Normally the first day of free agency is about big splashy additions that excite a fanbase for the upcoming season. The correlation between being a heavy day one spender and winding up as Grey Cup champions is debatable, but roster moves in early February are about selling hope.
Unfortunately for R-Nation, this year’s kick off to free agency was an uncomfortable one that will be remembered more for the players departing the nation’s capital as opposed to those heading to it.
The Edmonton Eskimos haven’t been well received in Ottawa since they were gifted a Grey Cup via a double pass interference call in 1981, and those feelings have only intensified with the recent diaspora of players, coaches and scouts moving from Ottawa to Edmonton since Brock Sunderland was named GM in 2017.
Quarterback Trevor Harris, receiver Greg Ellingson and offensive lineman SirVincent Rogers are just the latest in a long line of one-time Redblacks to make their way to Edmonton.
On top of losing their No. 1 quarterback, No. 1 receiver and arguably best offensive lineman, the opening day of free agency also saw their top running back (William Powell) sign with Saskatchewan.
Additionally, original Redblack and fan favourite Jon “Dangerbeard” Gott won’t be returning and game-breaking receiver Diontae Spencer is now a member of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.
For a city that’s used to watching its hockey team pinch pennies and regularly lose star players, the loss of multiple franchise players hurts. It’s another kick to an already wounded sports psyche at a time when fans in Ottawa are fed up with watching talented players leave town.
That said, R-Nation shouldn’t hit the panic button yet. OSEG isn’t Eugene Melnyk. And it’s not an accident that GM Marcel Desjardins’ roster has made three Grey Cup appearances (winning one) in the last four years. You would think that alone would buy him a bit of slack but if today’s online reaction is any indication, R-Nation’s memory is short.
Looking at the facts should bring some measure of comfort. To begin with, Desjardins was extremely active in the period leading up to free agency. On top of bringing back his entire coaching staff and front office, seventeen pending free agents were re-signed. As is repeatedly proven in sports, continuity breeds success.
On the offensive side of the ball Dominique Davis, Mossis Madu, JC Beaulieu, Julian Feoli-Gudino, Jason Lauzon-Séguin and Nolan MacMillan will all return.
On defence, Jonathan Newsome, Avery Ellis, Michael Klassen, Ettore Lattanzio, Danny Mason, Nigel Romick, Antoine Pruneau, Jonathan Rose, Corey Tindal and Sherrod Baltimore will be back. Punter Richie Leone also returns.
Furthermore, Desjardins got a jump start to free agency when he added DB Chris Randle, an ultra-athletic playmaker, to an already deep secondary.
Obviously, it would have been nice to retain at least some of the players lost today, but if Ottawa had paid what Edmonton did to Harris, Ellingson and SirVincent, they would have more than a million dollars (nearly 20 per cent of the 2018 salary cap) tied up in three players. That’s hardly a recipe for success, especially when nobody really has any idea how much (if at all) the cap will rise in the new CBA.
By not spending wildly today, the Redblacks have tons of cap space available for the plenty of quality players still on the market. Not to mention room to add players currently in the NFL who will wind up cut later this spring.
On a late afternoon conference call, Desjardins said he was comfortable with the idea of Dominique Davis as his starting quarterback and that he was proceeding under that assumption, for now. As I mentioned a few days ago, it may well be that Davis is ready for a starting job. Even if that isn’t the case, Ottawa has options.
Desjardins also denied that age had anything to do with his decisions but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that every player the Redblacks lost today was on the wrong side of 30.
Finally, for those in R-Nation who are truly upset over today’s new, remember that the season doesn’t start tomorrow; it’s months, many more free agency days, tryout camps, a mini-camp and training camp away. Constructing a roster takes time and there’s no championship rings for best first day signings.
For every player that leaves, an opportunity opens for another. Time after time Desjardins has demonstrated an ability to unearth new talent and plug holes. So take a deep breath and have a bit of faith in the man that’s been getting the job done since Day One.