By: Santino Filoso
Seems like the Ottawa Redblacks aren’t quite done making off-season moves. Early Tuesday morning the team leaked news via their twitter account that they had a major announcement to make and members of #RNation began speculating immediately as to what it could be.
In a very neat move, the team first broke the news of their latest free agent splash through a personal email to season ticket holders.
By signing the diminutive 5’ 8″ and 175 pound all-star Chris Williams to a one year deal, the Redblacks have added one of the most dynamic CFL players in recent memory. Williams, a dual threat WR and KR was named the CFL’s most outstanding rookie in 2011 when he broke into the league with 70 receptions for 1064 receiving yards and 6 TDs.
Williams’ sophomore season was just as impressive, as he was named the CFL’s most outstanding special teams player, making 83 catches for 1298 yards with receiving 11 TDs to go along with 5 punt return touchdowns. Who was throwing Williams the ball in 2012? None other than current Redblacks’ QB Henry Burris. If they can quickly re-establish that kind of rapport, TD Place might finally start living up to it’s name.
After the 2012 season, Williams left the CFL following a contract dispute with the Hamilton Ticats and wound up signing with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints in 2013. Following a short stint with the Chicago Bears last season, Williams was thought to be a long shot to return to the CFL, as he’s someone who still garners NFL interest, as evidenced by his workout earlier this month with the Cincinnati Bengals. Though he hasn’t played a ton of snaps over the last two seasons, his 101 yard kick return touchdown last year vs the Green Bay Packers shows that his agility and speed haven’t diminished.
GM Marcel Desjardins deserves major props for a) making this deal happen and b) keeping it under wraps until this morning’s email to season ticket holders. At Williams’ introductory press conference Desjardins explained how things fell into place to get the deal done.
“Chris’ versatility and return ability is something we couldn’t pass up. Going back to last October, we had money budgeted to land this player. If it came to fruition, we were in a great place and if it didn’t, we could do other things. For me it was just a function of reaching out and letting Chris and his agent know we were interested. I respected their process. I didn’t badger them for answers. Once they came to ‘we need to look at the CFL now,’ it went well.”
Though Williams will have to re-adjust to the CFL, the wider field and recent rule changes should enable him to pick up right where he left off. Plus at only 27 years of age, Williams theoretically should still have his best years in front of him.
With the signing, the revamped and already deep Ottawa WR core becomes that much more crowded. As things stands now the Redblacks have newcomers Brad Sinopoli, Maurice Price, Ernest Jackson and Greg Ellingson plus holdovers from last season such as Kierrie Johnson, Khalil Paden, Eddie Poole, Jamill Smith, Marcus Henry, Scott Macdonell and Matt Carter.
From that group, the only WR who returned kicks last season was Jamill Smith. Smith had decent numbers, averaging 20.9 yards on kick returns and 8.6 yards on punts but Smith’s longest return was only 38 yards and he failed to score a touchdown. Though he seems like a great guy and has been very involved in the community, living in Ottawa this off-season and visiting schools with Big Joe and other Redblacks’ players, the Williams signing probably signals the end of Smith’s time with the team.
Chris Williams is yet another game breaker for Jason Maas to scheme with and it seems safe to say that the drops and lack of explosive plays that plagued the Redblacks last season won’t be repeated in 2015. With the Redblacks’ mini-camp set to start next week, it’ll be interesting to see how the battle for roster spots shakes out in Ottawa’s competitive and now very talented WR group.