Trying to figure out Marcel Desjardins and 2019 Redblacks

These are some restless times in #RNation, with the Redblacks on a 4-game losing streak and fans wondering if all their doubts about the 2019 version of the team are already materializing. Redblacks fan @Lordele shares his thoughts on how we may have got here and why no one should be surprised.

By Lordele Greenyer

Let’s be honest: by Day Two of CFL free agency 2019, any objective Redblacks fan pretty much knew where this team was gonna be this year. The success of this season’s team was determined when big names – Trevor Harris, Greg Ellingson, William Powell and SirVincent Rogers being the biggest – were not re-signed, and without any substantial names walking back through the doors of TD Place. At the time, General Manager Marcel Desjardins defended the strategy and spoke of prioritizing the re-signing key defensive free agents, which limited the team’s cap flexibility. Some bought it, others not so much. And while the first couple weeks of the season offered some hope, the season has not surprisingly been mostly pitiful.

So this is where we are: Two wins, four losses and not a lot of hope. But how did we get here? Or, WHY did we get here? I’ve got my suspicions…

Strap on your tinfoil hat and join me!

Theory One: Marcel Desjardins actually believes this team will be good

I honestly have a hard time believing this. MD has spent countless seasons evaluating talent and building competitive teams, most recently the championship team in 2016 and two others reaching the Grey Cup in FOUR seasons. Regardless of the strength of the East division, his teams were regularly at the top of standings. And while there have been some mistakes over the years (Eric Rogers 😢), they are far outweighed by a number of strong free agent signings-turned-CFL stars (or at least stars in the making). For Desjardins to suddenly lose his touch with player evaluation and roster composition seems unrealistic. Has to be more to it.

Theory Two: OSEG has tightened the purse strings

This one has been widely speculated on social media and among the fan base since the off-season. And since CFL salaries still aren’t being made public, it probably won’t stop any time soon. Many fans point to the cost of operating Ottawa Fury FC, and their relatively modest attendance (averaging about 4,500 spectators through 10 home games in 2019) as a factor. The 67s have also been suffering somewhat the last few years at the box office, though last season’s playoff run had to help the bottomline.

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I frankly just don’t buy it. My expectation is that Desjardins and the Redblacks have been given the OK to spend to the cap. OSEG CEO Mark Goudie said as much. The organization seems pretty sound financially and has many more outlets for revenue beyond butts in seats. I mean, they even found a sponsor for the 15 minutes the fans spend on the field after games!

Theory Three: Desjardins has his eyes set on 2020

I’m going full tinfoil here, but bear with me.

With a new collective bargaining agreement due before this season, it’s no secret a number of players made a point of signing contracts that would expire at the same time, in hopes of cashing in on an increase in available cap dollars. With the CBA ratified nearly three months after the start of free agency, however, teams and players had to guess at where the cap might land. Many clearly expected a cap increase and the league’s biggest names signed two-, three-, even four-year contracts with big signing bonuses.

Now that we know the big cap increase didn’t materialize (going up only $50,000 from 2018), teams like BC, Edmonton and Winnipeg may be hard pressed to be active in free agency in 2020, because they have a good portion of their money locked up.

In walks Desjardins. He let his big names walk and take big contracts elsewhere, didn’t really make any long-term commitment to any player, let alone bringing in a big contract. So they might be a “cap team”, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have money to spend.

No question defence has been this team’s biggest strength the last couple years. And while individual accolades are great, defensive players seem to get paid when the team wins. Conversely, it’s harder to demand big, long-term deals when the team hasn’t had a great season. Should the season play out that way, MD will be better positioned to re-sign key parts of the defence to reasonable deals.

Now, putting these two concepts together, Desjardins would have the ability and flexibility at season’s end to not only re-sign those key parts of the defence (at perhaps a more reasonable cost) to contract extensions and apply signing bonus dollars to the 2019 salary cap.

Putting a couple hundred thousand dollars to work in this way could allow the Redblacks to be major players in 2020 free agency, while also better allowing them to keep guys like Brad Sinopoli, Lewis Ward and our growing list of defensive studs.

So is it worth it to write-off 2019 for the sake of 2020 or beyond? I’m not sure, but this is my best guess at how – and why – we got here.

Follow Lordele on Twitter at @Lordele and check out his photography at @LordyShoots.

Thanks for reading!

Follow us on Twitter @DefendTheR and check out Defend The R gear on Teespring!

Photo courtesy CFL.ca

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Offseason of change begins for Grey Cup champs

By Cranky Frank Clair

I really don’t have anything to offer that hasn’t already been said about the Redblacks Grey Cup win. So instead of rehashing/celebrating what happened, I’m going to look ahead a bit. The Redblacks have a pile of pending free agents as do most other teams in the CFL. There are quarterback and management questions in other cities, and a team or two will be using the next few weeks to begin their march on Ottawa and the 2017 Grey Cup.  I won’t get too deep into Redblacks 2017 roster projects – there are too many moving parts at this point. But here’s a look at the current situation as well as my view of some other situations in other cities.

Redblacks offseason

Ernest Jackson & Jerrell Gavins (photo Scott Grant)

The CFL’s Big List of Free Agents now out, we can certainly look at the team’s offseason challenges.

This means there is much work to be done, but it’s the best kind of work – keeping a champion together and making it better. Not everyone will get to stay, however.

Sadly, Chris Williams is likely in the “won’t be back” category. He’ll be rehabbing his knee well into next summer and may be back just before his 30th birthday. That isn’t a great combo, especially considering that his last contract was likely in the $200k+ neighbourhood. Williams has his detractors, but his world-class speed kept defenders on their heels and opened up the field for his teammates. Losing him for 2017 will be doubly unfortunate because Trevor Harris has the arm to take full advantage of Williams’ talents.

The list of must-sign players is fairly long. Ernest Jackson, Mitchell White, Abdul Kanneh and Nolan MacMillan would be hard to replace. Tank Reed is the LB the Redblacks need – his presence boosted Damaso Muñoz. And #RNation needs to be concerned about John Boyett’s return – we never really heard much about his knee injury and now he’s looking at free agency. There are rumblings that Abdul Kanneh will be looking south, and now we hear that the team has released Cleyon Laing so he can look south as well. If I could, I would bring them both back. Laing proved his worth, collapsing pockets from the inside and making lots of room. As I hoped, he even played some DE and it proved an experiment worth continuing.

I somehow doubt we’ll see Aston Whiteside back. He never really recovered from his knee injury. Its hard to see from here whether the Redblacks rushed him back or whether the knee didn’t respond to treatment or whether he actually got reinjured. The Redblacks so-far fruitless search for its next speed rushing DE continues. But…given the way the Redblacks DLine performed in the Grey Cup, I’m inclined to think the team should stop trying to slot in an unproven speed DE and go with muscle. I saw some devastating power rushes from Laing and Connor Williams from the DE position, showing that Clydesdales can get the same result as a racehorse.

Antoine Pruneau (photo Scott Grant)

Meanwhile, fan favourite Antoine Pruneau is also a pending free agent. Without knowing enough about Montreal’s FS situation, must think that he’s a guy they’d love to sign. Pruneau gave an interview following the Grey Cup parade that made me think he is thinking about options other than returning to Ottawa. I have no quote that signals this, its was just a feeling. Jeff Richards (rumoured to have several opportunities in the NFL) may be a more consistent FS, but it is hard to deny that even without his passport, Pruneau is a big contributor and the Redblacks would be well-served to try to get him back.

Lots of potential for moving parts on the offensive line. J’Michael Deane and Nolan MacMillan are each pending free agents. MacMillan is a very good veteran presence. Deane had a lot of penalty issues this season. Jason Lauzon-Séguin is a legit starter at G and showed he can play OT. Backup Matthew Albright absolutely seems ready to start at G. Jake Silas has proven to be a solid RT, SirV is locked in for another 2 seasons as one of the league’s premier LTs. Tommie Draheim got better into the playoffs and the Grey Cup but is not a strong starter. The long-range plan was for John Gott to switch to G and have Alex Mateas take his place at centre. I don’t see that happening, possibly ever. 

Nolan MacMillan (photo Janet MacMillan)

The makeup of the 2017 OL hinges on whether MacMillan can be signed and whether management wants to keep Deane. I have my thoughts on how this should play out, but will save them for another column. I will say that Deane is possibly expendable which is unfortunate for a guy who may want to stay (he owns a house here).

It’s hard to say whether we’ll see FA RB William Powell back – if he’s willing to sign for not a ton of money upfront, then he’d certainly be worth bringing into camp and let him compete with Mossis Madu. Travon Van, who was a good insurance policy in 2016, likely isn’t a priority to re-sign.

Tanner Doll & Kienan Lafrance (photo Scott Grant)

Just a couple of special teams observations at this point. First, I spent a lot of Twitter characters questioning the removal of Kevin Malcolm from long snapper duties – he’s exceptionally good at delivering hard clean spirals to the punter. The team replaced him mid-season with Tanner Doll, who was immediately visible in ways that long snappers aren’t supposed to be. He improved as he went along, but most importantly, he showed why the team made the switch in the first place. Doll is a special teams coverage demon, not easy to do coming out of the snap.

Elsewhere across the CFL

Have to question what Chris Jones thinks he’s doing in Saskatchewan with the Darian Durant negotiations. Durant is a fan favourite, a very solid performer and there really isn’t a better QB on the market. Maybe Chris Jones is the genius he was supposed to be and he’s trying to save the team some needed cap space, or maybe he has a strong-armed rabbit to pull out of the proverbial hat. Or maybe he’s unnecessarily playing hardball with a QB who isn’t his guy. We’ll see.

Corey Watman (photo Scott Grant)

Then there’s Toronto. Word is that co-owner Larry Tanenbaum wants to appoint a football management layer between ownership and the team GM. It makes sense, and it’s an approach he sees working (I guess) with the Maple Leafs. Who will it be? A lot of the CFL’s grownups are either locked into great jobs or on the verge of taking on fewer responsibilities rather than more. I saw a suggestion that Eric Tillman could be the guy, and that makes sense. I’m not convinced of Tillman’s football genius, but I’m convinced that he’s the type of person who will be hired for that job.

In Winnipeg, a team that seems on the cusp of greatness just let its fans breathe a sigh of relief by re-signing Coach Michael O’Shea. Now, the team may be doing some serious soul-searching on whether they have a QB whose trajectory matches the rest of the team. If Saskatchewan loses Durant, he could be enough to propel Winnipeg to true contention in 2017.

Photo Scott Grant

The potential for stability on the Alouettes in 2017 should scare the rest of the East and help re-ignite fan interest in Montreal. Hamilton and Ottawa had it pretty easy in 2016 sharing a division with two teams in a bad downward spiral. A Montreal comeback will make the East much more of a horserace, although whether it would be enough to avoid a western crossover in 2017 remains to be seen. Look for Montreal’s new GM and the coaching staff to assemble and ready an offence that can take advantage of its young QBs. Either Rakeem Cato or Vernon Adams could emerge out of training camp as a legit dynamic playmaking QB and make the Als offence a nice complement to the team’s already good defence.

That’s it for now, I’ve tried to avoid talking about teams or situations where I don’t have information or a decent opinion, though I guess that’s really up to you to judge. I’ll check in again as teams sign more of their pending free agents. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter at @CrankyClair.

All the best, and Merry Christmas.

Cranky Frank Clair

Most photos courtesy of Scott Grant Photography. Follow on Twitter at @CFLPhotoArchive

 

 

 

Redblacks roster shake-up continues on day two of free agency

After an action-packed first day of CFL free agency on Tuesday, day two did not disappoint. A number of big names found themselves new homes on Wednesday, perhaps letting the opening day dust settle and getting a clearer picture of the marketplace.

In Redblacksland, the day was notable for a couple of free agent losses and one signing. First, the bad news:

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The signing has since been confirmed. Capicciotti and his 12 sacks will be sorely missed on a DL that has also lost Shawn Lemon (NFL, er SSK) and Keith Shologan (WPG) since the Grey Cup game. 

Then:

After taking over from Chevon Walker as the starting RB at mid-season, JJ emerged as a real difference-maker in the Redblacks offense. In his seven starts (10 games total), Johnson amassed an impressive 448 rushing yards, 267 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. He also emerged as a leader in the locker room.

Unfortunately, Johnson’s season would be cut short by a foot injury, and William Powell took over the starting job in early October. It was Powell’s performance the rest of the season and into the playoffs that ultimately made Johnson expendable, as the Canadian ratio makes it difficult for CFL teams to carry two American running backs. 

Johnson will be missed. So will his TD celebrations. 

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Now for the good news:

The 27-year-old Gascon-Nadon is a 3-year CFL veteran, originally drafted by Hamilton in 2012 (3rd round, 17th overall). He spent a year at Rice University (2008) before coming back and winning two Vanier Cups (2010 & 2012) at Laval.

As a pro, Gascon-Nadon has appeared in a total of 20 games, though his first start on the Hamilton defensive line was actually in the Eastern Final against Ottawa, filling in for the injured Eric Norwood.

Yes, Ottawa fans only memory of him might be the interception he didn’t make prior to #2ndAnd25, but Gascon-Nadon is not here for his receiving ability. He is a highly regarded DL prospect, who also contributed on special teams in 2015, with 11 tackles.

Another action-packed day in the books for the Redblacks. Here are Ottawa’s remaining unsigned free agents:

QB DeMarco, Thomas
LB Green, James
WR Henry, Marcus
LB Hinds, David
DE Marshall, Andrew
DE Smith, Marlon
DB Thompson, Brandyn
LB/FB Verdone, Jordan

Thanks for reading!

@DefendTheR

Photo credit: Toronto Sun