February 26, 2024

MMQB: The East Division’s biggest moves so far

The Canadian Press

We’re now almost two weeks into 2024 Free Agency and more top names keep coming off the board. In fact, nine of the top 10 in our CFL.ca Top 30 Free Agents have either signed elsewhere or re-upped and opted to stay put. As such, we’re starting to get a better picture of the landscape for the coming season.

Last week’s MMQB focused on the West Division’s biggest off-season moves to this point, which means this week we’re turning our focus to the East.

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Montreal Alouettes: Upgrading the elite

The Grey Cup champions put together a defensive masterclass en route to winning it all in November. But general manager Danny Maciocia hasn’t been resting on his laurels this winter as he assembles Montreal’s repeat attempt.

The job started with re-signing core pieces like linebackers Darnell Sankey and Tyrice Beverette to go along with defensive end Shawn Lemon. Beverette was an impact maker all year for the Alouettes, while Sankey and Lemon were later season additions and big parts of pushing the group over the top.

Maciocia wasn’t done there, though. While Montreal lost Lwal Uguak to the NFL and released Almondo Sewell, they’ve added up front, too. At tackle, the Als have signed Derek Wiggan and Dylan Wynn to join Mustafa Johnson in the interior. Joining Lemon and the returning Avery Ellis on the edge is National Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, who’s recorded 13 combined sacks over the last two seasons in Calgary.

Ottawa REDBLACKS: Dialling in on Dru

Ottawa’s search for a steady quarterback in recent years has been frustrating at times but hasn’t been for lack of trying. Whether trading for Nick Arbuckle or signing Jeremiah Masoli in Free Agency, the REDBLACKS have made the effort but haven’t been able to fill the void left by Trevor Harris’ departure in 2019. At least to this point.

That’s where Dru Brown enters the picture. Ottawa acquired Brown in a January trade with the Blue Bombers and signed the pending free agent to a two-year deal about a week later. After three seasons in Winnipeg, many believe 26-year-old Brown is ready to take the next step. That includes former teammate and two-time Most Outstanding Player Zach Collaros.

“Under the right leadership and coaching and play calling, he can be one of the best if not the best in the league,” Collaros said in November. “I truly feel that way about Dru.”

2023 was Brown’s best season to date, albeit in an understudy role. He threw for 983 yards, nine touchdowns, no interceptions and completed almost 70 per cent of his passes while starting on two occasions. Moving to the top of the depth chart always carries with it additional challenges, but everything suggests Brown is up to the task.

The REDBLACKS are banking on it.

Toronto Argonauts: A blockbuster trade

Jake Ceresna’s arrival in Toronto brings strength to a d-line that took a couple of hits in Free Agency (Walter Tychnowicz/CFL.ca)

I don’t think anyone woke up on Jan. 15 expecting a massive deal involving a pair of premier players. But, thanks to the Elks and Argos, that’s exactly what we got when the latter acquired versatile defensive lineman Jake Ceresna in exchange for standout National receiver Kurleigh Gittens Jr.

It’s a trade that makes sense for Toronto. Already under contract, Ceresna provides the Argonauts cost certainty. He also instantly makes any defensive line better. Coming off a career-best season with 12 sacks, Ceresna can line up at end or tackle and should fit nicely in a front four that also includes Folarin Orlimolade and the recently re-signed Shawn Oakman.

While saying goodbye to Gittens wasn’t easy, it was also a case of a team dealing from a position of strength. DaVaris Daniels is back for another season after posting a career best 1,009 receiving yards in 2023 to go along with eight touchdown catches. Also returning on new deals are Dejon Brissett and Damonte Coxie, who both look poised for breakout campaigns.

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Solidifying at quarterback

Speaking of unsettled quarterback situations, that’s what Hamilton dealt with all last season. That’s exactly what president of football operations Orlondo Steinauer tackled early this winter. As a result, the Ticats enter 2024 with a clear plan at the sport’s most important position.

It starts with Bo Levi Mitchell. Hamilton’s big off-season splash just over a year ago agreed to restructure his contract for the coming season in a move that helps both sides. After a tough first season that saw him struggle through injuries, Mitchell’s more cap friendly deal keeps him in the mix for a starting job while giving the Tiger-Cats significantly more flexibility.

Don’t forget about Taylor Powell, either. As a 24-year-old rookie, Powell threw for 2,283 yards and 10 touchdowns in mid-season relief work last year. With Matthew Shiltz now a member of the Stampeders, Powell enters his sophomore campaign with the chance to compete for even more playing time.

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