Esks.com/Geoff Robins/Jason Halstead/Arthur Ward/BCLions.com
The two-month countdown can begin to CFL free agency 2020.
Teams will have to set their priorities, access their depth, crunch the salary cap numbers and devise their plan to make their team better.
Out West, there are plenty of talented players who could bolster a team willing to spend big in free agency. And once again the top teams will have to fight the balance of the rising cost of keeping your roster together and the reality of a salary cap where tough decisions and big-name stars may have to be left by the wayside.
We’ll start with the defending Grey Cup Champs for 2020
Notable offensive players heading to free agency; QBs Matt Nichols, Chris Streveler and Zach Collaros; WR Darvin Adams; OL Stanley Bryant and Michael Couture
It’s clear what position is the highest on the priority list. To defend a title, you’re going to have to decide which quarterback(s) you’re going to bring back. Odds are it’ll be Matt Nichols back as the starting quarterback after leading the team to a great start to the season before an injury.
Next up would be who is going to protect the quarterback as Bryant is up for free agency. Bryant has been nominated out of the West as the top offensive lineman for three straight seasons. You also see centre, Michael Couture, on the list. The team survived without him in the Grey Cup, but Couture is just 25 years old and needs to be a high priority with a young corps of young Canadian offensive lineman building in Winnipeg.
At receiver, Rasheed Bailey, Lucky Whitehead and Kenny Lawler are all under contract and showed flashes in their first season in Winnipeg. You wonder if veteran Darvin Adams returns, while youngster Drew Wolitarsky had a big drop in production in his second year as a starter but is a ratio breaker to have Winnipeg start six Canadians of offence.
Notable defensive players heading to free agency; DL Willie Jefferson, Drake Nevis and Jake Thomas; DB Chandler Fenner, Jeff Hecht, Winston Rose, Nick Taylor and Marcus Sayles.
Willie Jefferson is already getting NFL interest and his departure would be a huge loss on the defensive line, but don’t underestimate the importance of Nevis and Thomas as well. There was a reason so many teams could gain a yard in the playoffs against this defensive front. Nevis and Thomas can take the pressure off the ends.
The Bombers’ defensive backfield improved during the season and three of five starters in the Grey Cup game are potential free agents. Winnipeg would hate to have to re-build that secondary again.
Overall, it could be a lot worse for the defending champs. They have some core players intact and a solid group of Canadians moving into 2020.
Notable offensive players heading to free agency; WR Naaman Roosevelt, Emmanuel Arceneaux, Shaq Evans and Cory Watson; OL Thaddeus Coleman, Dan Clark, Dariusz Bladek and Phillip Blake; RB Marcus Thigpen.
The Riders would love to have game-breaker Shaq Evans back in the offensive weaponry, but NFL tryouts may be on the horizon, which leaves them pondering veteran starters Roosevelt, Arceneaux and Watson. They need to make sure their new franchise QB is as comfortable as possible as only Kyran Moore and Jordan Williams-Lambert caught passes from Cody Fajardo in 2019. Kenny Stafford is an interesting piece now with Jason Maas as offensive coordinator. He’s a former Eskimo who could help and leave a vet out of the mix.
The Riders’ offensive line has to be somewhat of a concern as their Canadian depth was a big reason why they were successful despite so many injuries. Now three of the five guys they leaned on are potential free agents. Thad Coleman is another veteran who would love to return but the team may want to get younger at that right tackle spot.
Notable defensive players heading to free agency; DL A.C. Leonard and Micah Johnson; LB Cam Judge, Derrick Moncrief and Solomon Elimimian; DB Nick Marshall and Ed Gainey.
The Riders already re-signed Mak Henry and Louchiez Purifoy so their list isn’t as daunting. It’s the vets on this list (Johnson, Gainey, Elimimian) where you have the biggest questions on whether they’ll return or if the Riders have them as high priorities. Johnson’s contract will have to drop to bring him back.
Moncrief is getting NFL interest and Judge is also interested in seeing what could come from down south which leaves the Riders with the potential for a huge hole in their defence if all three linebackers don’t return.
The biggest issue overall for the Riders is the amount of Canadian starters (4) that are potential free agents. You don’t want to see that number getting too close to the mandatory seven.
Notable offensive players heading to free agency; QB Nick Arbuckle; RB Don Jackson, Terry Williams and Romar Morris; WR Reggie Begelton and Juwan Brescacin; OL Derek Dennis and Nila Kasitati
Overall, this is the best situation the Stampeders have been in for a while when it comes to impact offensive players heading to free agency. Begelton would hurt to lose after a career season, but there is great depth there for Bo Levi Mitchell.
While the Stamps have a couple of their running backs heading to free agency, you’re not sure how many return. Ka’Deem Carey led the team in rushing this season with under 500 yards so the Stamps are on the prowl for an impact back who can stay healthy.
Williams will return to the offensive line that is also intact aside from Derek Dennis and Kasitati. It’ll be interesting to see if Dennis age plays a factor as he heads into his 30s, while Kasitati is five years younger. That could be a way to save some money for the Stamps.
Notable defensive players heading to free agency; DL Chris Casher and Junior Turner; LB Cory Greenwood; DB Dashaun Amos, Brandon Smith and Courtney Stephen.
The biggest issue for the Stampeders may not be their potential free agents but whether the NFL window for prospective players like Tre Roberson gets a shot down south. Nate Holley is another guy who could get several NFL looks.
The Stamps potential free agent list isn’t long for starters and they’ve already done a great job locking up Cordarro Law, Jamar Wall and Derek Wiggan to stick around for 2020. DaShaun Amos had a terrific year filling in for some vets that left last off-season so he will be a priority for John Hufnagel to bring back, especially with Smith retiring and the potential for Roberson to be in the NFL.
Notable offensive players heading to free agency; QB Logan Kilgore; RB Shaq Cooper, CJ Gable and Martese Jackson; WR Davaris Daniels; OL David Beard, Jacob Ruby and Tommie Draheim
We’ll see how Scott Milanovich will assess his roster when he arrives in January to help Brock Sunderland layout a free agency plan. Logan Kilgore didn’t really give the Eskimos a shot at staying in the race in the West so you could see the Eskimos maybe improve there. But the run game is especially interesting because if you were going to move on from the ageing CJ Gable, Shaq Cooper or Martese Jackson could be options but they’re both potential free agents as well. At least the Esks have options.
When you have three starting offensive linemen on your free agent list, isn’t great especially with two Canadians on a team that doesn’t have great Canadian offensive line depth. The benefit for the Eskimos is a healthy SirVincent Rogers to get started in 2020.
Notable defensive players who are potential free agents; DL Alex Bazzie, Nick Usher and Mike Moore; LB Larry Dean, Don Unamba, Jovan Santos-Knox and Christophe Mulumba; DB Tyquwan Glass, Jordan Hoover, Arjen Colquhoun and Josh Johnson
You never want to see a big chunk of one unit on the free-agent list and that’s the case for the Eskimos linebacking group. They’re all impact players as well who the Eskimos hoped would improve the defence and it was mission accomplished. Now they have to see who they can re-sign.
Nick Usher and Mike Moore were big factors for the Eskimos dynamic defensive line. They’re also young and some players to build around if you can keep them in Edmonton.
The secondary could also take a hit with four players who could start in the CFL. There are some depth pieces in place for the Eskimos in the secondary but a player like Josh Johnson started in four different spots in 2019. That’s versatility that is very useful in the CFL. Canadians Hoover and Colquhoun are valuable assets for the Canadian ratio.
Notable offensive players who are potential free agents; QB Danny O’Brien and Brandon Bridge; WR Shaq Johnson, Ryan Lankford and Rashaun Simonise; OL Hunter Steward, David Foucault and Justin Renfrow
The biggest problem for the B.C. Lions was their offensive line but Steward, Foucault and Renfrow were part of the solution as they improved later in the season. Look for the potential for the Lions to look to upgrade that position, though there aren’t a lot of all-star Canadian offensive lineman who are sitting there in free agency.
Shaquille Johnson and Rashaun Simonise helped the Lions play at times three Canadian starting receivers, though I think Ed Hervey will try to change the ratio around and give Mike Reilly a more threatening starting five. They released Duron Carter so it’ll be Bryan Burnham, a healthy Lemar Durant and that’s it for now. Improvement is necessary.
Notable defensive players heading to free agency; DL Odell Willis, Shawn Lemon, David Menard, Junior Luke and Jonathon Newsome; LB Maleki Harris and Adam Konar; DB Garry Peters, Aaron Grymes, Branden Dozier and Chris Edwards
Overall this is a unit that can improve drastically. They couldn’t get a consistent pass rush with veteran ends and no push up the middle. Maleki Harris had the tough task of trying to replace Solomon Elimimian. The secondary had an ok year but you wonder how much that had to do with the lack of pass rush, giving quarterbacks a little too much time to find open receivers and not have forced throws ripe for the picking.
Again, Ed Hervey will have his work cut out for him to make some decisions on whether he develops younger to help save money in the salary cap or what priorities he’ll invest in to improve the team. I’m guessing defensive and offensive lines will be high priorities.