Let me start this off by making it clear that regardless of off-season changes, the Calgary Stampeders are not going to fall into the West Division basement any time soon.
So long as Dave Dickenson has his hands all over that team, with a talented group of constantly evolving positional coaches and front office management capable of finding talent consistently, the Red and White will always be in the conversation.
With that being said, who could challenge their throne as the CFL’s best team over the next five to 10 years?
To me this is based on three key components.
The first is quarterback play. Without a quarterback you have nothing in this league, as proven by an incredible defence in Saskatchewan this past season, a team that still couldn’t make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
The second is – of course – coaching and more specifically the likelihood of a coach being allowed by executives to battle through the dark days to reach the holy grail of a Grey Cup Championship.
The third factor that I believe determines the likelihood of a team to become elite over the next decade is the always unscientific and rarely accurate ‘vibe test’. You might not call it the same thing, maybe to you it’s the eye test or the sniff test, but you know what I’m talking about.
It’s that feeling of upward momentum, hope and unending possibilities based on a culture that has been established in an organization.
With those factors in mind, here are the three organizations I believe most likely to challenge the Stampeders for the CFL’s top team moving forward.
This projection comes with a MASSIVE caveat.
I believe Iron Mike should and will be a Lion whenever the CBA gets signed, with close friend Travis Lulay backing him up. With that, the Lions would have a franchise quarterback with veteran depth and leadership able to turn Jarious Jackson’s scheme into one of the league’s most dynamic passing attacks when you factor in DeVier Posey’s late season addition to go with dynamic playmaker Bryan Burnham and a downhill running attack powered by Tyrell Sutton and Jeremiah Johnson.
If you have any doubt Reilly and that offence would put up numbers, just go watch his late game touchdown pass to Brandon Zylstra at BC Place in 2017, or any number of explosive plays put up in Vancouver by Reilly on that indoor turf.
With the offence self-sustaining, the addition of defensive-minded DeVone Claybrooks as head coach this week becomes huge. During his time in Calgary as defensive coordinator Claybrooks showed a distinct ability to take athleticism at all three levels of the defence and make it fly around.
With a defence in BC which was at or near the top of the CFL in 2018 turnovers created much of the year, Claybrooks should have all the tools he needs quickly.
Sprinkle in some great special teams play with Ty Long and Chris Rainey alongside solid national depth which will only be bettered by the work of General Manager Ed Hervey and you have a chance to see the BC Lions rise to the top of the CFL over the next five years.
This might just be the optics of evolving from 0-8 to begin 2017 to making the Eastern Final in 2018, but I think the Ticats are for real moving forward.
June Jones parachuted into Hamilton and changed the culture immediately. Guys started playing more relaxed and free as Jeremiah Masoli turned from just another name on a quarterback depth chart to arguably the CFL’s best passer much of the season in 2018.
Now June moves to the position of offensive coordinator, where he believes the Ticats have a chance to break several CFL records — and who can doubt him based on his history?
With Jones focusing solely on the offence and a defensive coordinator expected to be named in the coming weeks to replace Jerry Glanville, Orlondo Steinauer gets an opportunity to make a statement in a job he’s been patiently pursuing for a decade.
Steinauer will attract free agents with how well he is thought of by players around the CFL – which is huge considering the year-to-year turnover each February – while also knowing the ins and outs of the Canadian game better than many.
If Masoli stays hot and healthy the Ticats could find themselves with a top flight offence supported by a defensive minded head coach. Sounds like an equation for success to me, but will it be enough to topple the Ottawa REDBLACKS, who have essentially owned the East since 2014?
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
I know many in the West will raise an eyebrow at this due to their passionate fandom, but hear me out.
Peak Andrew Harris, an always evolving Matt Nichols, a ball hawking defence with a young national core thanks to solid drafting, and a group of coaches in place as stable as any in the CFL.
All of those factors give the Bombers the upper hand in my mind to reaching the upper levels of the CFL standings in the coming five years.
The key to this is Mike O’Shea and Kyle Walters. Both men have complete control of their roles and have shown an ability to cultivate and/or attract talent capable of improving Winnipeg.
If Winnipeg gives O’Shea and Walters an open canvas to work with I believe they will continue to progress as they have over the last three years to the point where they could conceivably challenge to be the CFL’s best team consistently.
To Riders fans, you need a quarterback.
To Argos fans, I just haven’t seen the upward momentum.
To REDBLACKS fans, you’re worthy of the Ticats’ spot but I have to believe Steinauer’s addition could push Hamilton over the top.
To Alouettes fans, there’s a long – but worthwhile – road to trade before qualifying as a possible power.
To Eskimos fans, you have plenty to be hopeful about but possibly losing your franchise quarterback and switching defensive coordinators makes me hesitant.
Each team has plenty to be excited about, but for now I’ll roll the dice on the Lions, Ticats and Bombers.