TORONTO — Bragging rights are always on the line in the Canadian Football League. With every signing, fans love to stack up their team against their bitter rivals and debate who will come out on top when they clash that coming season.
The 2021 off-season brought its fair share of movement, with a number of big names changing sides ahead of an exciting year of games.
But how do these teams stack up now that the bulk of free-agent signings have been made? Let’s break it down.
We’ll take a look at which team is best in class when it comes to the positional groups on the offensive side of the ball, which players could turn the tide, who could be a dark horse in 2021 and which units you should keep an eye on for the future.
The Pick: Edmonton
Edmonton’s offensive line has an exceptional blend of Canadian and American, veteran and young talent. From recent Canadian draft picks Kyle Saxelid out of UNLV and Tomas Jack-Kurdyla from Buffalo, to veteran American tackles SirVincent Rogers and Derek Dennis, the EE Football Team is ready to protect Trevor Harris as he gets the ball out quicker than ever in Jaime Elizondo’s offence. A system that will only make them look better.
Honourable Mention: Winnipeg
It’s pretty hard not to pick any offensive line with Stanley Bryant on it, but the Bombers have experienced the always tough combo of injuries, retirements and free-agent departures over the last couple of years. Can their dominance continue up front? Never say never.
Powershift: BC OL Ryker Mathews
In a single move, the struggling BC Lions’ protection scheme gained a plethora of respect in my books while Hamilton suddenly had a hole requiring filing.
Brett Boyko and Evan Johnson are added to the fray as Philip Blake, Dariusz Bladek and Dakoda Shepley depart. Fajardo and Maas will be productive no matter what, but will they be aided to a great extent by the men up front?
Based solely on Canadian talent, I take Hamilton here. Despite losing Ryker Mathews and Mike Filer, the talent pool is deep in Hamilton with Darius Ciraco already a CFL vet despite his young age.
Behind him is Guelph first-rounder Coulter Woodmansey, Waterloo top pick Jesse Gibbon, UBC’s Sheridan Lawley and Calgary Dinos alum Joel Van Pelt. Oh, and that guy Revenberg isn’t done yet either.
The Pick: Hamilton
If the CFL is truly a league requiring two quarterbacks, as I’ve increasingly become partial to. No team in 2021 is better set up than Hamilton. With a motivated Jeremiah Masoli coming off the 2019 ACL tear with extensive rehabilitation time allowed by the pandemic alongside Grey-Cup seasoned Dane Evans, who showed flashes of brilliance and will continue to refine and adapt to the CFL game as his career evolves.
Honourable Mention: Calgary & Edmonton
Alberta is about to experience an offensive revolution. Bo and Dickenson will always be at or near the top of this list until further notice while Jaime Elizondo is about to take 2019 Trevor Harris and pour gasoline on the fire with Derek Walker, Greg Ellingson, and Armanti Edwards.
Alberta’s Labour Day Classic is now essentially a rematch of two recent Grey Cups. Incredible.
Powershift: BC QB Mike Reilly with an offensive line
Let’s be real, we never got to see what Mike Reilly was truly capable of in 2019. Get the man some help up front — as the Lions have — and he could become an MOP front runner with Burnham, Durant, and Rhymes, to name a few.
What does Zach Collaros look like over a full season in Manitoba? What does he look like with Buck Pierce calling the shots instead of Paul LaPolice? Your guess is as good as mine, but the talent is unquestionably there still.
The pressure to perform and succeed quickly will be on Fajardo in 2021, but with a new offensive coordinator, I think Fajardo’s best time comes in 2022 and beyond.
The Pick: Hamilton
The reigning MOP in Brandon Banks, a No. 2 receiver who consistently produces like a No. 1 target in Bralon Addison, free-agent addition DeVier Posey and more. The Ticats might lack size in the majority of the ball-catchers, but the speed, route running, hands — and most importantly, the elite system designed by OC Tommy Condell — are locked and loaded for 2021.
Honourable Mention: Edmonton
What Hamilton lacks in size, Edmonton has in leaps and bounds with Derel Walker and Greg Ellingson. Factor in Armanti Edwards and you could be set to see Elizondo create another trio of 1,000-yard single-season receivers — schedule length pending — in Edmonton this season.
Powershift: Montreal REC Naaman Roosevelt
We have forgotten about many free agency moves of 2019, but this one stuck out to me as a landmark shift in offensive attack. I’m still waiting, I’m still excited to see it.
Based on their adventurous off-season Toronto could be listed as the wildcard for many positional groups, but at receiver, it’s a special kind of question with endless talent. From Eric Rogers to Juwan Brescacin, Martavius Bryant to Dejon Brissett and beyond. The question is how many make the roster, how many start, and how many find their fit quickly in the Arbuckle-Dinwiddie offence?
Thanks to Hergy Mayala (first round) and Colton Hunchak (eighth round), the Stamps led the CFL in 2019 Canadian rookie targets (58.1%), Canadian rookie catches (64.2%), and Canadian rookie receiving yards (70.1%). They’re set up for the future.
The Pick: Winnipeg
Any room with Andrew Harris in it is my pick. His combination of pass-catching, run after the catch, and work between the tackles is unrelenting and has led to his usage rate soaring above all others in the past three seasons. I saw how Collaros looked working alongside him in 2019. If it’s anywhere close to that in 2021, Harris is set for another stellar campaign.
Honourable Mention: Montreal
The size, the speed, the aggressive running style and more. William Stanback is going to make the Alouettes a more balanced and dynamic attack than two years ago. He might even surpass Harris’ numbers under the right circumstances.
Power shift: Edmonton RB James Wilder Jr.
Motivated and in the right offence, Wilder is a beast. Could he be to Elizondo’s Edmonton what Powell was to Elizondo’s Ottawa teams?
Under Paul LaPolice’s direction, Andrew Harris went from above average to elite. In his time replacing Harris, Timothy Flanders showed he could produce at a similar rate. Can he sustain in an evolved REDBLACKS attack?
Nothing wrong with Ante Milanovich-Litre, Charlie Power or William Langlais, but this projection lays solely on the idea of Calgary taking Chuba Hubbard in a late round, him coming to the CFL, and being the type of player in Canada I believe he can.