind to. Finally healthy after battling through injury in 2021, he promptly got hurt again. And given that he makes his best plays downfield, playing in a offense that believes only in backwards passes and that can’t block long enough for a downfield pass, when he was on the field he was not really used. He also had a lot of very uncharacteristic drops. I still believe he is a top end wideout, capable of a bounce back but he’ll be 32 come the season and injuries are starting to pile up. He’s also very much Cody’s guy. I’m hopeful we can keep him for a reasonable price… there’s too much working against him to pay big money to retain him.

WR Jake Harty – His only value on this team is special teams. Anytime we attempted to pass to him it did not pan out well. We’ve got younger, better options at Canadian receiver.

WR Justin McInnis – He was the 1st WR taken in the 2019 draft ahead of guys like Lenius, Gittens and Mayala. He has not really panned out. He’s probably decent as a depth guy but pretty much every other Canadian receiver we have has shown they deserve starting reps ahead of him. He’s likely done here unless he comes back cheap.

WR Wesley Lewis – Lewis is the classic example of coaches focusing on measurable. Simply put, teams see 6’5 and want to give him a chance purely for that. Well Ottawa did and we did and over 3 seasons he has 5 catches. I don’t mind us giving him a look last season but now we’ve seen it up close and can move on.

WR Mitch Picton – I am an unabashed Picton fan. On a team full of first/second round pick receivers, he’s risen to the top of guys not named Baker (coincidentally also not a 1st rounder). He’s earned praise from the coaches because he puts in the work and can play every position on offense. He should be a priority to retain.

WR Duke Williams – What to do about Duke? We did not get the return we were expecting when we invested big bucks in him. When he wasn’t injured, he was making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Most people’s gut says, get rid of him. But here’s what gives me pause: In a crap season, he still scored 4 TDs in 8 games, on a team that wasn’t big on scoring TDs. When healthy he can dominate, plus he’s still the right side of 30. So from a talent perspective, yeah, I want him. But 2022 showed clearly he needs leadership that can keep in him line. Dickenson could not do it and Cody quite clearly was not that kind of leader. Dickenson is not going anywhere, so you had better be damn sure that whoever your QB is can command the respect needed to keep Duke in line and focused on making plays (not the kind that involve his helmet, saliva or ones made while he’s not even dressed). Straight up I don’t think we have, or will be getting that kind of leadership. So I don’t think Duke is worth the hassle given the current context of our team. Can honestly see Montreal cheaping out on Geno Lewis an bringing in Duke to replace him. 

Monday, January 16, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Talking QBs

My youngest son is finding out some tough lessons about being a football fan. You see he is a Chargers fan and needless to say the weekend was pretty rough for him. He is learning the hard way that cheering for a football team is just a commitment to endless pain and disappointment and if you are lucky, once a decade you get a fleeting moment of pure joy. 

This seems like the perfect segue to the Riders…

Unlike every other team in the league, we currently don’t have a QB. BC has Adams, Calgary has Maier, Edmonton has Cornelius, Winnipeg has Collaros, Ottawa has Masoli, Toronto has some uncertainty but does have Chad Kelly under contract. Remains to be seen if Hamilton can land Bo but they at least have Evans under contract if that falls through. I will even add Montreal having Harris to the list. He’s technically a pending FA but there is no way Montreal lets him go. The only thing more meant to be than a Harris/Maas reunion is a Maas/Maciocia reunion (David Cote is in for a record year by the way).

So today I will go through the remaining options for the Riders. I am excluding names like Pipkin and Davis from the list because even though we are truly desperate they are so far down the list that even we should not be considering them. Also, I’m not including Mason Fine. He will certainly be in a competition with whoever we bring in for #1 but he’s not close to being a shoe in at this point. Because I am easily distracted I just had to go google the expression shoe in. Turns out: This expression purportedly comes from the practice of corrupt jockeys holding their horses back and shooing a preselected winner across the finish line to guarantee that it will win. A “shoo-in” is now an easy winner, with no connotation of dishonesty. “Shoe-in” is a common misspelling. 

The more you know! Now back to whatever it is I was originally intending to talk about…

McLeod Bethel-Thompson – He will be 35 come the reason and is likely considering retirement… not a great selling point to start. He has always been such a confusing player to me. You look at his stats and he puts up yards, he has a career TD/Int ratio of 70-49. He seems deceivingly good. But he never gives you the feeling that you can rely on him to win games. You may say, but Prophet, he just won a Grey Cup to which I reply, actually he was on the bench while another QB and a blocked kicked salvaged a game they might otherwise have lost. Beggars can’t be choosers and he would not be the worst option to compete with Fine or as a veteran back-up who can step in when needed.

Matt Shiltz – I have to say my tune changed a bit in regards to Shiltz. He was not very good in Montreal to put it nicely. But Hamilton managed to at least make him serviceable. He’s still a gimmick QB. I honestly see him as a poor man’s Fajardo: runs a bit better, throws a bit worse, way less experience.

Nick Arbuckle – Might be the next Kevin Glenn. I don’t mean he will replicate Glenn’s onfield success. I mean he has a shot to also play for every team. In just 3 years he has gone Calgary-Ottawa-Toronto-Edmonton-Ottawa. At 29 he’s still in his prime years. The issue is that his prime years may not be so prime. Since leaving Calgary he has 11 TDs and 20 INTs and he’s not really a runner so his arm is all he’s got. If we got him cheap I would ok with adding him to our QB competition but I would not have high expectations. Generally when you change teams twice a season its not a good sign.

Bo Levi Mitchell – Some of you are still holding onto the pipe dream that Bo is coming here. He’s going to end up staying in Hamilton. And honestly that probably saves us from ourselves. Would O’Day overpay to get Mitchell here on a 3 year deal? Yup. Can Bo’s body last more than 4 games at a time before regressing to the level of play that made him expendable in Calgary? No.

Cody Fajardo – We don’t really want Cody and he doesn’t really want us. So why is he on this list? Desperation... on both sides. As this list details, he don’t have a viable starting QB. Fajardo has his faults but can win games. Fajardo wants to play but the only place that’s going to happen is here. Otherwise he’s on clipboard duty. Now, after a season of getting beaten like someone who owes the mob money behind our O-line, a couple hundred thousand to stand on the sidelines honestly might not sound that bad. Both sides would have to swallow their pride here. I don’t think its likely but honestly look at this list and tell me Cody isn’t worth considering.

Dane Evans – Not technically a free agent but assuming to Ti-Cats do woo Bo and get him signed, Evans will become available one way or another. This is the name that Justin Dunk keeps bringing up in regards to the Riders. And Dunk doesn’t just say things to rile people up like some local media types. Dude has a pretty solid track record of being right. Dane’s career arc is eerily similar to Fajardo. Breakout star in 2019. So-so 2021. God awful 2022. Evans’ main flaw was his ongoing commitment to giving the other team the ball (leading the league in both interceptions and fumbles). What’s intriguing about him is he seems to play his best ball when there is a viable QB competing with him (i.e. Masoli and to a lesser extent Shiltz). Now, we don’t have a viable QB but we are likely headed for a season of a 1A and 1B QB. If we could find a way to limit his turnovers he might just be the answer.

Caleb Evans – At 24, Caleb is the youngest option with any real starter experience. He has shown some growth from year 1 to 2 but still has flaws in his game. But at 24, he can run and has a decent arm so could be developed.

If I had to guess what’s most likely I would go: Dane Evans, Arbuckle and Fajardo in that order.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Welcome to 2023

Given that most people’s Christmas vacation ended last week, I suppose its time to end mine. Fashionably late is about one point for me… well maybe not the fashionable part but for sure the second part.

Anywho, we are in the calm before the storm when it comes to the CFL offseason. Free agency opens in just over a month. NFL teams can start signing CFL players as of today. We have made a few re-signings but the real work starts now that it’s a new year and we are dealing with 2023 cap money (as you may have surmised we had very little 2022 cap space left to re-sign guys before the end of the year).

NFL signings will be the first domino to drop. I hope you have come to terms with the fact that Kian Schaefer-Baker is headed south. He has worked out for 9 teams so far (Jak, Pit, Ind, TB, LV, Min, Den, NE and Cin). He's behind only Nathan Rourke in terms of potential NFL demand. I just hope he signs with a team that a) will actually give him a shot and b) I’m not conditioned to dislike (i.e. NE). Other than Rourke (who is also headed south) other CFLers who have earned multiple workouts and could potentially get an NFL shot include: Tyrell Ford (6 workouts), Dalton Shoen (3), Jamal Peters (2), Jevon Cottoy (2), Matthieu Betts (2) and Tre Ford (2).

In terms of free agency we have a month to re-sign our pending free agents before they hit the open market. Anthony Lanier needs to be the top priority, as I have said before. Now he did cryptically tweet out “free agent” a while ago, so that doesn’t do much to give me confidence there. I know that the internet is nothing if not 100% accurate and always to be believed but we shall have to see. Others we better be trying hard to woo include Darnell Sankey, Pete Robertson, Larry Dean and Jeremy Clarke. We also should be attempting to get at least one of our receivers locked up. Currently Tevin Jones is the top WR we have under contract. Duke’s time here is probably done. But getting at least one of Kyran Moore and Shaq would be nice. Also Mitch Picton is an underrated contributor on offense and I would love to see him stay.

Once free agency opens the story of course turns to 2 things. The fact that we lack both a QB and O-line. Here’s the problem though. There is no miracle cure for either likely to be available come February. At QB your options will be Matta Schiltz, Nick Arbuckle and MacLeod Bethel Thompson. Add Dane Evans as a dark horse option. None of those exactly scream “saviour of the franchise”. This of course increases the odds of an awkward reunion with Fajardo as both sides lack better options and hook up again like desperate drunk exes at last call.

 At OL, the market is already pretty thin. You see the good teams prioritize keeping the good OL. There are a few really good names out there like Derek Dennis, Zack Williams, Sukh Chungh, Joel Figueroa, Jamarcus Hardick, Michael Couture, Justin Lawrence and Darius Ciraco but I expect very few of those to actually make it to free agency and I expect even less to have interest in coming here. Our hope at OL lies with Zach Fry, whoever we draft this year (assuming we are actually smart enough to prioritize drafting an OL. O’Day has done it exactly one time in his 4 drafts as GM) and the hope that a new offensive coaching staff can get more out of the guys we already have.  

I realize this is not exactly the most uplifting post to start a new year with. But short of outright lies I could not find a way to make it rosier. I’m going with the approach of setting my expectations for 2023 so low that they can’t possibly disappoint me and any achievements no matter how minor is a bonus.