TORONTO — CFL front offices have spent the last week trying to either upgrade their roster or mitigate the damage left by departed free agents.
The last seven days have seen unprecedented movement across the league, as big stars haven’t hesitated to switch teams no matter the position. Of the CFL’s top 10 free agents, only three have returned to their original team.
A few days ago we looked at some of the biggest names still available in free agency; now let’s speculate on where some of these players may fit.
Biggest Needs: DB, OL, K
Possible Targets: Emanuel Davis, Justin Sorensen, Randy Richards, Mike Filer, Lirim Hajrullahu
Anthony Orange (EDM) and Winston Rose (WPG) have found new teams in free agency while Otha Foster and Anthony Thompson are still out there, meaning the Lions’ secondary will have a different look in 2019. Chris Edwards will start at SAM linebacker while T.J. Lee, Aaron Grymes and Garry Peters also have starting jobs locked down, but the Leos could use at least one more starter in their defensive backfield.
Emanuel Davis is a logical fit at defensive back having played with current Lions head coach DeVone Claybrooks last season in Calgary, but don’t expect Hervey to break the bank on any more free agents after committing $2.9 million for Mike Reilly over the next four years.
Another area of need, the offensive line. The Lions want to be stronger and more physical up front on offence, which is why they went out and got Sukh Chungh, but there are still questions on the O-line, particularly at centre and tackle, where Peter Godber and Antonio Johnson are the current projected starters.
Look for Hervey to either upgrade or add more depth in the coming weeks. Justin Sorensen was an all-star centre for Hervey in Edmonton, while Randy Richards would provide some solid competition at the right tackle spot. The Lions’ right tackle in 2018, Jovan Olafioye, is also still a free agent.
Biggest Needs: QB (Backup), DT
Possible Targets: Kevin Glenn, Travis Lulay, Brandon Bridge, Mic’hael Brooks, Drake Nevis
Brock Sunderland did a nice job sewing up any rough patches during his free agent spending spree last week, leaving the Eskimos particularly deep at linebacker, defensive back and receiver. One need might be at quarterback, where backup Kevin Glenn remains unsigned after a week of free agency. The Esks have a solid No. 1 in Trevor Harris but could use a reliable veteran as opposed to current option Danny O’Brien.
On defence, the additions at linebacker and the re-signing of Kwaku Boateng gives the Eskimos one of the most potent front-sevens in the CFL. But Phillip Lolley’s unit could use some depth in the middle to rotate with starters Almondo Sewell and Mike Moore, with several proven, cost-efficient options available.
All in all it’s been a good eight days for Eskimos fans, who have plenty to be excited about despite losing Mike Reilly, Derel Walker, Duke Williams and Bryant Mitchell this off-season. A difficult scenario to imagine just over a week ago.
Biggest Needs: DL, DB
Possible Targets: Tristan Okpalaugo, Mic’hael Brooks, Drake Nevis, Chris Ackie, Otha Foster, Ronnie Yell
The Grey Cup Champions were hit hard this off-season, losing a number of key starters to the NFL and free agency including Micah Johnson, Alex Singleton and Jameer Thurman. So far, outside of signing franchise quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell to a four-year extension, it’s been oddly quiet in Calgary.
With the offence mostly intact, the most work is needed on the defensive side of the ball. Cordarro Law and Folarin Orimolade are in the picture at defensive end, but the Stamps could use a veteran like Tristan Okpalaugo to join the rotation. In the middle, the Stamps have four Canadian defensive tackles in their rotation, but haven’t yet replaced Johnson.
The secondary also took a hit after Tunde Adeleke and Ciante Evans left while Emanuel Davis is still a free agent. A versatile defender like Chris Ackie would provide both ratio flexibility and durability, with his athleticism profiling across multiple positions.
The Stamps like to promote from within, and will do so with several spots on their roster this year as Wynton McManis, Riley Jones, DaShaun Amos and Orimolade are all eyeing the opportunity to start. But that doesn’t mean John Hufnagel won’t be active in the coming weeks as he tries to fill out his roster.
Biggest Needs: OG, WR
Possible Fits: Chris Greaves, Cody Husband, Jon Gott, Weston Dressler, Vidal Hazelton, Terrence Toliver
Jeremy O’Day has crossed off most of his biggest needs, signing Micah Johnson, A.C. Leonard, DyShawn Davis and quarterback Zach Collaros as new projected starters for 2019. Collaros may not be the exciting, franchise-altering outcome that fans have hoped for at quarterback, but he’s the right decision as he comes with the experience and leadership to help the Riders capitalize on a dominant defence.
The Riders have no glaring holes going into the season, but could use some depth on the offensive side of the ball, where the team was ranked near the bottom of the CFL throughout all of 2018. It starts up front with the interior O-line, where Brendon LaBatte (32) and Dan Clark (30) aren’t getting any younger and Dariusz Bladek is coming off a season-ending injury.
At receiver, O’Day has supplemented a young receiving corps with veterans Naaman Roosevelt, Cory Watson and an injured Emmanuel Arceneaux. The Riders should lean more on their talented young trio of Kyran Moore, Shaq Evans and K.D. Cannon this year, but more depth never hurts as Arceneaux’s current timeline is up in the air. Perhaps a return home for Weston Dressler?
After a nightmare scenario for Riders fans when Chris Jones left for the NFL, O’Day, Paul Jones and Craig Dickenson have the Riders ready to compete in 2019.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
Biggest Needs: WLB, WR, DB
Possible Targets: Jeff Knox. Jr, Marcus Ball, Vidal Hazelton, Terrence Toliver, T.J. Heath, Otha Foster, Emanuel Davis
After losing out on the top receivers in free agency, Bombers GM Kyle Walters appears to have some cap flexibility entering the second week of free agency. The Bomber brass came up short on Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson, as the club is looking to upgrade the receiver spot and add a dynamic complement to star pass-catcher Darvin Adams.
That ship may have sailed, for now, with most of the CFL’s top free agent receivers off the market — but Walters could wait until the fall, when big names from the NFL could come available including Bryant Mitchell, D’haquille Williams and Brandon Zylstra. If Walters is looking for immediate help, Vidal Hazelton, Juron Criner and Bakari Grant are all currently on the market.
The biggest need may be at WILL linebacker, where top-30 free agent Jovan Santos-Knox left for Edmonton. Santos-Knox was a rising star for the Bombers, after the 24-year-old recorded 82 tackles and six sacks in 18 games. If the void isn’t filled in-house with Kyrie Wilson, one would assume former Rider and Argo Jeff Knox Jr., still just 26, would be a seamless fit.
Last on the list for the Bombers is defensive back. Kevin Fogg, Chris Randle and Taylor Loffler have all departed, and while the emerging Brandon Alexander and Marcus Sayles have cemented themselves in the defensive backfield, Walters could turn to some cost-efficient options in free agency — including a familiar face in T.J. Heath. Alternatively, the Bombers could fill any openings from within, as they’ve done successfully in the past.
Biggest Needs: OT, C
Possible Fits: Mike Filer, Jovan Olafioye, Randy Richards, Justin Sorensen, Jon Gott
The Ticats had the CFL’s most-productive offence last season, averaging 405.6 yards per game and 7.1 yards per play during Jeremiah Masoli‘s breakout year. Still, there are questions about the offensive line, especially after the departure of right tackle Ryker Mathews (NFL) and, as of now, Mike Filer, who’s still yet to sign a contract.
Signing Filer seems like a no-brainer for the Ticats, but until that happens the centre position remains a significant need on the O-line. Meanwhile, on the outside, Kelvin Palmer and Avery Jordan are the projected starters, but it’s hard not to imagine the team is interested in one of the CFL’s top right tackles in Jovan Olafioye, who’s still out there on the open market.
Outside of the O-line, don’t expect any kind of splash from the Ticats’ front office between now and the start of training camp. The current roster is well-equipped to compete for its first East Division title since 2014.
Biggest Needs: WR, DT
Possible Fits: Mic’hael Brooks, Drake Nevis, Jason Neill, Chris Williams, Vidal Hazelton, T.J. Graham
The failed pursuit of Bo Levi Mitchell may have slowed the Argos down early in free agency, but Jim Popp more than made up for it in the following days, bolstering the defence with Micah Awe, Kevin Fogg, Shawn Lemon and Tobi Antigha before really making a splash with star receiver Derel Walker. While most of the holes have been plugged, the Argos’ GM could have a little more wiggle room in free agency.
The addition of Walker changes the Argos’ pass-catching core substantially, supplementing a veteran group of S.J. Green and Armanti Edwards with a more explosive, vertical threat with elite separation. But the Argos could still use a little more speed on that unit, which was ranked amongst the worst in the CFL in 2018, and Chris Williams immediately comes to mind.
Dylan Wynn‘s departure opened a hole in the middle of the Argos’ D-line that Poop Johnson should have no issue plugging. However, the Argos could use more depth at the position, and the cost may not be steep with a long list of options available including Mic’hael Brooks and Drake Nevis. In any case, new head coach and defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin must be pleased with the talent Popp has provided him throughout free agency.
Biggest Needs: OT, RB, WR
Possible Fits: Jovan Olafioye, Randy Richards, Cameron Marshall, Travon Van, Vidal Hazelton, Chris Williams, Terrence Toliver
The REDBLACKS have lost more than they’ve added so far in free agency, but the biggest holes are at positions that shouldn’t be difficult to fix either through short-term free agents or long-term internal development. After losing offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers, the outside of the O-line is one spot Marcel Desjardins could opt to fill with a veteran, with Jovan Olafioye and Randy Richards on the open market.
After addressing the quarterback spot with Jonathon Jennings and a returning Dominique Davis, the REDBLACKS’ obvious needs on offence are at the receiver and running back positions. Desjardins has turned over his receiving corps before, but faces his toughest task yet following the departures of Diontae Spencer (NFL) and Greg Ellingson (EDM). Brad Sinopoli remains a top weapon in Ottawa, but Dominique Rhymes and newly-added Ryan Lankford and Caleb Holley will be asked to step up in 2018.
The running back position is a little more complicated. William Powell was reportedly allowed to let walk without much hesitation, which isn’t all that surprising considering the supply vs. demand of running backs in the CFL. It’s understandable if the REDBLACKS weren’t willing to pay for the production of the league’s second-leading rusher last season, but less so that they’d pass on veterans Tyrell Sutton and Jeremiah Johnson, qualified starters who have since signed elsewhere. Mossis Madu is the projected day one starter in Ottawa.
There’s no doubting Marcel Desjardins, whose approach has passed the test of time with three Grey Cup appearances in the last four years, but there are questions in the nation’s capital after a week of free agency.
Biggest Needs: DE
Possible Fits: Tristan Okpalaugo
Albeit quietly, Kavis Reed has had a very productive off-season in Montreal, losing only a few while adding key starters and bolstering depth on both sides of the ball. Bo Lokombo and Taylor Loffler add ratio flexibility and immediately improve the defence, while DeVier Posey is an explosive vertical threat to complement emerging star Eugene Lewis. The Als also managed to re-up the underrated B.J. Cunningham before free agency’s opening bell.
While Reed continues to tinker, the biggest need may be at defensive end — even if John Bowman has chosen to return for a 14th season. Bowman’s production slowed in 2018, his five sacks being the second-lowest of his career dating back to his rookie season in 2006. Meanwhile, the departure of Gabriel Knapton, who’s still a free agent, means the Als are in need of a dynamic pass rusher off the edge.
Even if the Als decide to start a national in Bo Banner, a pure pass rusher whose sole focus would be getting to the quarterback, they could still use some help at the position, which could come in the form of free agent Tristan Okpalaugo. Outside of him and Knapton, the options at defensive end are limited through free agency.