Since watching his team come up short in the Grey Cup, general manager Marcel Desjardins has wasted no time in putting together a roster that he hopes will help the Redblacks get over the hump and give them another shot at Grey Cup glory in 2019.
Quarterback Dominique Davis along with Canadian starters Antoine Pruneau, Nolan MacMillan and J.C. Beaulieu have been extended on multi-year deals. Rotational depth players Ettore Lattanzio, Julian Feoli-Gudino and Nigel Romick will be back for another year, along with American punter Richie Leone.
Due to a unique clause in his contract, mid-season acquisition Chris Ackie (acquired for a second round pick) has been released to pursue NFL opportunities. Corey Tindal Mike Wakefield, Jonathan Newsome, Sherrod Baltimore, Danny Mason and fourteen others have also been signed. And Chris Randle has been added to the secondary.
As for the other 20 potential free agents the Redblacks stand to lose, here’s a look at who Desjardins should concentrate on locking up before they hit the market.
Trevor Harris, QB, international
The biggest domino to fall among Ottawa’s remaining potential free agents is of course, quarterback Trevor Harris. What happens with his situation will have reverberating consequences on the rest of the roster. Harris came into his own in 2018, setting career highs in passing yardage, coming up clutch down the stretch and winning his first playoff game in dominant fashion. Harris has proven that he’s among the league’s best at his position and deserves to get paid.
While the uncertainty around CBA negotiations may cause a delay in Harris signing an extension, it would be a surprise to see him wearing another team’s colours come training camp. The fact that Jamie Elizondo will be back as offensive coordinator and that Harris has gone on record stating he’d like to finish his career in the nation’s capital bodes well for the Redblacks.
William Powell, RB, international
Bringing back William Powell would also go a long way to ensuring Ottawa’s offensive attack remains potent in 2019. Powell’s coming off a season in which he managed to stay healthy and put up career highs in rushing (1362 yards on 251 carries) and receiving (319 yards on 39 receptions). In addition to getting the job done with the ball in his hands, Powell is also a very reliable pass blocker, a fact that often goes under-appreciated by fans.
Jason Lauzon-Séguin, OL, national
Although he lost his starting job late in the season, bringing back Jason Lauzon-Séguin should be a priority for Desjardins. Lauzon-Séguin is capable of playing right tackle and either guard position. With Jon Gott all but gone and with SirVincent Rogers still unsigned, extending Lauzon-Séguin would offset those losses, provide depth at multiple positions along the offensive line and help the ratio.
Rico Murray, DB, international
In his first season in the nation’s capital, Rico Murray was exactly what fans hoped he would be when signed; a steady veteran playmaker. By all measures, Murray had an excellent season. He was stout in run support, solid in coverage and made a number of impact plays (forcing five interceptions and a fumble).
Chris Ackie, LB, national
Chris Ackie was used sparingly following his trade to the Redblacks, but brining him back should still be a high priority. Although he’s currently exploring NFL opportunities, if he decides to come back to the CFL, Desjardins should look to extend a player who boasts elite speed, the ability to play multiple positions in the secondary and a familiarity with Noel Thorpe’s defensive scheme.
Greg Ellingson, WR, international
The Greg Ellingson situation is perhaps the trickiest for Desjardins to navigate. To begin with, his production in 2018 dipped. He was still Ottawa’s second best receiver, amassing 1086 yards and five touchdowns on 91 receptions, but his totals were the lowest they’ve been in three seasons. Further complicating matters is a police charge for failing to provide a breath sample during a RIDE check. It remains to be seen what legal and/or league fallout stems from the incident.
SirVincent Rogers OL, international
As for SirV, Rogers has been a steady presence protecting Harris’ blindside, but has made it clear he’s no believer in hometown discounts. He also took a handful of undisciplined penalties after the whistle in 2018, sometimes with dire consequences (such as in the overtime loss to Winnipeg). Rogers is an excellent tackle but when you consider that he’ll demand market value (or more) to re-sign, along with his age (he’ll be 33 in May), plus the emergence of Josue Matias, it wouldn’t be totally shocking to see him move on.
Avery Ellis, DE, International
When healthy, Ellis was among Ottawa’s most dangerous pass rushers. Given that the team lacks a bona fide star defensive end, retaining Ellis services and allowing him to continue to grow under the tutelage of Hall of Fame defensive line coach Leroy Blugh couldn’t hurt.
Andrew Marshall, DL, national and Michael Klassen, DL, national
Marshall and Klassen are a pair of Canadians capable of playing meaningful reps on the defensive line as well as experienced special teamers. Smart CFL franchises hang onto guys them like them as they are crucial to a team’s success.
Mossis Madu Jr., RB, International
Madu hasn’t gotten a ton of touches during his time with the Redblacks. Despite averaging 4.6 yards per carry during his three seasons in Ottawa, that hasn’t translated to many starts. As depth insurance, the Redblacks could do worse than bringing back the 31 year old.
Jon Gott, OL, National
A fan favourite and a Day One Redblack, seeing Gott go will be painful for many in R-Nation. But the reality is with the offensive line depth accumulated by Desjardins in the last few drafts, Gott no longer has a starting role. During the team’s end of year exit interviews Gott stated that he wasn’t interested in returning as a backup in a depth position, effectively ending his time with the Redblacks. Retaining his services as a mentor/depth player would be great, but is extremely unlikely.
A.C. Leonard, DE, international
After being a healthy scratch for both the East Final and the Grey Cup, clearly Leonard has fallen out of favour with the coaching staff. It’s somewhat surprising given that Leonard had a strong statistical season with 51 tackles, six sacks, five knockdowns and three fumble recoveries.
Jonathan Rose, DB, international
Rose is another interesting case. His play in 2018 was often boom-or-bust. Although he led the league in interceptions, he was often targeted and torched on deep routes by opposing teams. There’s also the issue of his East Final meltdown in which he inexplicably shoved a referee. The fallout from those actions and his game ejection remain unclear, as an independent arbitrator still needs to rule on how long his suspension will be.