January 5, 2017

Steinberg: 9 CFL New Year’s resolutions

With 2017 officially upon us, it’s time to look ahead to some of the pressing needs for each CFL team in the New Year. The Monday Morning Quarterback is back next week, but for now, it’s time for a 2017 resolution for everyone, in alphabetical order.

BC Lions – Let Jennings loose

Jon_Jennings_2016_1

Jonathon Jennings steps under centre during the 2016 Western Final (CFL.ca)

Jonathon Jennings is coming off a stellar 2016 season and I think he’s poised for an even bigger 2017. For that to be the case, though, I think the Lions have to give him even more freedom.

At times in his first full season as a starter, I thought Jennings was reined in a little to help avoid mistakes. Jennings led the league with 15 interceptions, so I understood why the Lions might have been a little more conservative in their play calls at times. As Jennings enters his second full season as a starter, though, I think it’s time to really let him loose.


RELATED:
» Nye’s Crystal Ball: 6 bold predictions for 2017
» 2016: A year in pictures
» Chris Jones headlines 2016’s top newsmakers


Jennings averaged just over 30 pass attempts per game during his 18 regular season starts, which is a decent number. I think getting Jennings into the same ballpark as Zach Collaros, Bo Levi Mitchell, and Mike Reilly is the way to go, though. That trio each averaged more than 34 attempts per outing and with Jennings’s explosive ability, an extra few passes a game could go a long, long way.

Calgary Stampeders – Get Marquay signed

CFL.ca

Signing veteran receiver Marquay McDaniel should be a priority for the Stamps (CFL.ca)

While I’m still fairly confident the Stamps and their outstanding receiver will get something done, I’m sure fans of the Red and White would like this taken care of sooner rather than later. Calgary has had a busy and successful off-season thus far in terms of re-signing key players; it’s already taken care of important pieces like Charleston Hughes, Corderro Law, Rob Maver and Rene Paredes. Now it’s McDaniel’s turn.

McDaniel just put together his second straight 1,000 yard season and third in four years as he continues to be one of the league’s consistent pass catchers. But while McDaniel may never be in the Adarius Bowman or Manny Arceneaux yardage category, he means just as much to his team.

So many of McDaneil’s 83 catches this year came on second down to help the Stampeders extend drives. The most methodical offence in the league used McDaniel with striking precision in key situations in 2016 and everything suggests that should be the case this season, too. Now the Stamps just need to get him signed.

Edmonton Eskimos – Establish John White early

Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca

John White rebounded from a devastating Achilles injury with a strong 2016 (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

Nobody was more effective in the passing game this past season than Edmonton’s trio of quarterback Mike Reilly and receivers Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker. Part of that reasons, though, is because the Eskimos didn’t have a lot of other options offensively.

The team’s lack of an explosive run game in the first half of the season almost forced it to skew more towards an aerial assault. But as Edmonton heated up down the stretch, winning five of its final six games, it was no coincidence to see the ground game really pick up steam, too. John White was the man making that happen.

White had 100-plus yard performances in three of his last four regular season game and then busted off 160 more in an Eskimos’ Eastern Semi-Final win come the post-season. While it was a bit of a process to really get White established and into a groove, once that was the case, things moved forward in a hurry.

If you remember, White missed all of 2015 with a devastating Achilles injury so getting back up to speed wasn’t an automatic. After playing 14 games this past season, though, White should be able to hit the ground running and pick up right where he left off if Edmonton uses him early like the beast he can be.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats – Keep Zach Collaros healthy

Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca

Injuries took a bite out of Zach Collaros and the Ticats’ season in 2016 (Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca)

This is not a shot at Hamilton’s offensive line by any stretch. Instead, it’s just a realization the Tiger-Cats need to keep their star quarterback healthy in 2017 because they’re a different team when he’s healthy.

2016 was a struggle for Hamilton, but then again, the Ticats only had their most important player for 10 games. Collaros missed the team’s first seven games while recovering from knee surgery while another injury sidelined him for two more in October. Not having Collaros for almost half a season certainly made it tough for offensive continuity. I certainly wonder if Hamilton could have avoided the rampant inconsistency that plagued its 2016 had Collaros been healthy all year long.


» THE WAGGLE: The year in review and a Brandon Banks exclusive 


The Ticats allowed 39 sacks last season, good for fifth in the CFL, so there’s an area they can look to improve on with a direct impact on the health of their star quarterback; the injury he suffered against Calgary came on a sack, after all. Much of this is tongue in cheek, of course, because sometimes things are totally out of a team’s control. That said though, Hamilton needs to do everything in its power to keep Collaros healthy in 2017.

Montreal Alouettes – Find a starting quarterback

Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca

Is Vernon Adams Jr. the man to fill Montreal’s starting quarterback needs? (Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca)

This one might be the most obvious resolution of the entire bunch. Now that the Als have installed Kavis Reed as their new general manager, his most important task is figuring out the future direction of the team’s quarterback position. Needless to say, it’s been an area of constant flux over the last number of years.

Since Anthony Calvillo retired at the end of the 2013 season, the Alouettes have tried countless options at the position to no long-term avail. Troy Smith, Jonathan Crompton and Kevin Glenn have all gotten shots with varying rates of success. No one, though, has been able to truly lay claim as Montreal’s next starting pivot.

Perhaps that is Vernon Adam Jr. (see: Adams tops 17 sophomores to watch in 2017) because he showed some real promise in his Week 20 start against Hamilton. If the Als feel Adams is the answer then they need to be right. If they’re unsure, they need to go out and find another option, because this franchise needs to finally identify the future of the game’s most important position.

Ottawa REDBLACKS – Address “The Big 3”

Greg_Ellingson_2016_1

Greg Ellingson is one of three 1,000-yard Ottawa receivers up for free agency (CFL.ca)

Two years ago, the Ottawa REDBLACKS had an extremely busy and fruitful off-season. Part of that successful winter was the acquisitions of key receivers like Chris Williams, Ernest Jackson, and Greg Ellingson among others. As a result, Ottawa transformed itself from an expansion also-ran in 2014 to a Grey Cup contender a year later and, of course, a champion the year after that. Well, now those three aforementioned receivers are all up for new contracts.


» VIEW 2017 FREE AGENT TRACKER


The uncertainty, though, is whether the REDBLACKS will be able to get all three players signed. Williams carries with him a big ticket and there are questions whether he’ll be fully healthy come training camp. Most in the know believe Williams’s time is done in Ottawa which makes it even more important to get Ellingson and Jackson re-signed.

Jackson was the East Division’s nominee for Most Outstanding Player while Ellingson is a reliable and dangerous third or fourth option. If Ottawa can’t bring back Williams I’m sure many in our nation’s capital will understand. Losing Jackson and Ellingson on top of that, though, would be really tough to swallow. That’s why you can bet many REDBLACKS fans are hoping to hear news on any one of these three guy as soon as possible.

Saskatchewan Roughriders – Figure out Darian Durant’s future

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Darian Durant will play a central role in the Riders’ busy off-season plans (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

So much of Saskatchewan’s off-season, especially as free agency opens next month, will be predicated on Durant’s future with the club. Despite not being healthy start to finish, the free agent quarterback is coming off a very productive season. That said, contract news has been at a minimum since the end of the season.

Personally, I believe the Riders should bring Durant back. They don’t really have any other viable options with the organization right now and to assume an impact trade is going to happen is risky. Durant, on the other hand, is still effective, is getting better with age and experience and is the perfect intermediate measure to buy the team some time.

Regardless of what the Riders do, though, they have to make a decision soon. All of their potential off-season work can be tied to what road they go down with Durant, specifically when it comes to other free agent targets.

Toronto Argonauts – Get a decision from Ricky Ray

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ricky Ray meets with Jason Maas following the regular season finale in Edmonton (The Canadian Press)

Speaking of franchise quarterbacks, the Argos aren’t exactly sure what the future holds for theirs, either. The only difference from Saskatchewan’s situation, though, is that Toronto really has no control of its predicament. Ricky Ray is busy contemplating his next move and, while he deserves all the time in the world, you can bet the Argonauts would love to have some clarity.

The good news is Toronto acquired Drew Willy from Winnipeg during the season, so at least the Argos have a contingency plan if Ray decides to retire. If he doesn’t hang them up, though, then the Argos need to figure out how they’re going to manage things at the position. Because that won’t be the easiest to navigate, the sooner they can hear about Ray’s next move the better.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers –Make May huge

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

Bombers GM Kyle Walters holds the first overall pick in May’s CFL Draft (BlueBombers.com)

May of 2017 could end up being one of the most significant months in quite some time for the Bombers. The good news is, Winnipeg is totally in control of whether or not that ends up being the case. The bad news, however, is there’s no guarantee the Bombers will get it right.

Thanks to the aforementioned Willy trade, Winnipeg holds a pair of highly valuable draft picks in May’s CFL Draft. The Bombers hold their own sixth overall selection and they also hold Toronto’s pick as part of the compensation for Willy. That pick just happens to be first overall.

Newly extended general manager Kyle Walters has done a really nice job of replenishing and building up Winnipeg’s Canadian depth over the last couple of years and that was on display during the team’s resurgent 2016. Adding two more potential high-impact Canadians in the first round of May’s draft is quite tantalizing, so the Bombers need to make sure they get it right.