What Brad Sinopoli meant to Ottawa and how the Redblacks move forward without the Canadian star

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

Brad Sinopoli’s retirement is a big blow to the Redblacks’ offence in 2021.

Having Ottawa’s most consistent, reliable receiver walk away from the game of football — weeks before training camp — will be difficult to deal with.

The 33-year-old Peterborough native was a fan favourite in the nation’s capital.

Not only for his university exploits as an Ottawa Gee-Gee, which saw him win a Hec Crighton Trophy as the top football player in U Sports.

Not only because he helped end the city’s four-decade championship drought with six receptions, 94 yards and a touchdown in a thrilling Grey Cup win.

Not only because he went over 1,000 receiving yards in four of his five seasons wearing the red and black.

Not only because he was a vital part of three Grey Cup appearances in four years.

Not only because he was twice named the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian.

Not only because he was named a CFL all-star in 2018 and and East Division all-star in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

Not only because he always seemed to move those yard sticks.

But also because he was such an approachable and friendly guy around the community.

For every clutch catch No. 88 made, there is a positive off-the-field interaction to match. It makes complete sense to learn that even if Sinopoli will no longer be representing the Redblacks on the field, he will off it, as he becomes a Community Ambassador for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.

It’s hard to overstate just how phenomenal Sinopoli’s nine-year career was. He appeared in 139 games, resulting in 5,741 receiving yards, 19 touchdowns, two Grey Cup rings, and an average of 11.3 yards per catch. He also carried the ball four times for 36 yards and a rushing touchdown and completed one-of-three pass attempts for eight yards.

Selected by the Calgary Stampeders in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, Sinopoli spent two seasons holding a clipboard and providing depth at the quarterback position.

In 2013, he successfully transitioned to receiver and over the course of the next two seasons, appeared in 21 games, making 49 catches for 550 yards and two touchdowns. It’s a testament to his football intellect and athleticism that he made the transition so seamlessly.

Shortly after becoming a free agent in the 2015 off-season, Sinopoli returned to the nation’s capital and quickly took his play to the next level. In five seasons with the Redblacks, Sinopoli climbed into the ranks of Ottawa legends.

He retires as Ottawa’s all-time leader in receptions with 455, passing the legendary Tony Gabriel late 2019. And Sinopoli is fourth in terms of career receiving yards with 5,127. He also holds the record for most receptions in a single season with 116.

Such a huge part of what made Sinopoli a fan favourite in Ottawa was not only that he made so many catches, but rather when those catches came. Between 2016 and 2019, 119 of his 369 regular season catches came on second down and moved the chains. That’s unbelievable production.

And although No. 88 was never considered a speedy player, when the ball was in his hands, he often made defenders miss, as demonstrated by the fact that a whopping 1,565 of his 5,741 career receiving yards came after the catch. What he lacked in pace, he more than made up for in toughness.

It truly is a shame that in what turned out to be his final season, Sinopoli was comically misused by an offensive committee. His worst statistical output since joining the Redblacks — 72 catches for 671 yards and three touchdowns — was strictly due to the fact that he was infrequently targeted in a historically bad offence, not because his skills diminished.

It would have been fascinating to see what Sinopoli could’ve accomplished as part of LaPolice’s offence.

No. 88 will be remembered by R-Nation for giving opposing defences fits from the slot position as he repeatedly came up with clutch catches and earned hard yards. He just always knew where to be to help out whoever was under centre.

His next stop should be the Canadian Football Hall of Fame and his number deserves serious consideration to hang on the walls of TD Place alongside giants of Ottawa football like Russ Jackson, Moe Racine, Bobby Simpson, Henry Burris, Tony Gabriel, and others.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant/CFLPhotoArchive.com

As for what his departure means to the Redblacks’ 2021 hopes, the loss of such a talented offensive weapon cannot be overemphasized. Who will be the new first read on a second down chain-moving situation?

Coming on the heels of Jalen Saunders retiring following his car accident, an already lean position group on Paul LaPolice’s squad becomes paper-thin. LaPolice is arguably the best offensive mind in the league and excels at creating mismatches, but he’ll be working with young players looking to prove themselves, not veterans.

The signings of Canadian receivers Michael Klukas and Nate Behar in recent days make a bit more sense when you realize the Redblacks knew this was coming. In addition to Klukas and Behar, if the Redblacks want to have another Canadian fill Sinopoli’s role, there will be no shortage of options.

Daniel Petermann, Marco Dubois, Anthony Coombs, Ryan Davis, Amba Etta-Tawo, and Wesley Lewis are all set to to participate in training camp. Although they present a wide variety of skills, experience and size, none have ever had more than 500 yards in a season and a few have zero career receptions.

In all likelihood, instead of seeking to find someone to directly replace Sinopoli, the Redblacks will probably change how they were planning to organize their ratio.

Cleyon Laing and Stefan Charles, backed up by Thomas Grant and Clement Lebreux, could account for two spots. Offensive linemen Mark Korte, Alex Mateas and Nolan MacMillan will be three more, while Antoine Pruneau will be another at safety.

The last ratio spot — vacated by Sinopoli — could go to one of the above mentioned receivers or potentially result in someone like Brendan Gillanders starting at running back or one of Adam Auclair and Justin Howell moving into a starting role in the secondary.

Another thing to keep in mind is that Sinopoli’s retirement suddenly opens up a decent amount of cap space. Per 3DownNation’s Justin Dunk, Sinopoli was set to make $160,000 for the upcoming season. That’s now money general manager Marcel Desjardins can put towards a premium player or two; either a surprise training camp cut from another team, potential trade, or an NFL castoff in the fall.

Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).