Talk about setting the tone for the off-season.
After spending the week having his character, personality and abilities as a general questioned by many in the nation’s capital (including his former Grey Cup winning quarterback), Marcel Desjardins proved that he doesn’t care about noise.
By locking up his Canadian core (including a pair of local fan favourites in Brad Sinopoli and Alex Mateas) now, Desjardins demonstrated that he’s just as eager as the fans to turn the page on the 2019 campaign and dive headlong into the off-season.
Inking Sinopoli, Mateas, Brendan Gillanders, J.P. Bolduc and Nigel Romick to extensions this quickly dispels the notion that players want out (or that free agents would stay away) due to Desjardins’ personality. Clearly, he’s not the most outgoing and affectionate guy in the world, but Desjardins knows how to build a team. Three Grey Cup trips in four years doesn’t happen by accident.
2019 was a disaster but this is a huge step towards righting what went wrong and restoring fan confidence that the team can (and will) retain their star players.
The extensions shouldn’t actually come as a surprise to anyone paying attention. While much was and continues to be made of last off-season’s exodus of players such as Trevor Harris, William Powell, Greg Ellingson and SirVincent Rogers. What is often overlooked is that Desjardins re-signed and extended more than 18 of his players, including guys like Nolan MacMillan, Antoine Pruneau, Jonathan Rose and Richie Leone before free agency kicked off.
If the atmosphere around the team was as toxic and unwelcoming as some have implied, Sinopoli, Mateas and others would’ve simply waited a few months to hedge their bets on the open market.
Given that all five re-signed, at the conclusion of a truly awful season, it clearly shows they believe things can be turned around. And if they believe that, R-Nation should too. It’s also not a coincidence that the extensions were announced the same day as automatic season ticket renewals.
Re-signing a handful of key Canadians won’t right the ship on it’s own, but as a first step on the journey back to credibility and contention, it’s a good one.
It feels weird to be this far into a piece about players signing an extension without yet mentioning what the on-field impact will be.
Don’t let a down year fool you. Sinopoli remains productive and his abilities haven’t diminished. His lowest statistical output since joining the Redblacks is strictly due to the fact that he was mis-used in a historically bad offence. With a proper offensive coordinator at the helm of Ottawa’s attack, Sinopoli will quickly remind people around the league that he’s among the CFL’s most productive and dangerous receivers.
Good offensive coordinators create mismatches and from his slot position Sinopoli will give opposing defences headaches for at least another two years in the nation’s capital as he continues to build upon his Ottawa receptions record.
As for Mateas, not only did he play every offensive snap for the Redblacks in 2019, but he was arguably the team’s best offensive lineman.
Since taking over from Jon Gott in the middle of the 2017 season, Mateas has been the one consistent on Ottawa’s offensive line. He’s been incredibly durable, missing just three games since being drafted in 2015, suiting up for 87 regular season games and five playoff matches.
Mateas was an East All-Star in 2017 and 2018 and at 28 his best years are still ahead of him. On top of what he brings to the team on the field, the Ottawa native is active in the community and always has time for fans, be it on the field following home games, after practice, at a Quarterback Club or any other team event.
With Mateas sticking around, not only will the heart of Ottawa’s offensive line be anchored for another two years, it also provides the Redblacks flexibility with how they use 2019 first round pick Alex Fontana. A centre in college, Fontana will continue to provide depth behind Mateas as he develops his skills at guard.
Gillanders, Bolduc and Romick aren’t usually offensive/defensive starters but can contribute when called upon and are core special teamers. Heading into the last game of the season, Bolduc led all Redblacks in special teams tackles
On their own, the re-signings won’t be enough to win over everyone R-Nation (nor should it), but it’s an excellent first step towards rebuilding trust between the franchise and its fans.