2022 has finally arrived, bringing with it an opportunity for change.
It’s common for people to make New Year’s resolutions as a means of improving themselves and their lives. Getting healthier, travelling more, earning more money or learning a new skill are all popular goals for people to set come January 1st.
I’ve assigned each CFL team with one New Year’s resolution they should look to complete in 2022. Though the percentage of individuals who keep their New Year’s resolutions is low, teams would be wise to address the issues identified below if they hope to reach new heights this year.
B.C. Lions: Fix your (heavy)weight problem
Football is won in the trenches and for the past two years, the big men on both sides of the ball for the B.C. Lions have been a big part of their losses.
The team was mercifully middle of the pack in sacks allowed this season, but no offensive line was worse on the ground in 2021. While some improvement was made with schematic adjustments late in the year, a general lack of mobility up front remains a serious concern.
By contrast, the defensive line was plenty mobile, but got consistently bullied in the run game. That might have been palatable had they delivered as pass rushers, but nobody got home to the quarterback less than the Lions in 2021. The result was a formula for disaster that placed an insurmountable burden on the team’s back end.
The Lions have said they were going to address their line play before, but their current formula is not working. The team must do everything they can to infuse some youth offensively and match their scheme to personnel, while aggressively pursuing American difference makers who can rush the passer.
Calgary Stampeders: Give less, take more
Calgary wasn’t the worst team in the CFL when it came to turnovers, but their starting quarterback was. Bo Levi Mitchell threw a league-leading 13 picks in 2021 compared to just 10 touchdowns passes. It was the worst season of his career from a turnover perspective, throwing one fewer than his career-high in seven fewer games.
That put the Stamps behind the eight ball when it came to the turnover margin, but their defence couldn’t make up the deficit. Calgary was the only team in the CFL not to have double digit interceptions, managing just six. They forced 11 fumbles, but that was only good enough to tie them for last place with 17 takeaways.
In modern football, it’s almost impossible to win without besting your opponent on turnover margin. The Stamps have to take a lot more away next year and hope their veteran starter can return to form if they wish to get back to contender status.
Edmonton Elks: Reconnect with your community
The Elks should have a list of resolutions as long as Commonwealth Stadium’s running track, but their biggest issue is off the field.
The team brought in Chris Jones to create a winning product and he’s done that everywhere he’s been, but that won’t matter if the team doesn’t tend to its severely degraded fanbase.
Somehow over the last few years, this community-owned team has lost touch with its community. This began before the tenure of the now-departed Brock Sunderland and Chris Presson, but it certainly accelerated during it. The culture has been bad, customer service has been an afterthought and the club’s history hasn’t been properly honoured during a time of necessary change, leaving many disillusioned.
The Elks need to give their fanbase some TLC next year and pull out all the stops to bring fans back and they need to stay reverential while doing so. Board chair Ian Murray wasn’t wrong when he criticized club demographics and projects long turnaround times, but every time you speak to the issues without addressing them it comes across as another insult to your die-hards.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: Take your shot
This is far from an original thought, but the Saskatchewan Roughriders need to get better at pushing the football down the field.
Cody Fajardo averaged just 7.4 yards per attempt in 2021, which was down 24 percent from 2020. It was also the worst average of any starting quarterback outside of Ottawa.
Adding Duke Williams late in the season helped the Riders connect on some long throws, though a season-ending injury to Kyran Moore did the club no favours. Shaq Evans also failed to make an impact after returning from a broken foot, catching just one pass for minus-four yards over two postseason games.
If Saskatchewan wants to take a positive step in 2022 and knock-off the two-time defending Grey Cup champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers, finding a way to stretch opposing defences is a must.
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Get hip with the youth
The Blue and Gold have won back-to-back Grey Cups for the first time since the early 1960s, but it’s critical that teams don’t rest on their laurels if they hope to continue achieving success.
Winnipeg is one of the CFL’s oldest teams with many key starters in their early-to-mid-thirties. Left tackle Stanley Bryant will turn 36 in May, running back Andrew Harris turns 35 in April, and quarterback Zach Collaros, linebacker Adam Bighill, and guard Patrick Neufeld all recently turned 33.
The Bombers have had a lot of success with a veteran-laden roster, but football is a young man’s game. Deciding which veterans to keep and which veterans to cut loose will be a key determining factor in whether or not Winnipeg is able to achieve an ultra-rare championship three-peat in 2022.
Hamilton Tiger-Cats: Don’t cling to the past
Losing a playoff game is hard. Losing a championship is really hard. Losing a championship game at home? That must be truly devastating.
The Ticats lost the 108th Grey Cup at Tim Hortons Field in overtime last month, squandering a 22-10 fourth quarter lead in the process. It was the first time Hamilton was given the opportunity to host the Grey Cup since 1996 and their first chance to win it at home since 1972.
Given how short the 2021-2022 off-season will be — training camps open in a little over four months — the wound from December’s Grey Cup will still be relatively fresh when Hamilton next hits the field. To make matters worse, the club also has by far the league’s longest Grey Cup drought at 22 years.
The Ticats need to find a way to move on from the disappointment of 2021 and focus solely on the future. Orlondo Steinauer is staying with the organization after reports indicated that he may be heading back to the NCAA, so the club is already off to a good start this off-season.
Toronto Argonauts: Find ‘the one’
The Boatmen signed Nick Arbuckle to be their starting quarterback in 2021, inking him to a contract that included a $150,000 signing bonus. McLeod Bethel-Thompson ended up starting Week 1 with Arbuckle sidelined with an injury and the pair ended up rotating for much of the season.
It’s not easy for a team to constantly swap quarterbacks, particularly given the leadership role that accompanies the game’s most important position. Toronto needs to stop using a two-quarterback system and decide who to build their team around.
Arbuckle is no longer with the Argos after being traded to Edmonton in October, but that still leaves question marks in Toronto. Is Bethel-Thompson the guy? If so, why did he throw eight interceptions over his final three regular season starts? And, if not, who is the guy?
With a number of proven passers set to hit the open market and Bo Levi Mitchell reportedly having to renegotiate his contract in Calgary, the Argos could have several options at quarterback this off-season.
Ottawa Redblacks: Don’t be afraid of the big swing
The Redblacks were resistant to change this past off-season, keeping most of the roster from their 3-15 season in 2019 intact. Matt Nichols was the new quarterback under centre, though many of the faces around him remained the same.
With former Ticats’ personnel man Shawn Burke installed as the team’s new general manager, Ottawa shouldn’t shy away from wholesale changes the leave the team virtually unrecognizable in 2022. This is a team that’s gone 6-26 over the past two seasons — obviously, an overhaul is needed.
R-Nation needs a new quarterback, a starting-calibre running back, better receivers, a better offensive line, and new weapons on defence. The only part of the roster that doesn’t need work is on special teams where Richie Leone, Lewis Ward, and DeVonte Dedmon are perfectly capable of holding down the fort.
The a new year, Ottawa, and it’s time to find a new you. The Redblacks spent a ton of money in free agency in 2015 and it got them to a Grey Cup. They can do it again.
Montreal Alouettes: Get more consistent
The Larks were arguably the CFL’s most fun team to watch in 2021 with Jake Wieneke and Eugene Lewis combining for 20 touchdown catches in just 14 regular season games.
The problem was the team’s lack of consistency. Montreal beat Hamilton on the road and crushed Toronto by 21 points in 2021, yet they also lost at home to B.C. and Ottawa. Yikes.
Quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. is partly responsible for his team’s lack of consistency, running hot and cold over the course of the season. It’s impossible for a player to be at the top of their game each and every week, but Adams needs to become less erratic in 2022.
The Als are a good football team but they’re not going to take the all-important next step until they find a way to become more consistent.