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.