- Free Agency
TORONTO — The 2019 CFL GM Meetings continue in Collingwood, Ont. and after the various coaches and general managers had the chance to meet with the media, we have some very interesting talking points from some of the teams around the league.
There are always some intriguing storylines heading into free agency with the myriad of movement that usually happens with players. Additionally, with multiple head coaching hires, we’re also waiting to see what the full coaching staffs will look like for a few teams.
Here are the takeaways from the CFL GM Meetings:
1. REDBLACKS, Arbuckle coming closer to deal?
It’s been under a week since the Ottawa REDBLACKS acquired the rights to Nick Arbuckle and with over a month to negotiate a new contract, the REDBLACKS are optimistic that they’ll get a chance to sit down with the QB and try to ink a deal.
“I called and spoke to him about a half-hour ago,” REDBLACKS head coach Paul LaPolice said as he sat down with CFL.ca’s Chris O’Leary. “I talked to him the night of the trade for about an hour and had a good conversation. He’ll be out (to Ottawa) in a week or so and I’m going to go sit down and talk to him.”
LaPolice also praised Arbuckle’s ability to help lead the Calgary Stampeders while star pivot Bo Levi Mitchell was out of commission with an injury. The 26-year-old could bring instant stability to a REDBLACKS squad that had three different individuals rotating time under centre by the end of the 2019 campaign.
Ottawa got its biggest need out of the way ahead of time and while LaPolice and the rest of the team’s front office still has a lot of work to do in the off-season, they’re confident in their pitch to free agents.
“I would say this. I think we have a lot of things to offer,” LaPolice said. “Whichever free agent wants to come. We’ve got a fan base that cares about football. We’ve got good facilities. We’ve got a great city, in Ottawa. You’ve got a team that’s had success over the course of their years. I think we have a good coaching staff. I think we have a lot to offer and I hope people appreciate that.”
2. Bo undergoes off-season surgery
2019 was an up and down season for 2018 Most Outstanding Player and Grey Cup MVP Bo Levi Mitchell.
The star pivot was placed on the six-game injured list after suffering a pectoral injury in Week 3 against the BC Lions. The 29-year-old returned in Week 12 and was solid down the stretch for Calgary, helping them make a late push for the West Division crown.
However, Mitchell had a procedure done on his shoulder a few weeks ago, Stamps president and general manager John Hufnagel confirmed to the Calgary Sun’s Danny Austin.
He had a cyst removed and there is a chance that he could miss the start of training camp. Despite that, the Stamps won’t be ruling out the possibility of Mitchell being good to go.
“Bo had a little bit of a shoulder procedure done trying to fix what’s been bothering him for the last couple years,” Hufnagel told Austin. “He went to doctors in L.A. Everything went very, very well and right now he’s ahead of schedule. We’re hoping for the best and that he can get some work done during training camp, but it’s wait-and-see.”
Calgary was already going to be in need of a quarterback to back up Mitchell after moving Nick Arbuckle to Ottawa. Now, with their starting signal-caller possibly taking some time to get back, they’ll want an added insurance policy.
Luckily for Hugnagel and Co., there are several names that would be intriguing to fill the role.
3. Teams preparing to announce 2020 coaching staffs
The BC Lions were quick to announce their coaching staff, rolling out the list of individuals that will help new head coach Rick Campbell in 2020.
They will be far from the last team to do that. The Edmonton Eskimos, Toronto Argonauts and Ottawa REDBLACKS are all set to announce their new staffs in the coming weeks as well, with Scott Milanovich, Ryan Dinwiddie and Paul LaPolice putting their respective stamps on their organizations.
“Probably in a week we will,” LaPolice said to O’Leary when asked if he’s put together his Ottawa staff. “We’ll be going out the coaches convention and talking to some guys in the next couple days. But I like our core of coaches. We’ve got two former head coaches here and then certainly I think your coordinators have to have experience and we’ve got very experienced coordinators.”
Dinwiddie will also be looking to revamp his staff in Toronto. Former offensive coordinator Jacques Chapdelaine is not expected to be back, so it’ll be interesting to see who the first-time head coach taps to be a part of the Argos in 2020.
“I want quality people. Good men that are going to treat the players the right way and do it for the right reasons and also quality football coaches. Guys that are self-motivators that are very prideful in what they do,” Dinwiddie said. “I’m not going to have to oversee everything and be a babysitter and I’m looking forward to not having those (kinds of) guys around. I’ve been on some staffs where guys just do enough to get by. I don’t want that.
“I want guys who take pride in their position groups, whether they’re on offence or defence or coordinators and really take ownership of that.”
Finally, Milanovich also mentioned to O’Leary that he’s also trying to finish up his coaching hires.
“I look for guys that are able to teach, first and foremost,” Milanovich said. “A lot of people know football, but if they can’t get the players to know what they know, that doesn’t do us any good. So, first of all, you’ve got to be able to communicate with players and that’s teaching.
“I think there’s going to be a degree nowadays of having to be able to relate to today’s modern athlete in a different way than we did it 40 years ago.”
4. Argos still mulling quarterback options
The Toronto Argonauts are still in need of a starting quarterback heading into the 2020 season.
With Ottawa having first dibs on trying to sign Arbuckle, the Double Blue will have to look elsewhere for the man who will run the offence going forward. Luckily for them, there are still some solid names on the board. The man headlining the group will still be Matt Nichols, who still hasn’t re-upped with Winnipeg and appears to be headed to market.
However, Dinwiddie as well as Argos’ GM Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons, said that they did like the play of McLeod Bethel-Thompson in 2019. That could signal that the team would be open to a reunion with their starter from this past season.
The Argos have Michael O’Connor in the pipeline and they’ll be looking to have someone to run the offence while they continue to develop the 23-year-old further.
“He’s a pocket type of guy. I had a very high grade on him coming into the CFL draft last year so I feel like I got a pretty good feel for him,” Dinwiddie said of O’Connor to CFL.ca’s Chris O’Leary. “But (with) any young quarterbacks, you want to give them a year or two before they play. Look at Vernon Adams. (It took) three, four years and he finally got an opportunity to play and play well.”
Dinwiddie added that the team’s quarterback situation is “in limbo” heading into free agency in a month’s time. There are a lot of different scenarios still on the board, so the Argos will be one of the more interesting teams to keep an eye on once free agency opens.
5. Riders set to move forward without Derrick Moncrief
Among the top of the list when it came to off-season priorities for the Saskatchewan Roughriders was re-signing their standout linebackers from 2019.
Derrick Moncrief, Solomon Elimimian and Cameron Judge were all pending free agents, and with a slew of players being released from their contracts in order to pursue NFL opportunities, the Riders allowed Moncrief to walk in order to try his luck south of the border.
“You have to feel happy about the players getting an opportunity to really take care of their family and an opportunity to play in the NFL,” Riders general manager Jeremy O’Day said to the Regina Leader-Post’s Murray McCormick on Tuesday.
“It’s also a reason why a lot of guys come up to Canada to play — the opportunity to play well and then go back. It just seems there are a greater number of our guys going back (to the NFL) than ever before.”
The 26-year-old played a career-high 17 games with the Green and White in 2019, making 69 tackles, four sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble.
Now, Saskatchewan will be trying to bring back Elimimian — who was a West Division All-Star — and Judge, who was a 2019 Most Outstanding Canadian nominee.