I love that Shawn Burke is wasting no time in reshaping the Ottawa REDBLACKS. On the job as Ottawa’s new general manager for less than two months, Burke has hit the ground running in the leadup to 2022 Free Agency, which opens on Tuesday. After a second straight three-win season, Burke has made it clear winning now is the only priority for the REDBLACKS.
Unsurprisingly, knowing the team’s struggles at the position the last two years, Burke is making his biggest splash at quarterback. Equally unsurprising is that splash goes by the name of Jeremiah Masoli. Ottawa and CFL.ca’s top available free agent have reportedly agreed to a deal for 2022, which seemed telegraphed the day it became clear Masoli was headed to market.
Masoli is the type of player that doesn’t hit free agency very often. He’s a proven starter, a former East Division Most Outstanding Player, and has the ability to jumpstart a franchise upon signing on the dotted line.
The obvious fit goes beyond that, though. Masoli’s association with Burke is longstanding and dates all the way back to February 2013. Burke, then with Hamilton, was part of the football operations staff that acquired Masoli from Edmonton. In fact, Masoli has never played a down of CFL football without being part of the same team as Burke. That trend is set to continue.
I like the decision for Ottawa. The REDBLACKS haven’t had a bona fide number one pivot since Trevor Harris departed following the 2018 season. Masoli was unquestionably the best name available for them to solidify their situation at the game’s most important position. It truly was a no-brainer.
But the pending addition of Masoli is only the tip of the iceberg. Ottawa has reportedly agreed to terms with offensive lineman Ucambre Williams, which might end up being as crucial as any addition. In Williams, the REDBLACKS are getting a proven lineman with the ability to play either tackle position or centre. We’re talking about a potential cornerstone for a line that allowed a league-worst 53 sacks last season.
Due to how 2021 went, offensive line is an area Burke has clearly targeted. Jacob Ruby was signed in January and Postmedia’s Tim Baines reports free agents Darius Ciraco and Hunter Seward are also set to join Ottawa in free agency. It’s all coming together to form a new-look, revamped unit.
And then there’s the skill positions. 3DownNation reports Masoli’s former Tiger-Cats teammate Jaelon Acklin is joining the REDBLACKS, which gives the team a familiar connection from day one. After a breakout 2019, Acklin was a top-ten receiver last season finishing with 678 yards and four touchdown catches.
And to bring it all home, tailback William Powell is reportedly returning to the place his CFL career started. After two productive seasons in Saskatchewan, Powell returns to Ottawa, where he racked up two 1,000-yard campaigns over a three-year stint between 2015 and 2017.
Sometimes going hard in free agency like this doesn’t pay off. But look only at how Kyle Walters approached things with Winnipeg in 2015 and 2016 or how Pinball Clemons retooled the Argonauts in 2020 and 2021. Burke’s number one goal is to make the REDBLACKS relevant again, and he’s wasting no time in getting that process started.
Free agency quick hits
With 2022 free agency staring us in the face, we’ve had waves of news when it comes to player movement around the league. This past weekend was news item after news item with a ton to sink your teeth into. Here are a few random thoughts, in no particular order…
BC’s Nathan Rourke is going to have an incredible arsenal in his first year as a full-time starting quarterback. Lucky Whitehead was the first superstar receiver to sign back with the Lions. Then it was Bryan Burnham. If the Lions can land Kenny Lawler in free agency, as it’s suggested they might, it makes Rourke’s situation that much rosier.
Lawler was the league’s only 1,000-yard receiver last year and teaming him with Burnham and Whitehead almost seems unfair. With Michael Reilly’s retirement, the release of Lemar Durant, and Rourke’s cap-friendly number as an incoming sophomore, BC had money to spend…and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
I love that Duke Williams has opted to sign back with Saskatchewan, because we were only starting to scratch the surface of what he was capable of with his new team. With Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore also coming back, we’ll get to see something for an entire season we only got to see once in 2021: all three players in game action at the same time.
With Darnell Sankey likely hitting the free agent market, John Hufnagel and the Stampeders wasted little time bringing in another impact linebacker. Calgary acquired Cameron Judge from Toronto late last week and wasted no time in signing him to a new deal. With Jameer Thurman also back on a new contract, the Stamps have the potential for an elite duo in the middle of their defence.