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.