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.