February 1, 2024

Ferguson: One off-season question for every team

Jimmy Jeong/CFL.ca

Change is the only constant in sports.

Every team is looking to address something when it comes to the off-season. Upgrading a position group, reshuffling the roster, adapting to a new scheme, there’s always something that can be done to make a team more competitive.

CFL.ca’s Marshall Ferguson takes you through one off-season question for every team.

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BC Lions: What move in free agency can get them over the hump?

Each of the past two seasons the BC Lions have shown moments of brilliance and finished in painful despair at the hands of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Until further notice, the Bombers are kings of the West with Zach Collaros at the helm and a Grey Cup hosting season just one year away.

With that in mind the Lions have their own monster Grey Cup party to throw this November and nothing would make owner Amar Doman happier than having his team in the game but that means having to battle through the obvious challenges of 2024 which begin now by out maneuvering other clubs for the best possible free agency additions.

The question here for Neil McEvoy and Rick Campbell becomes which potential roster add in February will make the difference come crunch time this fall?

Edmonton Elks: Quarterback done. National receiver done. Rush defence?

Edmonton has been near the top of aggressive teams before flipping the calendar to the all important month of February. They’ve signed McLeod Bethel-Thompson as the presumptive starting quarterback, released some veterans ahead of roster bonuses being due and acquired a talented National pass-catcher in Kurleigh Gittens Jr., but what about that run defence?

One of the Elks truest failures in 2023 was the inability to stop the run from the first snap of the game when tied at zeroes all the way to garbage time when down twenty points. With Jake Ceresna traded away to Toronto for Gittens Jr. could the Elks be the in the market for added beef up front in free agency through Hamilton’s Dylan Wynn, Toronto’s Shawn Oakman or BC’s Nick Usher?

Calgary Stampeders: Stability is the name of the game, which free agent can provide it?

While QB Jake Maier is as steady as they come in personality and performance, much of what surrounded him in 2023 felt volatile and constantly changing. Admittedly most of this was due to injury which is most commonly out of the control of players involved, but Maier and head coach Dave Dickenson need to find players who can sustain and thrive in 2024.

Some names that come to mind as reliable forces of positivity still currently available include Hamilton receiver Tim White, Winnipeg offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick and Saskatchewan linebacker Larry Dean to name a few.

Saskatchewan Roughriders: How to craft an identity on short notice?

Anytime a new coach takes over there will naturally be a changing of the guard. What that means in totality is completely up to the incoming bench boss and how much they deem needing a shift.

With Corey Mace hitting all the right notes in Riderville, this is his first chance to work with GM Jeremy O’Day to send a message about what Mace’s Riders will be about. What does he want in a player, what player fits that qualification and how much they’re willing to spend at certain positions will all become clear over the next three weeks.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Change is inevitable, but how much is needed?

 

The 2023 Grey Cup was not a referendum on the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. They have been great and as mentioned above they are still the dominant force in the West Division until someone forcibly takes the crown, but back-to-back Grey Cup losses and an aging core have prompted fair questions about the future of the organization.

I believe tweaks will be made, the odd name of note might move on but much of the gang will be around into 2024 with many who get the green light for this season signing on for a 2025 Grey Cup hosting season.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Bo is back, what free agent addition will help him the most?

Scott Milanovich and Orlondo Steinauer have made the clear choice that when healthy Bo Levi Mitchell is their man. Now the question facing Hamilton’s brass is which players will maximize his effectiveness heading into 2024 and honestly which players will fit well with the offensive ideology as a whole should Mitchell get dinged again this year?

Some names I’d be interested to see pair with Bo include Toronto’s Cam Phillips, BC’s Lucky Whitehead and Ottawa’s Shaq Evans.

Toronto Argonauts: There will be losses, can they be replenished for another Grey Cup run?

With Corey Mace moving on from an extremely successful stint as Argos defensive coordinator to become the Riders head coach and plenty of names eligible to become free agents there is reason to believe Toronto will lose some names of note this month.

Add in the fact that the Double Blue formed a formidable attack on both sides of the ball and will have to pay good money in house to run it back with their stars and you have a formula for inevitable holes. Can the Argos sign enough talent to lead the East again this season? Time will tell but it’s fitting Edmonton and Toronto already shook up the off-season with a major trade for the two teams who I believe could be most active on imports and exports come February 13.

Ottawa REDBLACKS: How to piece it all together?

 

Bryce Carter and Lorenzo Mauldin will continue to anchor the pass rush, Dominique Rhymes has come home to Ottawa in what felt like an inevitable upgrade for a poorly lacking 2023 passing attack and Dru Brown was acquired from Winnipeg as arguably the prized possession of this free agency cycle.

The challenge now becomes with quarterbacks Tyrie Adams, Dustin Crum, Jeremiah Masoli, Brown and incoming offensive coordinator Tommy Condell. How do you continue to piece it all together in a way that doesn’t just look fun on paper, but will deliver tangible results come the summer heat and pressure to win after a series of lacklustre seasons?

Montreal Alouettes: How do you appreciate the past without getting attached to it?

The Alouettes’ run to a Grey Cup three shorts months ago was nothing short of magical. So many players stepped up in big moments and helped solidify history for a team and city who felt close many times over the last decade and fell short.

Now the challenge for GM Danny Maciocia and head coach Jason Maas becomes building the next incarnation of the Alouettes without having flashbacks to championship moments of glory. The 2024 Alouettes will look similar at many of the key roster spots, but the calculated evolution of this roster could make the difference between another competitive season and a Grey Cup parade that feels much too far in the rear view mirror.

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