Two free agency periods. Big trades. A coaching carousel. Significant retirements.
“Shuffling” doesn’t really begin to describe how much turnover we’ve seen since Winnipeg won the 107th Grey Cup in November 2019.
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We’re here to help. With training camps opening this weekend, here’s a team-by-team primer to help get you set up for the most anticipated CFL season ever.
|BC | CALGARY | EDMONTON | SASKATCHEWAN | WINNIPEG | HAMILTON | TORONTO | OTTAWA | MONTREAL|
Biggest off-season storyline: Bringing the band back
Since ending the league’s longest title drought, general manager Kyle Walters has been aggressive in keeping this Bombers core together. It started with signing head coach Mike O’Shea to an extension in December 2019. Since then, we’ve seen key players Andrew Harris, Willie Jefferson, Zach Collaros, and Adam Bighill sign back with Winnipeg.
Yes, offensive coordinator Paul LaPolice has moved on to Ottawa and a few key players have gone elsewhere, namely Justin Medlock, Winston Rose and Drake Nevis. But the vast majority of Winnipeg’s core is back for a run at a second straight Grey Cup.
New face to watch: Marc Liegghio, kicker/punter
Medlock is one of the best ever at both positions, so his loss is significant. Enter 2020 fifth round pick Liegghio, who is expected to take over at both kicker and punter. Liegghio was a U SPORTS first-team All-Canadian at Western in 2019 and comes with impressive credentials.
Flying under the radar: Darvin Adams, receiver
Adams’s numbers were down in 2019, mainly due to injury. But when the Bombers needed him most, the dynamic receiver was at his very best. Adams turned out his three best games late in the season when he was fully healthy, including huge playoff performances against Calgary and Saskatchewan. A healthy Adams is still one of the CFL’s most dangerous players.
Biggest off-season storyline: A run at redemption
Wire-to-wire, Hamilton was 2019’s best team. Unfortunately, the Ticats didn’t wrap it up with a championship, which makes all of what they accomplished feel less impactful. The good news is Hamilton brought almost everybody back with a single motivation: to win that last game.
The Tiger-Cats are returning their entire standout defensive line. All their major award winners are back, too: Brandon Banks (Most Outstanding Player), Frankie Williams (Most Outstanding Special Teams) and Chris Van Zeyl (Most Outstanding Lineman). Jeremiah Masoli and Dane Evans are back at quarterback. Anything but a Grey Cup win on home field will be a disappointment this year.
New face to watch: Ciante Evans, defensive back
The rich get richer, right? Even with a backfield full of elite defenders Williams, Cariel Brooks, Tunde Adeleke, and Jumal Rolle, Hamilton managed to bring Evans into the fold in free agency. Evans was great with Montreal in 2019, racking up three interceptions in 13 games. He’ll be a great fit in an already stacked Ticats’ secondary.
Flying under the radar: Frankie Williams, defensive back
He was recognized for his special teams work as a returner in 2019, which was well deserved. But Williams is also an important member of Hamilton’s backfield and will be once again this season. With Delvin Breaux Sr.’s retirement, Williams will likely partner Rolle at corner in 2021, putting him in a key defensive spot once again.
Biggest off-season storyline: Now is the time
Since winning the Grey Cup in 2013, the Riders have won one playoff game and haven’t been back to the championship game. But, after finishing first in their division and coming agonizingly close to winning the Western Final in 2019, Saskatchewan feels ready to bring the big prize home. That will certainly be the expectation this year.
Quarterback Cody Fajardo is the reigning West Division Most Outstanding Player. The Roughriders also have offensive focal points Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, and William Powell back for another year. Defensively, there are holes to fill after a few late-breaking injuries and a couple departures. Fortunately, with that offence, Saskatchewan should be able to outscore any potential growing pains early on this season.
New face(s) to watch: Jordan and Justin Herdman-Reed, linebacker
When a team signs a pair of twin brothers, you can’t just choose one, right? The Herdman-Reed’s joined the Riders in free agency with a shot at breakout seasons, and those chances are even higher with Larry Dean’s Achilles injury. Both Jordan (BC) and Justin (Toronto) had promising 2019 campaigns and, with Saskatchewan’s linebacker situation wide open, huge opportunity exists for both.
Flying under the radar: Jordan Williams-Lambert, receiver
Williams-Lambert rejoined the Riders late in the 2019 season and was never really in a position to make a significant impact. In his only full CFL season the year prior, though, the 27-year-old receiver had started to come into his own down the stretch. Talented and explosive, Williams-Lambert is a great addition to an already dangerous aerial attack.
Biggest off-season storyline: Taking another step
The Als were 2019’s biggest feel good story. Led by breakout star Vernon Adams Jr., Montreal finished second in the East Division at 10-8 and returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. It was great to see the Alouettes back in a prominent spot, but now it’s time to build on that.
They’re in a good position to do just that, mainly because, unlike last season, head coach Khari Jones has more than seven days to prepare for training camp. Montreal did a lot of good things before losing to an experienced Edmonton team in the Eastern Semi-Final. Now it’s time to take that next step.
One new face to watch: Almondo Sewell, defensive tackle
Sewell and the Elks went their separate ways in February, which worked out well for the Als. Yes, he’s 34, but Sewell was still a dominant interior force in 2019, racking up eight sacks in 18 games. While there’s no bad blood between him and Edmonton, Sewell will almost certainly join his new team with something to prove. That’s good news for Montreal.
Flying under the radar: William Stanback, running back
It made big news when Stanback signed with the Raiders in January 2020. Curiously, his return to the Alouettes hasn’t made as big a splash…but it should. Stanback was devastating in 2019, finishing with 1,048 rushing yards and five touchdowns in just 14 games. With a slight chip on his shoulder after his time in Las Vegas, I can’t wait to see Stanback this year.
Biggest off-season storyline: Young and fresh
The Stamps are set to be the youngest and most inexperienced group we’ve seen in red and white for quite some time. Calgary has absorbed significant departures across the board, in all areas. On offence, Eric Rogers and Reggie Begelton have moved on. Defensively, it’s Brandon Smith, Nate Holley, and Tre Roberson, among others. And Rob Maver has retired at punter.
That’s a lot of faces to say goodbye to. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It gives promising players like Hergy Mayala and Ka’Deem Carey a chance to thrive. And it adds an air of intense competition to this year’s training camp. It’s not quite a new era for the Stampeders, but it’s definitely a new feel.
One new face to watch: Richard Leonard, defensive back
Calgary rarely makes big splashes in free agency. But with their aforementioned departures, the Stamps targeted Leonard in 2020 and retained him for this year. Leonard was one of the hardest players to pass on last season, with opposing teams successful just 51% of the time, per Last Word on Sports. That earned Leonard a 2019 league All-Star nod, which is something he should be in the running for again.
Flying under the radar: Jameer Thurman, linebacker
After a couple years south of the border, Thurman is back with the Stamps in 2021. Thurman played a pair of seasons in Calgary prior, including a 2018 sophomore campaign where he racked up 82 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and a forced fumble. Just 26, Thurman is poised for a monster year.
Biggest off-season storyline: The arrival(s)
General manager Pinball Clemons was aggressive while getting ready for 2020. The Argos hired Ryan Dinwiddie as their new head coach and added big names DaVaris Daniels, Drake Nevis, and Juwan Brescacin in free agency. With no football last year, Pinball took aggressive to a new level in 2021.
Toronto got to work in January by signing recently released Charleston Hughes. That was just the start. The Argonauts acquired Eric Rogers, Cordarro Law, and Robertson Daniel from Calgary. They signed Cameron Judge, Henoc Muamba, and Ricky Collins in free agency. And they landed Nick Arbuckle at quarterback. With all that talent, new or not, there’s no reason the Argos shouldn’t be fighting near the top of the East Division all season.
One new face to watch: Henoc Muamba, linebacker
If we’re just choosing one, we’ll go with Muamba knowing what he’s accomplished the last two years. Muamba spent those two seasons with Montreal, racking up 108 tackles and five sacks in 2018. He followed that up with 93 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, and a Most Outstanding Canadian Award in 2019. Muamba waited until March to sign and it was worth the wait for Toronto.
Flying under the radar: Juwan Brescacin, receiver
We didn’t hear a lot from Brescacin as 2019 progressed thanks to an injury. The four games he did play, however, were productive. Brescacin had 11 receptions, 168 yards, and three touchdowns in those four games and is reunited with former Calgary teammate Arbuckle this season. A solid red zone option, Brescacin would be an impact signing regardless of passport. The fact he’s Canadian is just a bonus.
Biggest off-season storyline: An offensive reunion
Quarterback Trevor Harris and receiver Greg Ellingson picked up where they left off in 2019…just with a new team. After three years as teammates in Ottawa, Harris and Ellingson signed with Edmonton for last season and had strong seasons. You can add one more familiar face to the party for 2021.
The Elks hired former REDBLACKS offensive coordinator Jaime Elizondo as head coach in February, just a few days after Scott Milanovich stepped down to pursue NFL opportunities. Ellingson and Harris enjoyed extremely productive seasons in the past under Elizondo, so this Ottawa reunion is more than welcome in Edmonton.
One new face to watch: Derel Walker, receiver
He’s not necessarily new for Elks’ fans…but he’s new this season. After establishing himself as one of the CFL’s elite receivers in Edmonton, Walker signed with Toronto for 2019 and enjoyed a productive year. After not signing anywhere for 2020, Walker opted to return to his old stomping grounds and gets to play with an elite quarterback again. Watch out.
Flying under the radar: Mike Moore, defensive line
While the loss of Almondo Sewell made headlines, it was Moore’s breakout 2019 season that helped allow the Elks to make that tough decision. Lined up with Sewell in the interior all year, Moore racked up nine sacks in 17 games. Totals like that from an inside lineman deserve some love.
Biggest off-season storyline: A new beginning
This was already going to be a season of transition in Ottawa. After a difficult 2019, the REDBLACKS hired Paul LaPolice to be the second head coach in franchise history. They made some significant personnel additions, too, namely quarterback Matt Nichols and interior lineman Cleyon Laing.
But what cemented this as a true fresh start were the recent retirements of receiver Brad Sinopoli and offensive lineman Alex Mateas. Both were long-time key pieces and ratio busters and neither will be easy to replace. However, key departures for a team already in transition can sometimes expedite the process. That’s what the REDBLACKS are hoping.
One new face to watch: Matt Nichols, quarterback
2019 was rough for Nichols. He was enjoying the best season of his career with Winnipeg before sustaining a shoulder injury in September. Now fully recovered from the subsequent surgery, Nichols joins Ottawa refreshed and ready to prove nothing has changed since the last time we saw him.
Flying under the radar: Lewis Ward, kicker
I know Ward’s 2019 season wasn’t as pristine as what we saw a year prior as a rookie…but I’m not sure that was humanly possible. Ward was named Most Outstanding Rookie in 2018 after putting together one of the greatest seasons ever by a professional kicker…in any league. That said, Ward still made 86% of his field goals last year and remains one of the league’s steadiest kickers.
Biggest off-season storyline: Building on the good
2019 didn’t go according to plan for the Lions. However, after a 1-10 start, BC looked like they were turning a corner in the second half of the season. The Lions had put together a four-game win streak, quarterback Michael Reilly was starting to resemble the elite form we had come to expect, and the team was in lockdown mode defensively.
A Week 18 injury to Reilly ended BC’s playoff push, but what we had seen leading up to that was promising. Rick Campbell is head coach now and brings with him an impressive resume after six years in Ottawa. Reilly is rested and fully healthy, he has a dangerous receiving group, and the Lions have added a couple interesting names on defence. Now it’s time for this team to show their late 2019 form wasn’t a mirage.
One new face to watch: Shaq Cooper, running back
After biding his time for a couple seasons in Edmonton, Cooper finally has his chance to be on top of a depth chart this year. That’s a promising thing for BC, because Cooper has made the most of his rare opportunities. Despite single-digit chances to shine, Cooper has already gone over 100 offensive yards four times in his career.
Flying under the radar: TJ Lee, defensive back
Now entering his seventh CFL season, all with the Lions, Lee has been the picture of consistency. As the veteran voice in BC’s backfield, Lee is typically good for three or four interceptions and 70-ish tackles each season. The Lions will need some defensive stability early on and Lee is the perfect guy to give it to them.