Mike Reilly? Maybe you’ve heard of him.
We talk a lot about it in Edmonton, especially with that other pro sports team: we can’t have nice things. For one reason or another, it’s pain after pain.
We’ll remember the good times, Mike. Thanks for everything. Say “hi” to Ed for us.
Moving on. Wow. Free agency went… a lot better than expected. It actually seems possible that despite losing the best player in the league – not to mention perennial studs Derel Walker and Aaron Grymes – the team got better. Here’s an approximation of the Esks depth chart, as of Feb. 17.
General manager Brock Sunderland has had a pretty clear philosophy in free agency over the past two seasons. Coming off a 12-6 record and a West Final appearance in 2017, last winter he was interested in continuity. This year, coming off of a disappointing 9-9 record, it was all about change. It looks like about half of the 2019 starters will be different from 2018, though a few – like Reilly and the retired J.C. Sherritt – aren’t by choice.
Let’s highlight a few things.
Thanks, Ottawa and… sorry?
Quarterback Trevor Harris, receiver Greg Ellingson, and offensive tackle SirVincent Rogers all signed contracts to be in green and gold through 2020. Ottawa’s loss is Edmonton’s gain, and those three should obviously be a huge part of the Esks offence next year. Some people in Edmonton have complained about Sunderland having a great affinity for former Redblacks, but frankly almost all of them have been very good players.
WILL Linebacker (and the other LBs too)
You have young-but-experienced national depth, so you… sign an expensive international.
Nothing against Jovan Santos-Knox, who is a mighty fine footballer, but he was the one signing I haven’t been able to fully wrap my head around, though it makes slightly more sense if the Eskimos are thinking trade. By no means am I saying a trade WILL (heh, punny) happen, but that’s a lot of talent lined up in one spot.
An Adam Konar type should certainly have trade value, and that particular move would free up some cap space, which is why I would deal him over Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga, who showed great improvement in his second year. But a GM has to express extra caution there because young, good, and Canadian are three of the best traits a guy can have in the CFL.
I have to say I was surprised to see so much spent on linebackers with the aforementioned WILL depth and Korey Jones and Tank Reed seemingly ready to compete for the starting middle job. But Larry Dean was a pleasant surprise and Don Unamba was equally pleasant if a bit less surprising. New-old teammates Dean and Unamba, who just so happened to play under new Esks defensive co-ordinator Phillip Lolley in Hamilton in 2017, will look to help create one of the most formidable front-sevens in the league. The entire starting D-line from 2018 returns, save New York Giant Jake Ceresna.
The coaching staff really seemed to like Money Hunter as a rookie, but he needs to take some big strides to be a competent full-time starter: that’s the one spot in the whole lineup that concerns me. It could turn out great, but as the Oilers have taught us (yet never learned themselves) you need to have a fallback in case not everything works out perfectly. At least Anthony Orange/Forrest Hightower/Arjen Colquhoun is a solid core, but none of the remaining options on the roster are especially proven. Nobody’s really sure where Johnny Adams stands.
This ought to be good. Greg Ellingson, Davaris Daniels, and 2016 draft pick Tevaun Smith, finally making a return from the NFL, are likely locked in as starters. Sunderland said he thinks Smith could be a 1,300-yard guy, which is nice to hear. (Side note: I find it super cool that Ed Hervey’s draft bets on NFL-hopefuls Smith and Colquhoun both look like they’ll be paying off.)
That leaves Ricky Collins Jr., Kenny Shaw, Kenny Stafford, Kevin Elliott, Miles Shuler, *breathes* Natey Adjei, Anthony Parker, and a handful of guys you probably haven’t heard of (potentially including 1st overall Mexican pick Diego Viamontes) fighting for roster spots.
Collins Jr. is probably the likeliest day one starter. Shaw had a great 2016 with Toronto but basically hasn’t been healthy since, Stafford has been a long-term depth guy, Elliott will be looking to stick with what is now his fifth team, *breathes again* Shuler will try to become the next guy out of the Great Eskimo Receiving Factory™ (see: Derel Walker, Brandon Zylstra, Duke Williams, Bryant Mitchell), Adjei will hope he can extend his flashes into more regular field time, and Parker will try to re-establish himself as at least a capable National depth option. And so on.
Quite a lot depends on…
Defensive end (Kwaku Boateng), field corner (Arjen Colquhoun), safety (Jordan Hoover/Jordan Beaulieu/Godfrey Onyeka), centre (David Beard), guard (Matt O’Donnell), and receiver (Tevaun Smith) seem certainties. The ratio change from Konar/Mulumba to Santos-Knox at WILL means that the 7th spot likely comes on the offensive line or at receiver. I touched on the receivers above, while you’d hope a guy like Mason Woods (really any of the young National O-lineman) might be ready to step in as a starter, though to do so they would have to overtake former CFL all-star Travis Bond.
With all the money that was spent, I’m not entirely sure how the roster is cap-compliant. Sunderland said in his post-FA availability that “in February you always project to a certain level, so right now we’re good with the salary cap”, and that they might try to restructure a couple things. Does that mean that they’re planning to cut a big ticket, or that they expect the cap to jump? Maybe they’re playing 4-D chess and only signed Santos-Knox so another team couldn’t. *hides tinfoil hat* Anyways.
The West, once again yet again, looks well-poised to cross over unless Ottawa can survive their mass offensive exodus and at least one of Toronto/Montreal climbs back out of the basement. The Esks don’t have many glaring weaknesses, and we’ll see if the squad in its first year without No. 13 in a long while (man, that’s gonna be weird) brings it all together like they couldn’t in 2018.