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March 2, 2020

Steinberg’s MMQB: An abundance of potential

Dominick Gravel/MontrealAlouettes.com

2020 CFL free agency has been fascinating. Many of the biggest names opted to stay with their teams from last year, led by Willie Jefferson, Ja’Gared Davis, and Dylan Wynn. We also haven’t seen Derel Walker make a decision as of yet, which leaves the biggest name on offence still available.

In saying that, it’s not like free agency hasn’t been busy. We’ve seen plenty of movement and I’ve pinpointed six moves poised to pay off huge for the coming season.

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Jonathon Mincy, DB, Edmonton Eskimos

Mincy was just starting to establish himself as an impact defensive back before he left for a chance with the Chicago Bears following the 2017 season. In two seasons with the Montreal Alouettes, Mincy racked up 108 defensive tackles, was the team’s nominee for Most Outstanding Rookie in 2016 and was named an East Division All-Star in 2017.

After things didn’t work out in the NFL, Mincy got into one game with Toronto last season before signing with the Esks earlier this month. Mincy was developing a reputation as one of the league’s top corners before leaving. He’s physical and strong, which makes him great in press coverage and, at 27, comes back with a great chance to get back to that level again.

Dominique Rhymes, WR, BC Lions

I argued for Rhymes as the best “under the radar” signing last week in the latest edition of Berg vs. Ferg. I don’t think that term will apply for much longer, though. One of BC’s many additions this winter, I believe Rhymes is poised for a breakout season. When you bring a big play receiver with breakaway speed like Rhymes into an offence with Mike Reilly at quarterback and Bryan Burnham in the slot, the sky is the limit.

Rhymes is coming off a career season with the Ottawa REDBLACKS. In his third season with the team, and only full CFL campaign, Rhymes finished with 65 receptions, 1,056 receiving yards and five touchdown catches. He finished top ten in receiving yards despite a quarterback situation that struggled all season long. The way Reilly was trending down the stretch, this looks to be a much better situation for Rhymes with the Lions.

Richard Leonard, DB, Calgary Stampeders

Richard Leonard signed with the Calgary Stampeders after he became a free agent this year (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

Typically quiet in the early stages of free agency, Calgary made a few big splashes on day one. The biggest of those additions was defensive back Richard Leonard who joins the Stamps after three outstanding years in Hamilton. In those three seasons, Leonard was an East Division All-Star twice and a 2019 CFL All-Star as he helped the Ticats to a Grey Cup appearance.

Bringing in an established impact maker in the secondary was a priority for Calgary knowing the departures we’ve seen. The Stamps have said goodbye to 2019 starters Tre Roberson (Chicago), DaShaun Amos (Green Bay), and Brandon Smith (retirement). Leonard should slot nicely into one of the halfback slots vacated by Amos and Smith and brings experience and poise to Calgary’s defensive backfield.

DeVier Posey, WR, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Hamilton has been busy ensuring they brought back the entirety of their feared defensive line, which is crucial. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t able to make a sneaky good add on the offensive side of the ball. In Posey, the Ticats have brought in a dangerous, game-breaking receiver to compliment Brandon Banks, the most explosive player in the game.

Don’t let Posey’s numbers fool you. He battled injuries in 2017 and 2019, but a healthy season would have seen him go well over 1,000 yards with the Lions and Alouettes, respectively. In 2018, Posey started the season with the Baltimore Ravens before joining BC, which limited him to just eight appearances. A healthy Posey with a full training camp in Hamilton’s offence has the potential to be devastating.

Alex Bazzie, DL, Toronto Argonauts

Coming off a tough season with a new general manager and head coach, the Argos have been one of the busiest teams in free agency. They’ve added numerous players across the board, including receivers DaVaris Daniels and Juwan Brescasin. But it’s the signing of Bazzie that caught my eye the most because this guy is as hard to handle coming as they come.

2019 only saw Bazzie suit up for nine with the Eskimos, but we’re talking about a guy who’s racked up double-digit sacks in this league twice. Bazzie is being brought in to anchor Toronto’s defensive line and I think that’s a challenge he’s going to embrace. The Argonauts have a lot of questions surrounding this season’s group, but you can be confident of a feared pass rusher in Bazzie off the edge.

Cleyon Laing, DL, Ottawa REDBLACKS

Cleyon Laing adds a Canadian passport to the REDBLACKS defensive line (Geoff Robins/CFL.ca)

We’re saving the best for the last. A dominant interior defensive lineman, Ottawa’s signing of Laing might be one of the most important additions of the winter. Laing is in the same conversation as other high-end defensive tackles like Wynn, Ted Laurent, and Micah Johnson but brings something they don’t: a Canadian passport. A true ratio buster, the REDBLACKS got a gem in Laing.

Ottawa’s defensive line play was one of many things they struggled with in 2019, but bringing in a player like Laing instantly elevates them to a new level. He’ll help up the game of returning linemen Avery Ellis and Michael Wakefield and all of a sudden I like the way the REDBLACKS are shaping up in their front four. That’s what a signing like Laing can do.

Quick hits

Two teams conspicuously absent from the free agent party have been Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, but that’s not a bad thing. Instead the Bombers and Riders have been busy keeping their solid rosters together for another year. Sask has resigned 2019 leaders Cameron Judge, Shaq Evans, and Solomon Elimimian, among many others. The Roughriders were a game away from another Grey Cup appearance last year and had no reason to dramatically overhaul things.

The same is true for the defending champs. The Bombers didn’t really need to reel in a bunch of high priced free agents. Instead, they focused on bringing back elite names like Jefferson, Stanley Bryant, and Darvin Adams while also committing to Zach Collaros as their starting quarterback. Being quiet in free agency doesn’t mean a team is having a bad off-season.

Finally, I have to give RJ Harris’s football camp a little love. If the President of the United States can help get the word out, it’s the least we can do at the MMQB! Harris is hosting his first annual youth football camp at his alma mater Arundel High in Maryland. The camp goes April 26th and all the info is on Harris’s suddenly famous Twitter.