Despite free agency kicking off in a less than ideal fashion, Ottawa Redblacks GM Marcel Desjardins has ignored the criticism and quietly continued to go about his business.
Since the opening opening day exodus which saw quarterback Trevor Harris, receiver Greg Ellingson, left tackle SirVincent Rogers and running back William Powell leave the nation’s capital, Desjardins has added thirteen players to Ottawa’s roster.
Let’s take a look and see how some of them fit in.
(*Denotes a National)
QB Jonathon Jennings (signed for one year)
To boil it down into its simplest form, the Redblacks have swapped proven production for intriguing potential at the quarterback position. Although Jennings is no Trevor Harris, the 26-year old pivot has had moments of brilliance in his four year career and already has a 5,000-yard season under his belt.
Through 51 career games Jennings has completed 980 passes for 12,497 yards, 66 touchdowns, 51 interceptions and rushed for another 983 yards. He’s also been money in the red zone.
Jonathan Jennings' Red Zone passing numbers the last three years are crazy (29 TD, 2 INT). The rest of the field has been a huge problem. What could he accomplish with a fresh start?#Details #CFLFA #BCLions pic.twitter.com/bYCFN4lEJL
— Derek Taylor ???????????? (@DTonSC) February 12, 2019
If Jennings can return to form, he’ll have a good chance of wrestling away the starting job from Dominique Davis in training camp.
*OL Philippe Gagnon (signed for two years)
Coming off a major knee injury, if the 6-foot-4, 311-pounder can stay healthy, the Redblacks will have another proven Canadian on their offensive line. During his three years with the Alouettes, Gagnon suited up for 36 games. With the ability to play either guard position, Gagnon’s signing allows for the possibility of starting four Canadians on the offensive line.
REC Ryan Lankford (signed for one year)
After spending two seasons with the Bombers, the 27-year-old Jacksonville native will be looking to have a breakout season with the Redblacks. Although he’s never had more than 20 catches in a season, the versatile receiver/returner will have plenty of opportunity to make his mark in a receiving corps that lost big names like Diontae Spencer and Greg Ellingson. Those targets have to go somewhere and given Lankford’s speed and soft hands, he seems like a safe bet.
*LB Nicolas Boulay (signed for one year)
“White Chocolate” as he was once known, is the kind of gritty player every CFL team needs to succeed. A reliable special teamer, Boulay is known for dishing out punishing hits. In six seasons with the Alouettes, Boulay racked up 102 tackles and a forced fumble.
DB Troy Stoudermire (signed for two years)
On top of being a return specialist (averaging 10.7 yards per punt return, 21.6 per kickoff return and 28 per missed field goal return), Stoudermire provides depth to an already deep secondary. Given that Lankford can also return kicks, the Redblacks have quietly added two capable returners.
REC Caleb Holley (signed for one year)
The first Alaskan in franchise history is also the fastest. A speedster who’s averaged 13.5 yards per catch over the past four seasons with Saskatchewan, Holley’s stats are even more impressive when you consider that only 57 per cent of the passes thrown his way last season were on target.
Receivers who saw the highest & lowest % of accurate targets in 2018. The top seems like a random distribution. The bottom echoes which teams scored the fewest points last season.#Details #CFL pic.twitter.com/lI0mljWZL1
— Derek Taylor ???????????? (@DTonSC) February 15, 2019
As mentioned earlier, with the departures of Ellingson and Spencer, Holley will have a real opportunity to showcase his talents and snag a starting role in Ottawa’s receiving corps.
*LB Kevin Francis (signed for one year)
Much like Boulay, Francis was signed for his ability to play special teams. In 45 career games, the Toronto native has made 44 tackles and forced two fumbles.
*REC Nate Behar (signed for one year)
Football fans in the nation’s capital should already be quite familiar with Behar. The Carleton University alum had a legendary career with the Ravens (catching 21 touchdowns in 30 games) before being drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos. At just 24-years-old, Behar will have a chance to grow into a regular contributor in Ottawa’s passing attack under the tutelage of another great Canadian receiver (Brad Sinopoli).
In summary, the Redblacks lost their starting quarterback but signed another (with significant experience) to fight for the role in training camp. They lost an all-star American receiver but brought in two Americans and a Canadian to try and fill his shoes. They lost their starting American left tackle but brought in a Canadian guard that gives them more flexibility on the offensive line.
Desjardins also added two solid special teamers and a pair of speedy players capable of handling returning duties. Running back Mossis Madu and receiver Dominique Rhymes were also re-signed to one year contracts, making them the 17th and 18th players to re-sign with the Redblacks this off-season. Furthermore, Ottawa added two international defensive backs in Josh Jenkins and Kishawn McClain, a 6-foot-6 international tackle in Devondre Seymour and brought back a promising international receiver (Linell Bonner II) into the fold.
The Redblacks’ front office has plugged most holes, opting for youth and potential over proven veterans. It’s definitely the road less travelled (and has rubbed some in R-Nation the wrong way), but one big benefit is that Ottawa likely still has cap space left to sign NFL castoffs or players cut by other CFL teams later this off-season. With a long way to go before training camp, their decision may prove to be a prudent one.