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February 21, 2020

Landry’s 5 takeaways from free agency

Matt Smith/CFL.ca

Hello, CFL general managers. I know you’ve been very busy and are maybe enjoying a li’l downtime right now, but I am very uncomfortable with the prospect of receiver Luke Tasker still being unsigned. What up with that? Nobody need a guy who’s always open on second and long? Always?

Here are some free agency takeaways.

I HAVE SEEN THE GRASS OVER THERE. IT AIN’T GREENER

 

There was no shortage of movement during the first few days of free agency, and there’ll be more, I’m sure, as a number of notable names linger out there as we head towards combine season.

But it was nice to see so many players decide that they were good right where they were, meaning a certain amount of stability of roster could be ensured. Teams like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Hamilton Ticats and Saskatchewan Roughriders already had something good going, and a decent deal – rather than a bank-breaking one – was enough to keep familiar names in familiar colours.

The Ticats kept their entire defensive line intact, for instance, and came to terms with vets like DB Frankie Williams and OL Mike Filer.

The Roughriders kept Solomon Elimimian on board, and Dan Clark and Shaq Evans and Cameron JudgeEd Gainey and Nick Marshall and A.C. Leonard… and on and on.

The Blue Bombers? They held off a full-court press put on by the Toronto Argonauts, keeping the man that almost everyone agrees was the biggest prize in free agency, Willie Jefferson, in blue and gold. And they kept a bunch of O line beef in town as well.

If you’re crying out for a little roster consistency – and most people are – these three powerhouses, at least, offered some of that along with reasons to believe they’ll be just as good as they were – maybe even better – in 2019.

WE’D MOVE INTO A NEW HOUSE SOMEWHERE, BUT WE JUST LOVE THIS NEIGHBOURHOOD SO MUCH

 

I picture Pinball Clemons on a renovation show, standing in front of a ramshackle old fixer-upper, hands on his hips, slowly nodding his head.

Cut to the next scene, and he’s inside, walking frenetically from room to room, exclaiming things like “that wall’s gotta go!” and “brand new picture window here!” and “can’t you just see a gazebo and pond in the back yard?” “Sconces! I want sconces in every room, people!”

The sledgehammers were active, in Toronto, as the new GM set about taking the franchise down to the studs, a massive reno now underway. Delivery trucks have dropped off scads of new pieces (much of it with a “Made In Canada” stamp on it) on both sides of the ball.

Looks like some quality materials there, but does Toronto have the right contractor in Ryan Dinwiddie? Does he have the know-how and staff to bring Clemons’ vision to fruition?

Watch “Pinball’s House,” weekly this summer, to see how the project is coming along.

WELL, THAT MIGHT JUST BE A SNEAKY GOOD SIGNING

Justin Herdman-Reed is now a member of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (Larry MacDougal/CFL.ca)

There were a few transactions that may have been of the under-the-radar variety, but look like they’ll be very good gets, as 2020 plays out.

Coming to mind right away is Hamilton’s inking of Canadian linebacker Justin Herdman-Reed. The 25-year-old had a little injury trouble in 2019 but when he did play, it was apparent that he was emerging as a defensive force in Toronto.

Otha Foster, in Saskatchewan. You forgot about him, right? Last played with BC in 2018 and was his typical self that season, locking down the strong-side linebacker’s position, same as he did in Saskatchewan and Edmonton before that.

Antonio Pipkin, in Edmonton. The Esks have Logan Kilgore in the back-up quarterback mix behind Trevor Harris, but having Pipkin there makes them that much stronger should Harris miss any action in 2020. Who knows how the quarterbacking competition might have turned out in Montreal had Pipkin not been injured? Everybody loves his skill set. And his fiery, competitive nature.

Branden Dozier, in Calgary. He’s a glue guy, in my estimation. One of those defenders that can elevate a unit with consistent, assignment-sound play, every snap. Put him at SAM, put him at safety…whatever you need.

Chris Casher, in BC. All defensive line eyes were on Willie, Ja’Gared, Micah, Dylan, Cleyon, Teddy, and so on. An ascendant pass rushing force, Casher was not on CFL.ca’s list of top 30 pending free agents this off-season. But I’m betting he will be next winter.

FRESH FROM YOUR OWN GARDEN IS BEST. BUT SOMETIMES…

 

The Calgary Stampeders have done a remarkable job of recruiting new, young players over the years; players that have gone on to become stars and household names for CFL fans. They’d plant those seeds, nurture that plot, and then reap the benefits of the bounty that would come.

Because of that, the Stamps haven’t had much reason to go shopping for supplies in a major way during free agencies of the near past. This time, however, they got a little more active, picking up plenty of veteran help to fill holes left by a talent exodus at the end of 2019.

Included: defensive backs Richard Leonard and Branden Dozier, along with punter Ronnie Pfeffer and special teams mainstay (and perhaps D-line mainstay-in-waiting) Connor McGough. Topping it off, the Stampeders signed one of the most valued free agents of the entire bunch, centre Sean McEwen.

“If they keep leaving, it’s just so hard to find new guys,” Head Coach Dave Dickenson said of the constant gardening the team’s been involved in over the years. “You have to shop a little more out in the free agent market.”

I’m told that there’s nothing like fresh produce from the garden that you’ve so lovingly tilled and toiled in. And I think football fans like that a lot, too. They like their team recruiting well and introducing hot new talent to everyone else. It’s a source of pride.

But all that hoeing is an awful lot of work. There’s irrigation, weeding, and trying to keep critters from pilfering your prized tomatoes. What a pain. Once in awhile, you just gotta give yourself a break by paying a premium at the supermarket.

FREE AGENCY ANSWERS QUESTIONS. EXCEPT WHEN IT’S ASKING THEM

With the dust settling on free agency, there’s a whole whack of questions hanging in the air, now clearly seen. The answers will exert crucial forces on the fortunes of the players involved as the season unfolds, some will go beyond that and affect their entire team’s trajectory.

Can the Alouettes continue to rise despite so much turnover on their roster? Is Ottawa’s Nick Arbuckle as good as I think he is? Will Toronto’s Matt Nichols be the Matt Nichols we’ve known before his injury and rehab? Can two starting quarterbacks coexist peacefully in Hamilton? Can Winnipeg’s vaunted offensive line keep Zach Collaros healthy? Can Saskatchewan’s Shaq Evans and Jordan Williams-Lambert be the league’s most terrifying receiving duo? Is Shaq Cooper ready to dominate out of the Edmonton backfield? Do the Stampeders have adequate QB depth behind Bo? Can Micah Johnson’s considerable presence transform BC’s defence into an elite unit?

Well, that’s why they play the games, right?

AND FINALLY….

A moment in time; The BC Lions announce they’ve signed free agent offensive lineman Ryker Matthews. At that exact moment, quarterback Mike Reilly drops to his knees, buries his face in his
hands, and weeps. Weeps tears of joy.