Monday, February 26, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Football-less Void

We have officially reached the painful final stretch of the offseason. Free agency is over, the draft is two months away and the NFL is even over so there is no football whatsoever. If we can just make it through this final stretch then football will be back and life will be good again.

God bless the Argos and Chad Kelly for trying to keep the CFL in the new cycle but there were likely better ways to go about it. A wrongful termination lawsuit was filed against them by a female trainer who Kelly allegedly made advances at. Since the news broke both the Argos and CFL have made themselves quieter than people who have run out of candy on Halloween and are trying to pretend like they aren’t home. It’s a media strategy that works about as well as Craig Dickenson’s coaching tactics in October.   

As someone whose day job involves human resources, things like this just make me shake my head. Rather than deal with an issue that was raised, they tried to sweep it under the carpet. Literally all they had to do was do some kind of internal discipline to Kelly for his alleged inappropriate behaviour and this probably never gets spoken of outside of Argo facilities. Instead they opted to make things much worse and turn it into a public story. The court of public opinion is always much harsher than actual court… and in the world of human resources both should be avoided.

I am willing to bet that since the Argos have no interest in losing Kelly’s services they will find a fall guy in management (John Murphy has previous experience getting turfed for doing dumb things) and give Kelly a slap on the wrist and have him do a super fake apology (that I can tell you right now will include “that’s not who I am”, “I found the lord through this” and maybe even “I have many friends who are women”). I will add a bonus prediction that given some people’s addiction to finding a way to tie the Riders to bad new stories, the headlines will read “Former Rider Assistant GM forced to resign in disgrace from current CFL team”.

In more positive CFL news, Vernon Adams signed a long-term extension in BC. Good for him. I am actually glad to see him have success. Remember that his CFL career started with more trades (BC->Montreal->Sask->Hamilton) than starts. Also remember that for a period in 2017 the Riders had him 3rd on the QB depth chart behind Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge. Excuse me while I go silently weep for a few seconds.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimonies: Big Additions

For the most part the official opening of free agency was about as exciting as most all-star games. Not a lot of real excitement and a whole lot of going through the motions. We made official all the deals we were expecting which was great, just not particularly exciting. I honestly thought that we were mostly done. But O’Day had other plans.

He made 2 more big (both literally and figuratively) signings. The first was bringing back Micah Johnson. Now I’ll be the first to admit that having Micah play for us in an even numbered year will be weird. He played for us in 2019, left for BC in 2020 when the season ended up being cancelled, returned for 2021, left for Hamilton in 2022 and returned in 2023. He was not due back in these parts until his 4th stint came around in 2025. But dammit am I happy he’s staying! I have been campaigning for this all offseason (you’re welcome). In a crap season, Micah was one of the few guys who gave it his all the whole year. Not only was he a strong veteran leader who demonstrated the heart you want to see from your key guys, he was pretty damn good still. At 35, he played a full 18 game season, notched his most sacks as a Rider and I contend, was our best defender (I get that the bar was pretty low but still, point remains, he was good). I think he is exactly the veteran leader we need to head up this revamped D-line under Coach Mace.

The second addition caught me completely by surprise. With Ferland and Blake back and young guys like Bandy, Fry and now Zerr, I assumed O’Day would be content at Canadian OL. In what might be the first time the term “pleasant surprise” has been used in conjunction with anything O’Day has done with Canadian OL in the past 3 years, he went out and landed Ryan Sceviour (I assume Mueller and Mace’s Calgary connections had some play in there as well). An 8th overall pick in the 2018 Draft who has locking down the RG position on the Stamps OL for a few years now, and was named a West Division all-star in 2022. This was a massive addition to our OL. The only downside here is that this makes me pretty confident that O'Day will now continue his streak of completely ignoring OL in the draft... but I guess that's a future us problem. For now let's focus on the good.  

Honestly, other than American receiver (which we can address through recruiting), I feel like O’Day has checked all the boxes in terms of our major needs. The cynic in me fears becoming hopeful because decades have history have shown that hope almost always precedes that hope being violently bashed to pieces. But like Michael Scott I am ready to get hurt again.

I don’t expect there is much more coming our way in free agency but there are a few names still out there that I would certainly at least be looking into to see if you can get some late value. Some names include receivers like Cam Phillips, Rasheed Bailey or Lucky Whitehead. Even a Canadian WR like Nate Behar or Tevaun Smith (we will need depth if we look at starting 3 Cdn WR). DBs like Roberson Daniel, Winston Rose, Alden Darby or Jeremy Clark. Or DL such Woody Barron or AC Leonard. For the right price there could be some good value here.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimoines: Successful Tampering

I hate the term “won free agency”. Teams that “win” free agency generally are terrible (good teams don’t need to sign a bunch of FAs because they already have a talented roster) and tend to not win the actual season.  That said I do think the Riders had a very successful tampering period. I had listed 5 primary needs and we managed to address 4 of those is a big way. I don’t think that suddenly makes us Cup contenders. I do feel better about our roster than I did a week ago.

I said needed LBs. We went out and got the best LB available in Jameer Thurman. Dude is a flat out stud and will definitely be a strong anchor for our D. We also got Adam Auclair. Basically he is a younger Teitz. Between Thurman, Auclair and Reavis we dropped the average age of LBs significantly.

I said we needed OT help. We went out and got the best one available in Jemarcus Hardrick. In the process we righted a historical wrong. Hardick was a Rider in 2015 and not deemed worth keeping in the new Chris Jones regime. To use a Jones term, he has been “moderately successful" since. Did we overpay? Probably, but when your option is spend a lot or suffer another season trying to fix out OT issue in-house, I say its money we needed to spend.

I said we needed a CB. We went out and got Jalon Edwards-Cooper. He kinda got overshadowed a bit in BC playing alongside some bigger names guy. I think he can be an impact player. The stat is that he did not give up a TD in 2023. That's good right?

I said we needed DL help. We went out and got Malik Carney. I’m still not exactly sure why we seem to be moving on from Robertson but Carney has 12 sacks over the past 2 seasons and I think instantly adds a proven pass rusher to our rotation.

RB wasn’t a priority but we went out and got Ouelette. He’s the second best RB in the CFL and will bring a hard nosed bruising style to our run game that we haven’t had in a while. I was always a big Morrow fan but I do think Ouelette is objectively a bit better.

This haul has Rider fans more excited for the season than soccer moms were to see Usher perform at half time. We still have some holes to fill but O’Day and Mace definitely did good job of aggressively going out and addressing our biggest needs.

Long road still ahead of us but good first step.

Monday, February 5, 2024

Monday Morning Sentimonies: The Waiting Game

In the week leading up to the negotiation window, the Riders had a huge week in terms of re-signing their own guys. We extended Milligan for an extra year (by far our best DB). We retained Lanier and Bane (arguably our top pending free agents on either side of the ball). We also extended Nelson Lokombo (not nearly as notable as their other 3 but Canadian depth is crucial and for an organization that has struggled to retain and develop draft picks at times Lokombo makes it 7 of our last 9 1st/2nd/3rd round picks still with the team). 

When healthy and not stupidly being played out of position at D-end, Lanier is among the most disruptive DTs in the league. I think Mace is a coach who can get Lanier to that next level of excellence. Bane is simply a massive piece to keep. Look at what he did last season and factor in the carousel of back-up QBs and underqualified OC he had to deal with. I don’t think we have seen his ceiling yet. Farhan Lalji reports his deal is around $175,000. That is really good value when you consider some other WR salary (i.e. Eugene Lewis $300k+, Rhyme $240K). 

As of right now, O’Day is busy legally tampering. We may yet see some of our guys re-sign after seeing the open market isn’t as lucrative as they hoped but for the most part this is the time to attract new guys to the team. 

Here’s what I see as our top area of needs.


1.     Linebackers

You can debate the quality, but at pretty much every position the Riders could field a team today if they needed to. The glaring exception is LB. We got nobody other than Reavis. If you trust your scouting you could maybe fill one spot with a new player but not 2. Obviously the top target should be Jameer Thurman. I expect us also to kick the tires on Adarius Pickett, Ben Hladik and Adam Auclair (drafting his brother didn’t pan out, maybe we can get some games out of an Auclair after all). I honestly would not rule out a Larry Dean return if we miss out on some of the top end targets but that is definitely not the preferred route.


2.     Offensive Tackle

As of today the starters would be Hawkins and Council (maybe old man Blake). So unless we get some upgrades here they might as well just pre-reserve a hospital bed for Trevor Harris. Biggest name on the market is Hardrick but he’s the only legit starter hitting the market so he will be fielding multiple calls. Trevon Tate and Tyrone Riley would be your other options. I am still holding out hope that Colin Kelly returns once he is healthy.


3.     Cornerback

We have Milligan, Henderson, Williams and Dalke. I expect Williams to take a step forward in year 2 but Henderson has always been inconsistent and even with him penciled in as a starter you need one more guy. Best case scenario is convincing Jamal Peters to follow Mace here. Or if you wanted to spend a bit less Robertson Daniel. Other names I’d be calling include Demario Houston, Ciante Williams and Damon Webb (I always felt we gave up on him too early).


4.     Interior OL Depth

Godber, Ferland and Blake (Assuming we aren’t forced to bump him out to tackle) should be solid on the inside but when (not if) we need someone else to fill in for a short or long term absence it gets scary again. The organization seems to love Logan Bandy, though I’m not seeing in him what they are yet. We are waiting for Fry to finally take the next step. And maybe Zerr gets his career on track (being dumped by 2 teams in 2 seasons is not a great omen for a high draft pick OL). Bottom line we need reinforcements and while logic would dictate we get some of that through the draft, O’Day has been about has willing to draft OL early as I am forgo my morning coffee. Geoff Gray, Sean Jamieson and Phillip Norman are options.


5.     D-line

My sense is that the team is banking on some combination of Albright and Cox to be able to lock down one DE spot. We have Lanier and Brown inside. With Korte-Moore and Dabire to rotate. At a minimum we need another DE to replace Robertson and likely more depth at DT with both Christmas and Micah not yet re-signed. I don’t see us paying for Betts (with other more pressing needs) so guys like Dewayne Hendrix, Sean Oakman, Ricky Walker, Dylan Wynn, Brandon Barlow and Malik Carney become the target list. Whoever we add I just hope it turns out better than last year’s D-line splash… Stefen Banks.

I know I left RB off the list. We will likely add one but its not really a pressing need and with so many hitting the market all at once, there will be a decent one available regardless of how long we wait.