- FREE AGENCY
I’d like to be Santa Claus for a little while. I’m not asking for anything crazy, mind you: just a few minutes with the ability to deliver some gifts to a few deserving people involved with our great league.
Alas, this opportunity likely won’t be bestowed upon me, but a guy can wish. If I did have Santa gift-giving abilities, though, here’s what I’d be delivering on Tuesday night.
Cody Fajardo: A great follow-up season
I felt so bad for Fajardo following Saskatchewan’s Western Final loss to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. One of the enduring images of the 2019 post-season will be Fajardo on the ground in anguish after his potential game-tying touchdown pass clanked off the crossbar instead of into Kyran Moore’s grasp. Fajardo apologized for letting down Rider Nation following that 20-13 loss, but the truth is, he did nothing of the sort.
Fajardo was nothing but gutsy as he pushed through an extremely difficult injury. Fajardo’s performance, despite being limited, makes you wonder how things might have been different had he been healthy. Saskatchewan’s quarterback was a revelation in 2019 and will enter next season with high expectations. He never deserved to take all the blame for a Riders’ playoff loss, but he deserves a really good follow-up to his great first season as a CFL starter.
Paul LaPolice: Time to make his mark
Paul LaPolice earned his second head-coaching job in this league. After being fired midway through his third season as head coach of the Bombers in 2012, LaPolice worked his way back to the top of the tree. It started with three years as a television analyst, followed by four years as offensive coordinator with the team that fired him. I’m hoping he gets some real runway to start shaping the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
LaPolice took Winnipeg to the Grey Cup in his second year and was fired eight games into the following year. I’m hoping he gets a longer shot with his new team. Ottawa has a lot of work to do after a miserable year that saw them lose their last 11 games and 15 of their last 16. But if the REDBLACKS believe LaPolice is the right man for the job, they need to give him a time to truly build. That means no short leash, even if the team struggles in the win-loss column in 2020.
McLeod Bethel-Thompson: A fair shot
Everything seems up in the air for next season in Toronto right now. With Pinball Clemons and Ryan Dinwiddie in as general manager and head coach, respectively, for 2020, I’m not sure anyone has a good idea what the Argos are going to look like come June. That said, I hope quarterback McLeod Bethel-Thompson gets a fair look, whether it be in Toronto or elsewhere, because I feel like he earned it in 2019.
The journeyman started 13 games with the Argos this past season and was one of the few bright spots in what was a largely disappointing campaign. Bethel-Thompson led the CFL with 26 touchdown passes and finished third in passing yards (4,024) and proved he belongs in this league, at the very least. I’m not sure if Toronto will bring him back, but he fully deserves a home, and a training camp look, somewhere come free agency.
DeVone Claybrooks: A job somewhere
So you’re telling me the hottest coaching commodity each of the past two winters all of a sudden knows nothing about football? Sure, 2019 didn’t go well for the BC Lions as Claybrooks got his first shot as a head coach, but this guy should be coaching somewhere next season. Claybrooks is going to have to rehab his “image,” for lack of a better word, when it comes to being a head coach. But a job on a staff somewhere should be a no-brainer.
Of course, Claybrooks would have to be okay with stepping into a coordinator or positional job, but he wouldn’t be the first to do so successfully (evidence: the aforementioned LaPolice). But if Claybrooks is okay taking a job on a staff for 2020, teams would be crazy not to take advantage of his defensive mind. I’m biased, because I think Claybrooks is an extremely good coach, but whether it’s in the CFL or elsewhere, I’m hoping he lands on his feet.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats fans: That elusive title
Yep, if I had Santa’s abilities, I’d be delivering a Grey Cup to fans in Hamilton. After losing the 107th Grey Cup to Winnipeg, the Tiger-Cats now own the CFL’s longest championship drought; they’ve now gone 20 straight seasons without a Grey Cup. Fans in the Hammer are loyal, knowledgeable, and hardcore. They truly do deserve to see that streak shattered into a million pieces.
The best part is, it’s not like delivering a Grey Cup title to the Ticats would be crazy, because they’ll be viewed as true contenders once again in 2020. There are some crucial off-season decisions to be made in Hamilton, starting with determining if Dane Evans or Jeremiah Masoli will be the quarterback going forward. Regardless, though, with Orlondo Steinauer at the helm and the core group under contract for next year, there’s no reason the Tiger-Cats shouldn’t have a great shot of playing for the Grey Cup for a fourth time in eight seasons.