That noise you heard Wednesday afternoon was a collective sigh of relief from R-Nation that the Ottawa Redblacks managed to lock up their biggest pending free agent, receiver Diontae Spencer. Oh, and they also re-signed the first player in franchise history, offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan, who was drafted in 2013.
Spencer, widely acknowledged as the league’s top pending free agent, will be looking to build off a breakout 2017 season. In addition to the 71 catches he made (good for 922 yards and six touchdowns), he returned 70 punts for 929 yards and a touchdown (averaging 13.3 yards per return), 25 kickoffs for 605 yards (24.3 yards per return) and five missed field goals for 250 yards and a touchdown (52 yards per return).
With the ability to single-handedly take over a game, as demonstrated when he put up a CFL record 496 all-purpose yards against Hamilton in Week 18, Spencer’s re-signing shores up the receiving corps and ensures the most explosive returner to wear red and black since Jason Armstead in the Renegade era will continue to thrill R-Nation every time he returns a kick.
With Spencer back in the fold, the Redblacks receiving corps is among the deepest in the league. Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli, Diontae Spencer and a healthy Kenny Shaw will wreak havoc on opposing secondaries, forcing defensive coordinators to pick their poison.
Furthermore, the fact that it will be Spencer’s second year in Jamie Elizondo’s offensive system (with the same quarterback throwing to him) should allow for him to improve upon last season’s numbers. After all, in 2017 he only crossed the 100-yard receiving mark four times. If he stays healthy, the sky is the limit.
As for MacMillan, his return gives Ottawa another experienced and battled tested offensive lineman. In spite of the fact that he has struggled to stay healthy in recent seasons (missing 18 games due to injury) when on the field, he is a steady presence capable of playing guard and tackle.
By keeping MacMillan in the fold, the Redblacks’ offensive line will again be deep. After being pressed into action in his rookie season, Evan Johnson acquitted himself well, but with MacMillan sticking around, he likely returns to the bench. As things currently stand, Ottawa’s offensive line could feature four Canadians; SirVincent Rogers at left tackle, a combination of Alex Mateas and Jon Gott at left guard/centre, MacMillan at right guard and Jason Lauzon-Séguin at right tackle.
Although re-signing both Spencer and MacMillan are extremely positive moves for the franchise, they undoubtedly did not come cheap. And for a team that was already heavily invested (salary cap wise) on the offensive side of the ball, there will be repercussions elsewhere. As with each CFL transaction, every addition equals a subtraction.
Those clamouring for the return of defensive pending free agents (and fan favourites) like Zack Evans, Taylor Reed, Jerrell Gavins, Arnaud Gascon-Nadon and Jonathan Rose need to acknowledge that now, at most, only one will return.
General manager Marcel Desjardins has been busy in the buildup to free agency. Since Ottawa’s season came to an abrupt end in November, he’s re-signed Trevor Harris, William Powell, Mossis Madu, Brendan Gillanders, Brad Sinopoli, Alex Mateas and now Diontae Spencer and Nolan MacMillan.
With so many starters set to return on the offensive side of the ball, the 2018 Redblacks should have no issue putting points on the board. But as free agency kicks off, R-Nation will be waiting for their GM to sign players to keep points off of it.