March 11, 2024

MMQB: Measuring the biggest off-season wins

Dave Chidley/

The fact we’re smack dab in the middle of Combine season means we’re well down the off-season road. Just over a month from the 2024 CFL Draft and about two months from training camps opening, there is light at the end of the winter football tunnel.

We’ve seen plenty transpire since the end of last season and multiple teams are looking on the up and up entering the coming campaign. In no particular order, here are some of the biggest success stories of the winter.

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Doubling up

On the outside, things were starting to feel a little touch-and-go when it came to the Winnipeg futures of tailback Brady Oliveira and receiver Dalton Schoen. In fact, league insiders were starting to speculate on landing spots if the All-Star duo ended up hitting the free agent market. But then on the same day in early February, the Blue Bombers took care of their two biggest off-season priorities in one fell swoop.

The first signing announced on Feb. 6 was Oliveira on a two-year extension, which reportedly made him the CFL’s highest paid running back. And rightfully so after leading the league with 1,534 rushing yards last season, the highest total in a decade.

Later that day, Winnipeg and Schoen agreed to a one-year extension. After posting more than 2,600 yards and 26 touchdowns in his first two seasons, Schoen is now also one of the highest paid players at his position.

While many expected the Bombers to find a way to bring both Schoen and Oliveira back, the fact it went as close to the wire as it did was a bit of a surprise. But knowing how much both players will be impacting the cap this year, Winnipeg understandably took a careful approach. In the end, though, bringing both players back was always the most desirable outcome.

Saskatchewan surgery

Star running back AJ Ouellette was just one major addition the Riders made to their roster this winter (

Optimism is high in Regina entering this season knowing all that has gone down this winter. After two years out of the playoffs, fans in Saskatchewan have been clamouring for something to cheer about. With all that’s happened over the last four months, there’s plenty of material for them to work with.

Things started when the Roughriders hired Corey Mace as head coach in late November. Just 38 years old, Mace has been on a meteoric rise through the coaching ranks since his playing career ended in 2015. With a well-earned reputation as a defensive guru and with his fiery and upbeat approach, Mace has immediately endeared himself to the Saskatchewan faithful.

The good vibes continued in free agency when the Riders made big splash after big splash after big splash. In the league’s negotiation window leading up to free agency, Saskatchewan agreed to terms with offensive lineman Jermarcus Hardrick, linebacker Jameer Thurman, and running back AJ Ouellette.

With important players like Shawn Bane, Phillip Blake and Mario Alford signing back too, the Roughriders seem poised to make some noise in 2024.

More in Montreal

The defending Grey Cup champions wasted no time in making sure they kept the band together. And it actually started with a guy already under contract for this season. After proving doubters wrong across the country after being named Grey Cup MVP, quarterback Cody Fajardo and the Alouettes agreed on a two-year contract extension in early December that keeps him in the fold through 2025.

Shortly afterwards, Montreal got to work in locking up key members of their dominant defensive unit. Linebackers Darnell Sankey and Tyrice Beverette signed contract extensions early in the off-season. The same was true with defensive lineman Shawn Lemon, who proved he’s still a force off the edge upon joining the Als midway through the season.

Montreal couldn’t keep everyone from their championship squad, as receiver Austin Mack (Atlanta) and defensive lineman Lwal Uguak (Tampa Bay) signed in the NFL, while tailback William Stanback was released and signed in BC. With additions like Derek Wiggan, Dylan Wynn, and Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund, though, the Alouettes still look like they’re in great shape.

Capital makeover

Dru Brown heads East to try to help the REDBLACKS into the playoff picture in 2024 (Kevin Udahl/

The Ottawa REDBLACKS haven’t made the playoffs in four straight seasons since appearing in the 106th Grey Cup in 2018. Intent on getting back to the postseason, Ottawa has taken an aggressive approach in retooling this winter. The results look promising.

The REDBLACKS made waves when they acquired the rights to quarterback Dru Brown from Winnipeg in exchange for a fifth-round pick on Jan. 18. Ottawa signed Brown, a pending free agent, to a two-year contract six days later. After three seasons behind Zach Collaros with the Bombers, Brown was the consensus “next one” quarterback and the REDBLACKS wasted no time in making him their guy.

General manager Shawn Burke wasn’t done, though. After the Lions released star receiver Dominique Rhymes for cap reasons, Ottawa immediately pounced and signed him to a two-year contract. The REDBLACKS also signed Dariusz Bladek and Phillip Norman to address their offensive line and plucked Adarius Pickett, the league’s best SAM linebacker, from the Argos.

Time will tell if Ottawa has done enough to return to prominence this year, but you have to respect the organization’s no-nonsense approach this off-season.

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