- FREE AGENCY
TORONTO — Barely a week has passed since the 107th Grey Cup presented by Shaw and, already, there is no shortage of intriguing off-season headlines.
The coaching carousel is spinning after Khari Jones signed a three-year extension with the Alouettes, the Eskimos parted ways with Jason Maas and the Lions hired former REDBLACKS head coach Rick Campbell.
In Montreal, the search for a new general manager is under way for the Als, who are looking to build on a breakthrough season that saw them finish 10-8 and second in the CFL East Division.
And as fans and media speculate over a star-filled list of free agents, teams across the league hope to sign new deals with some of their top players before another free agent flurry in February.
Contract extensions, coaching moves and perhaps even some trades are on the forefront, so here are some of the top storylines to keep an eye on this month.
Ottawa, Edmonton coaching vacancies
For most teams, it’s ideal to have the coaching staff all finalized by the end of January. That means the coaching carousel will be a key theme over the next month or so, as Rick Campbell’s hiring in BC sets off what could amount to a domino effect across the league.
Any lingering hopes of luring Khari Jones from Montreal have been dashed after the two sides signed a three-year contract extension through 2022. However, there are plenty of big names in play as the REDBLACKS and Eskimos hold the two biggest openings at the head coach position.
Ottawa has been tied to Ticats coordinators Mark Washington (defence) and Tommy Condell (offence), who each played an integral role in the team’s franchise record 15-win season. The REDBLACKS also reportedly asked for permission to interview Paul LaPolice, offensive coordinator of the Grey Cup winning Blue Bombers.
The Eskimos were reportedly denied permission to interview Jaime Elizondo, whose rights belong to the XFL. Elizondo would have been a fine complement to Trevor Harris after the two worked together in Ottawa. Campbell was also considered to be in the mix before signing with BC, while Stamps special teams coordinator Mark Kilam is another name that’s been mentioned.
As CFL.ca keeps track of all the latest coaching rumours, look for both clubs to fill their coaching vacancies by the end of December.
Mike O’Shea contract watch
Despite coming off the first Grey Cup win of his head coaching career, Mike O’Shea is a wildcard at this point in the off-season. There are plenty of reasons on both sides for the league’s longest serving coach to continue his stay in Winnipeg — yet the longer O’Shea goes without a contract, the greater the chance of him exploring his options.
Alongside General Manager Kyle Walters, O’Shea has helped build a winning culture since his arrival in 2014, recording double digit wins and making the playoffs in four straight seasons. Including the Grey Cup, O’Shea boasts a 4-3 record in the post-season, along with a 56-52 regular season record after taking over a rebuilding team.
O’Shea leaving the Bombers at this point would be unexpected, though not unprecedented. It wasn’t long ago, after all, that Chris Jones left the Eskimos after winning a championship to become coach and general manager of the Riders. Should O’Shea seek something different, other teams won’t hesitate to pursue his services.
Chamblin returning to Argos?
Following the conclusion of a 4-14 season, Argos general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons said the job security of Head Coach Corey Chamblin would be addressed in the off-season. Chamblin remains under contract so the Boatmen are under no immediate pressure to make a move.
Still, after back to back seasons out of the playoffs, no move should be off the table. Perhaps the Argos retain Chamblin and equip him with a new-look coaching staff. After all, Chamblin does bring a Grey Cup winning pedigree, coaching the Riders to a Grey Cup in 2013 while leading one of the league’s top defences for the 2017 Grey Cup Champion Argos.
But suppose other options suddenly enter the equation? The Argos could take a wait and see approach with the head coach position, especially if names like Mike O’Shea (Winnipeg) and Chris Jones (NFL’s Cleveland Browns) become available in a month’s time. In any case, December could be an unpredictable month as Pinball’s tenure as general manager truly gets interesting.
Jason Maas still on the market
Despite coaching the Eskimos to a berth in the Eastern Final, it came as no shock that Jason Maas was dismissed as the team’s head coach. That being said, Maas immediately becomes one of the most intriguing names on the coaching market as teams look to upgrade their staff.
Perhaps Maas will get another chance to be a head coach, but either way, the former quarterback is well regarded as an offensive genius in the three-down game. Proven offensive coordinators don’t come along every day, meaning Maas should receive plenty of phone calls in the coming months.
Early speculation links Maas to BC, where he has already established working relationships with Head Coach Rick Campbell, General Manager Ed Hervey and quarterback Mike Reilly. It would no doubt fit a need, as the Lions are looking to spark an offence that struggled throughout much of 2019.
Alouettes’ GM search continues
The contract extension for Khari Jones certainly checked off a significant box for the Alouettes this off-season. Ownership situation notwithstanding, the next pressing need comes from the front office, where the team must hire a full-time general manager to replace the interim Joe Mack.
Now the assistant general manager and director of U.S. scouting with Winnipeg, former CFL quarterback Danny McManus has been linked to the Alouettes job. McManus has been with the Bombers since 2013 after five seasons as a scout with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and is considered one of the top up-and-coming prospects across the league.
In any case, the Als want to get this right. After a resurgent season in Montreal, it’s not hard to imagine a former CFL quarterback tandem of Jones and McManus leading the Alouettes.
CFL Scouting Bureau second edition
With the U SPORTS season officially concluded, and the NCAA season not far behind, the second edition of the CFL Scouting Bureau has become a December tradition as scouts, fans and the league’s top prospects start thinking about the draft.
Oklahoma defensive tackle Neville Gallimore topped the first edition of the list back in September, with Notre Dame receiver Chase Claypool and Ohio quarterback Nathan Rourke rounding out the top three. Plenty of changes are sure to come, while the final edition will be released following the CFL Scouting Combine come April.
Partial neg list reveal
Another CFL tradition is the partial release of league negotiation lists, with each team revealing 10 players on its secret list. It’s true, many of the names on each list never see the light in the three-down game, but many of the league’s biggest stars started out on negotiation lists.
Some of the names that have been revealed in past neg lists include Chris Streveler, Lucky Whitehead, Jumal Rolle, Woody Baron and Rodney Smith, among others. The most recent list, which was revealed back in August, included Shane Zylstra, Jalen Hurts, and Elijah Holyfield, among others.
The league’s list of pending free agents was revealed following the Grey Cup, with each team facing several star players due to test the open market come Feb. 11. But as history shows, a large handful of these players will sign new contracts before the end of December.
Some players will opt to wait and test their value on the open market, but pending free agents are undoubtedly a top priority for general managers around the CFL before the holidays commence. Makana Henry, Chandler Worthy and Derek Wiggan are three relatively big names that have already signed new deals.
December is often a month for longtime veterans to consider their future in the CFL. Longtime Stampeders punter Rob Maver announced his retirement last week following 10 seasons in the league, and others could follow before committing to their off-season regiment for 2020.
After the status of fourth all-time leading passer Ricky Ray dominated headlines last off-season, which players could decide to hang up their cleats?
This may be the off-season of the coaching carousel, but every off-season brings player movement through trades. Some could involve expiring contracts, others may include draft picks. Either way, while free agency doesn’t arrive until February, general managers could look to get a head start on shaping their roster for 2020.
Year in Review
While fans look forward to what’s in store in the year 2020, the holidays offer a chance to look back and reflect on another exciting season gone by. From the top newsmakers of 2019 to all the best games, moments and highlights, CFL.ca will offer plenty of year-end content to relive the last 12 months.