On the first day of free agency, R-Nation watched Ernest Jackson and Abdul Kanneh (each responsible for one of the two most iconic plays in the Redblacks’ Grey Cup win), hit the free agent market. They were joined by 15 other players (including Chris Milo), several of whom have already found new homes.
But before fans in the nation’s capital even had a chance to lament their losses, GM Marcel Desjardins was already bringing in replacements. How did Desjardins respond to losing two 1,000 yard receivers? By going out and inking two former Argos who are capable of producing 1000 yard seasons of their own.
While Kenny Shaw might not boast the same ability to go over middle as Ernest Jackson, and while Dionate Spencer might not have Chris Williams’ game breaking speed, both have good hands, are excellent route runners and crisp coming out of cuts. Their familiarity with Trevor Harris (whom they played with in 2015), and offensive co-ordinator Jamie Elizondo (who was their receiving coach in Toronto), should not be overlooked. It won’t take either long to build chemistry and develop a strong rapport with Harris.
It was a bit surprising to hear Desjardins mention in an interview with TSN1200 that after signing Greg Ellingson, he didn’t try to re-sign Ernest Jackson, but it’s very likely that Shaw and Spencer’s combined salaries are close to what Jackson would have commanded.
Even with two of Ottawa’s four 1000 yard receivers gone, a receiving corps that boasts Shaw, Spencer, Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli and Juron Criner is among the best in the league. In addition to stabilizing the receiver group, Shaw and Spencer go a long way towards improving the Redblacks’ special teams, as both are capable of returning kicks.
Given the fact that LB Taylor Reed was extended earlier this off-season and that LB Damaso Munoz was so productive over the last three seasons (144 tackles, 8 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles), it was a bit unexpected to see the Redblacks sign LB Khalil Bass. The addition of Bass led to Munoz being released but R-Nation shouldn’t worry about a decline in production from the weak side linebacker position, as Bass has racked up 181 tackles, 9 sacks, 3 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles over the last two years. It’s also worth mentioning that Bass is four years younger than Munoz, which might have factored into Desjardins’ thinking.
Many in R-Nation were extremely concerned about the holes in the team’s secondary, but Desjardins moved to solidify the group by re-signing Jerrell Gavins on Feb. 13th and inking AJ Jefferson to a one year deal shortly after free agency started. Jefferson excels in man coverage and given his ball skills, projects to be a playmaker in Mark Nelson’s defence.
On top of adding four starters, Desjardins shored up Ottawa’s National depth and special teams units, signing DB Adam Berger (who provides depth behind Antoine Pruneau), LB Ron Omara (an Aylmer native and experienced special teamer) and RB Pascal Lochard (a one-time Vanier Cup MVP who presumably fills the departed Kienan LaFrance’s role).
All in all, R-Nation can breathe a deep sigh of relief. Though some key contributors to Ottawa’s back-to-back Grey Cup appearances are gone, fans should be thrilled with the moves their GM made during the opening days of free agency . Desjardins pulled no punches and has his team well-armed (at least on paper) to defend their title on home turf.