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.
Trevor Harris - the only thing I'll add is we'll see a lot of dump & runs, like Maas before him. Do we have a burner to make deep plays? Win
OL. Blake is 37 but I like him @ RT. Godber? Knock on him is he's not good @ pass blocking. Interesting tidbit on BC OL last year. With Rourke were 2nd best in sacks allowed. Without Rourke were 2nd last in sacks allowed. Call it a draw. If Vaughn is healthy, we lost a good LT.
REC - Man, if Evans & Williams are healthy we lost big on this one. Apparently we wanted Moore but he wanted "MORE". Will be returning punts, as he did with Jones when he was here. IMO Moore is going to have a good year with Elks, even behind the big 3. Bane has to come up big to make this work. You nailed it on Wieneke. Looks like a downgrade overall. Still need one good import receiver like a Jorden or Derel Walker, for that matter. Was very good when Lawler was out. I'd take Walker over Jorden any day. Two years younger, healthier &, better receiver IMO. Right now, all things being equal & everybody healthy on both sides? We didn't do well on the exchanges.
McInnis for Brescacin. I don't like Brescacin's lengthy injury sheet & his one good year wasn't jaw dropping. Two big receivers who haven't found their way - TIE.
AC for MIcah & Banks. Hands down a big win. Banks should prove to be a good replacement for AC. Our DL looks really good.
Overall, at this point I'd give O'Day a C+. The big question is offence. On D we are going to look pretty much the same with Micah & Banks coming in for Marino (when we played well) & AC. Teitz for Sankey is a downgrade but nothing wrong with that trio & the DB's are the same. I think, as the West teams sit right now, we are going to have problems keeping up on offence with all of them.
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