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As the February 11th free agency deadline nears, CFL.ca is breaking down each team’s potential needs, wants and wish lists. Today we take a look at the defending Grey Cup champion Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Let’s rewind to one year ago. It’s February in Regina, and Roughriders general manager Brendan Taman is well aware that the 101st Grey Cup is only nine months away.
Taman is also fully aware that as a result of the game being played in Saskatchewan, this year’s championship game is an entirely different beast compared to any other he’s built a team to compete for.
So what does he do? Well, just a few weeks after acquiring the services of Geroy Simon in a trade with the Lions, Taman goes out and acquires the likes of cornerback Dwight Anderson, rush end Ricky Foley and defensive back Weldon Brown during free agency.
The results of Taman’s 2013 off-season moves have no doubt paid off, with Saskatchewan’s hometown victory in the Grey Cup serving as all the return on investment he’ll ever need.
So what does Taman do for an encore?
The Work Done So Far:
It’s been an interesting and tricky off-season to say the least for both Taman and assistant GM Jeremy O’Day.
At the starting point of the off-season, the Roughriders had 19 potential free agents who would be free to hit the open market if left unsigned.
As of now, only Taj Smith, Macho Harris and Terrell Maze have received new contracts out of those aforementioned 19.
On Thursday, Taman sent pending free agent QB Drew Willy to Winnipeg in exchange for Canadian receiver Jade Etienne, who is also set to become a free agent on Tuesday.
Finally, arguably the most significant move made by the Roughriders brass was granting Weston Dressler his release, allowing the star receiver to pursue an opportunity South of the Border in the NFL.
With 13 players still unsigned and set to hit the open market, there’s a possibility for a lot of turnover in Saskatchewan in 2014.
Likely first and foremost on the minds of Rider Nation is the status of Grey Cup MVP Kory Sheets.
Sheets has made it no secret that he’s exploring his options down south, but will only leave Saskatchewan should the ideal situation present itself.
That said, patience might be the best route for Taman and Co. with regards to Sheets.
Another impact player that is set to hit the open market is Canadian linebacker Craig Butler, who has publically expressed that he intends on testing free agency.
Other potential departures on the defensive side of the ball are linebacker Abraham Kromah, defensive lineman Jermaine McElveen, and defensive backs Graig Newman and Paul Woldu. Also slated to test the market, but most likely to explore NFL options, is defensive lineman Alex Hall.
The offensive side of the ball presents a bit of a trickier situation for Taman and the rest of the Roughriders brass.
Along with Sheets, fellow running backs Jock Sanders and Graeme Bell are currently primed to become free agents. Should Sheets opt to go down south instead of re-signing with Saskatchewan, expect Sanders to become a featured member of the Riders’ offence in 2014 and beyond.
Other offensive players who are about to see their contracts expire are receivers Aaron Hargreaves and Kierrie Johnson, as well as the recently acquired Jade Etienne.
Editors Note: The Roughriders extended the contracts of Woldu and Etienne on February 10th.
Two of the more interesting potential free agents on Saskatchewan’s list are kickers Chris Milo and Ricky Schmitt.
Schmitt has reportedly garnered interest from NFL teams, while Milo could very well be free to explore his CFL options once the market officially opens.
Who may be on the radar?:
Should Sheets find his way to the NFL, and the Riders not feel comfortable with the likes of Sanders (should he stay) or Chris Garrett manning their backfield, it’s possible they look towards a pair of Winnipeg tailbacks who are set to become free agents on Tuesday.
Both Chad Simpson and Will Ford could garner some interest from several teams on the market if they choose to test it, but it would add another layer of interest should one of the two Bombers trade in their Blue and Gold for Green and White.
Meanwhile, replacing Dressler is no easy feat, but if the Riders are looking to fill his void with a reliable import receiver, then it’s very possible they look towards Nick Moore of Chris Matthews.