April 3, 2023

Steinberg’s MMQB: Four remaining off-season questions

Patrick Doyle/CFL.ca

Welcome to April, which just happens to be the final full month of the off-season. Training camps open next month with our first pre-season game scheduled for May 22. Winter is behind us, and a new season is around the corner, but we still have a few questions to answer before kicking off the 2023 campaign.

» REDBLACKS weigh options with first overall pick
 Watch: Recapping the CFL Combine
» Landry: Anthony Bennett’s secret to Combine success

Who’s going first overall?

The CFL Draft is set for Tuesday, May 2 and we’re starting to get a slightly clearer picture of how the top of the order might shake down. The CFL Combine presented by New Era has wrapped up, as has the NFL’s scouting spectacle south of the border. As we wait for the CFL Scouting Bureau’s final 2023 rankings, we can try and project what this year’s first round might look like.

I will say, however, projecting feels more difficult than usual this year. Top prospects Chase Brown, Sydney Brown, Matthew Bergeron, and Tavius Robinson were already garnering significant interest ahead of the NFL Draft later this month. Since then, Jared Wayne (receiver, Pittsburgh) and Jonathan Sutherland (defensive back, Penn State) have performed well during pro day workouts and have likely bolstered their NFL prospects, too.

But, even with a solid number of prospects potentially falling down the order, the Ottawa REDBLACKS have some great options at first overall. Southern Utah defensive lineman Francis Bemiy was a CFL Combine standout, while Fresno State offensive lineman Dontae Bull and TCU defensive lineman Lwal Uguak are generating lots of buzz too.

How many draft trades do we see?

We’ve seen significant first round movement leading up to the CFL Draft three of the last five years, including Montreal’s move to number one overall hours before last year’s event. The Alouettes coveted Syracuse linebacker Tyrell Richards and did what it took to get their guy. Do we see anything similar over the next few weeks?

The Montreal Alouettes traded up in last year’s CFL Draft to take linebacker Tyrell Richards first overall (The Canadian Press)

Ottawa holds the first overall pick and I’d be a little surprised to see them move it. In fact, knowing the importance of building through the draft, part of me wonders if the REDBLACKS attempt to make another splash to bring in an additional first-round pick. We’ve already seen this year’s first round order shaken up thanks to three prior trades. With how stacked this year’s prospect pool is, it feels like a good bet we see more juggling between now and May 2.

Do any big names retire?

I’m curious to see if we get any retirement announcements from a few bigger name unsigned players before the season starts. And, please, by no means am I suggesting any of these players should retire. In fact, I think there’s still lots to give from these guys. But I also know football is a gruelling, unforgiving sport and sometimes guys just know when to call it a career.

For instance, how are players like Kamar Jorden, Charleston Hughes, and Brandon Banks feeling? Those are three examples of guys in their 30s who I think can still contribute on a football field but who don’t currently have contracts. If they want to stay in it then good on them, because I still think they can play at a high level. And if retirement ends up being a decision for any one of them, we’ll get to celebrate a great career.

And let’s also not forget retirement doesn’t mean the end of the line. Defensive back Delvin Breaux retired from football in March 2021 but came back to the league this past season with the BC Lions. We also thought receiver Manny Arceneaux was set to retire but he too returned to the CFL last season after a few years away and is already signed up for 2023.

How does the rest of free agency play out?

With free agency more than a month old, most of the big-name impact makers have either re-signed or have joined new teams. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some players available who could step in and help. A few weeks ago, we identified quarterback Michael O’Conner, safety Mike Edem, and running back William Powell as a few sleeper unsigned free agents. And they aren’t the only ones.

Shaq Richardson had a strong showing in the Argos’ Grey Cup win, but remains on the free agent market (Steve Hiscock/CFL.ca)

Darvin Adams remains on the market despite a very successful year with Ottawa in 2022. The veteran receiver finished with 949 yards and two touchdown catches in 18 appearances and would be a solid, reliable addition to any group of receivers. Adams proved last season there’s still lots left in the tank and, with two Grey Cup rings on his resume, he brings a lot to the table off the field as well.

And in the defensive backfield, Shaq Richardson is coming off another strong season that ended with a Grey Cup victory with Toronto. In 12 regular season appearances, Richardson racked up 31 tackles, two interceptions and one forced fumble. He also picked off Zach Collaros and added a pair of tackles to help the Argos capture the 109th Grey Cup. Richardson is versatile too; he can play as a SAM linebacker or, like he did in the playoffs, can get the job done as a boundary halfback.

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