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.