With last season’s playoff loss firmly in the review mirror, it’s time for Ottawa Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins to begin looking forward to the 2018 campaign.
Given that 2017 was such a disappointment, odds are turnover will be high. R-Nation can expect to see plenty of new faces in the nation’s capital next year.
In fact, changes have already begun, albeit at the coaching level.
As for the roster itself, the Redblacks originally had 26 pending free agents (with 12 Nationals in that group), putting them in the middle of the pack.
Of those 26, four have already been re-signed, including quarterback Trevor Harris as well as Canadians Brad Sinopoli, Jean-Phillipe Bolduc and Brendan Gillanders all of whom signetwo-yearar extensions.
When it comes to re-signing players, all model CFL franchises do two things well; they lock up their Nationals and hang onto their marquee impact players.
With that in mind, here’s a look at eleven players Desjardins should concentrate on extending before they hit the market on Feb. 13th.
Powell’s résumé basically speaks for itself. When healthy, he’s in the conversation of best running back in the league. In 2017, coming off a torn Achilles tendon, Powell rushed for 1026 yards despite only playing in 12 games. He also had 242 receiving yards on 32 catches, displaying his gamebreaking ability as a dual threat coming out of the backfield. Things that might make Desjardins hesitant about extending the shifty back are his injury history and the fact that he will be 30 when the season kicks off.
After having a coming out party with some phenomenal catches during Ottawa’s 2016 championship run, Criner spent much of 2017 on the six-game injured list. That said, he did get healthy near the end of the year and reminded R-Nation just how useful he can be, averaging 15.1 yards per catch over the team’s final three games. Criner needs to work on his route running but has two things you can’t teach; a big frame and soft hands.
Some CFL team is going to pay Spencer a lot of money. That was guaranteed when he set a CFL record with 496 all purpose yards in the Redblacks’ regular season finale. In addition to blossoming into a reliable deep threat in the passing attack, Spencer developed into one of the league’s premier returners, scoring two touchdowns while averaging 13.3 yards per punt return, 24.3 per kickoff return and 52 per missed field goal return. The 25 year old has garnered plenty of NFL interest, so Desjardins likely has his work cut out for him.
While Harty lacks the star power of some of the other names in Ottawa’s deep receiving corps, he is still an important piece. He provides Canadian depth behind Sinopoli and contributes on special teams. In spot duty, Harty made 27 catches for 226 yards and a touchdown. He also made six special teams tackles.
Despite being limited to just 11 games in 2017, when healthy, the first pick in Redblacks’ franchise history proved he is still among the league’s best interior blockers. MacMillan’s experience and steady level of play are an asset that must be retained.
Although he is not a regular starter, Albright is a quality depth player on the Redblacks’ offensive line. Albright played in nine games in 2017 (starting three), while overcoming a serious pre-season knee injury. If Ottawa intends to keep rolling four Canadians along the offensive line (and given that Albright has demonstrated the ability to fill in when called upon), he should be re-signed.
Since arriving in the nation’s capital in 2014, Evans has been a heart and soul player for the organization. Evans is one of those rare defensive tackles capable of stuffing the run and rushing the passer, as reflected by his 23 tackles (three for a loss), five sacks and eleven QB pressures.
Just like Evans, Gavins is an original Redblack. The diminutive defender is a spark plug, capable of energizing the entire defence with a thunderous hit or a timely turnover. Gavins’ versatility is a valuable asset, as he is able to play both DB and LB. With new defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe in the fold, Gavins would seem to be an excellent fit in his aggressive scheme. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that in playoff games with Gavins healthy and on the field, the Redblacks are 3-0. In playoff games without him (including the 2015 Grey Cup), they are 0-2.
Fresh off a career high 94 tackles and 4 sacks, Reed has been the ferocious centre piece of Ottawa’s defence since his arrival in 2016. If re-signed, the five year veteran, could be a steady presence while helping to implement Noel Thrope’s new defensive system.
Cover men don’t often get the credit they deserve, but it was no accident that Johnson led the CFL in special teams tackles. Johnson boasts quick speed and an ability to slip by blockers. While casual fans might not be familiar with his name, you can bet the coaching staff and his teammates appreciate his hard work.
The reason Mateas has an asterisk beside his name is because if the Redblacks intend to play him at centre, he should absolutely be brought back. In his third pro season, Mateas finally seemed to settle into a comfortable role at centre, anchoring an offensive line that drastically improved over Ottawa’s stretch run, even earning a nomination as a divisional All-Star. But as well as Mateas played at centre, he has struggled to hold his own at the guard position. Moving Mateas to centre full time would entail bumping Jon Gott to guard. That shouldn’t be an issue, as during his time with Calgary, Gott played that position at an All-Star level.