Like most teams in the CFL, the Montreal Alouettes have several key players they need to re-sign before free agency opens on Feb. 11 at noon ET.
In total, the Als have 28 players that could hit the market. But which ones are the most important?
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Here are the six most important free agents the Alouettes need to bring back in 2020 and beyond.
6 – Mario Alford – kick returner
Alford was a late addition to the roster, but all he did was make big plays in the return game. For whatever reason, Alford couldn’t stick with the Toronto Argonauts, but he was awesome (when healthy) with the Als.
The 27-year-old played in just three games with the Als during the regular season and he suited up in their East Semi-Final playoff game against Edmonton, but he managed to bring back two punts for touchdowns against Calgary and Winnipeg, and he also broke a return for a touchdown in the playoffs.
Als defensive tackle Ryan Brown played with Alford in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals and admitted that he wasn’t surprised by all the success he was having up in Canada.
“He’s definitely built different,” Brown said of Alford during an interview on TSN 690 early in November.
“He sees the field in a different way. A lot of people at that position have a lot of speed, but they lack the vision. He has both. I used to watch him in college (at West Virginia). When teams needed him for a big return, he got it and his resume continues to trickle down here. I want to say that the first time he touched the ball as an Alouette, he scored. He came up to me and said: ‘nothing’s changed, bro’. And I said: ‘I know, I know.'”
Alford won’t be able to score as frequently over a full season, but he’s given the Als a legitimate kick-return threat that they haven’t had in years.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) October 12, 2019
5 – Ciante Evans – defensive back
Evans signed a one-year deal with the Alouettes after the first week of training camp. He was coming off a successful four-year stint with Calgary, but he had suffered a wrist injury during his short time in the AAF.
The 27-year-old fit into the Als secondary like a glove. He’s a quality cover man that’s fully capable of matching up with any receiver in the CFL. Finding a good American defensive back isn’t the most challenging thing for a general manager, but players of Evans’ quality don’t grow on trees, either.
In 13 games with Montreal, Evans had 29 tackles and three interceptions while mostly playing the half-back position on the wide side of the field.
4 – Patrick Levels – linebacker
Like Evans, Levels also signed a one-year deal with the Alouettes after spending time with the Stampeders. The 25-year-old spent the entire year as the strong-side linebacker, which is a position that had been occupied by Als legend Chip Cox for the longest time.
Levels had a strong year in Montreal and he ended up being one of the most important free-agent signings former general manager Kavis Reed made last winter. The Baylor product finished the year with 86 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles in 18 games.
He’s already made it clear that he’d like to explore his NFL options this winter. Whether or not he can get a contract down south remains to be seen, but he should be near the top of the next general manager’s priority list.
3 – William Stanback – running back
In his first full season as the starter in Montreal, Stanback had 1,048 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns to go along with 33 receptions and 329 more yards receiving in just 14 games. Stanback was named an East Division all-star, a CFL all-star and he was on the CFLPA all-star team, too. There’s no denying that the Als offence looks different when he’s rolling.
— SXMCanadaTalks (@SXMCanadaTalks) July 5, 2019
The 25-year-old had a 203-yard rushing performance in a home game against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in July and he continued to impress as the season went on.
It’s already been well documented that he’s hoping to get a shot in the NFL and there’s a real chance he could stick. While in Montreal, he showed that he could play an important role on offence and he also proved that he’s more than capable of being a beast on special teams, too.
During Grey Cup week, TSN’s Dave Naylor reported that the Als running back already has four workouts scheduled with NFL teams. That number probably has grown since.
2- Woody Baron – defensive tackle
Unless you follow the Als very closely, you might be surprised to see Baron’s name this high on the list, but the reality is that he’s been a huge part of their defensive line for the last two years.
The under-sized defensive tackle would be hard to replace if they lost him. Like Levels and Stanback, Baron also has NFL aspirations this winter. Whether or not his body-type allows him to stick down south remains to be seen, but the Als are already lacking depth on the defensive line. Losing Baron would be a tough pill to swallow.
The 26-year-old came up with a huge interception in the East Semi-Final against the Edmonton Eskimos. He also added 27 tackles and a sack in 18 games during the regular season.
1 – Geno Lewis – receiver
Lewis was arguably the most improved player on the team in 2019. Yes, he was the leading receiver on the team in 2018, but that’s only because B.J. Cunningham got hurt. This year, he became a go-to receiver.
Lewis finished seventh in the league in receiving yards (1,133), he was eighth in the league in receptions over 30 yards (eight), and he was 12th in receptions (72). When the Als needed a big play in the passing game, they often went to their sure-handed receiver.
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) September 15, 2019
The 26-year-old gambled on himself by signing a one-year deal last winter and that paid off in a big way in 2019.
Getting Lewis back with DeVier Posey, Cunningham, Quan Bray and Jake Wieneke would be huge for the Alouettes and their quarterback, Vernon Adams.