Since being named the second general manager in franchise history on December 19th, Shawn Burke has been relatively quiet.
The Ottawa Redblacks have made no roster moves other than signing Canadian receiver Will Corby, which was a done deal well before Burke came to town.
Unlike Edmonton recently cutting a large group of players they knew would not be coming back in 2022, there has been no trimming, let alone the purge some fans in R-Nation would like to see.
With that said, although there has been no official word on the fate of interim general manager Jeremy Snyder and interim assistant general manager Jean-Marc Edmé, Burke seems hard at work behind the scenes, re-arranging the front office.
With the calendar flipped to 2022, there’s no time like the present for Burke to start to put his stamp on the organization. Here are some things Burke can do to immediately make his mark.
Establish clear roster boundaries with Paul LaPolice
Naturally a GM must communicate with his head coach on roster moves and more often than not, when the pair are in sync, it bodes well for the team as a whole. Burke must be careful not to make the mistake his predecessor did and allow Paul LaPolice final say on who is brought in during free agency.
As demonstrated in 2021, LaPolice’s eye for talent is suspect at best. He was the driving force behind the additions of Matt Nichols, Timothy Flanders, Daniel Petermann, Na’Ty Rodgers and Jamar McGloster — none of whom performed up to standard, despite being given plenty of opportunities to do so.
Well before free agency kicks off, Burke should reinforce the fact that although he will welcome LaPolice’s thoughts on player acquisitions, he will have the final word on transactions, effectively limiting his coach’s input.
Overhaul the offensive line
This could happen a few different ways.
It could look like signing pending free agent Mark “Plug & Play Anywhere” Korte to a multi-year extension, but the Spruce Grove, Alta. native seems destined to move back west.
It could be as simple as checking with with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 CFL Draft to make sure Ottawa will be able to count on the return of Alex Fontana in 2022 after a year off.
It could be making a splash by bargain hunting: trading for a proven veteran on an expiring contract like Sean McEwen, Joel Figueroa, Stanley Bryant, Brandon Revenberg or Chris Van Zeyl and inking them to a new deal before they hit the market.
Doing any of the above would instantly begin to address Ottawa’s most glaring weakness.
Work with LaPolice to finalize his coaching staff
After a 3-11 season, turnover occurs at every level of an organization. The coaching staff is no exception and for the Redblacks there are a number of lingering questions.
Will unvaccinated receivers coach Alex Suber continue to coach from home via Zoom? Who will take over for running backs coach Charles Eger? No position group had more upheaval than Bob Wylie’s offensive line, but did the young players show enough growth to warrant his return?
With quarterback coach Steve Walsh headed to Minnesota to coach his high school alma mater, who will work directly with the pivots? Will the entire defensive staff be back?
Given that December is generally when the contracts of coaches and coordinators expire, the sooner these issues are resolved, the better.
Cut a fan favourite
Nothing signals the start of a new era like the departure of a long-time fan favourite whose physical skills may be trending the wrong way even as fan sentiment remains high.
The Redblacks have two players who potentially fit the bill, both of whom are original Redblacks — Nolan MacMillan and Antoine Pruneau.
MacMillan was the first draft pick in franchise history, going ninth overall in the 2013 draft. Pruneau was taken fourth overall in the 2014 draft following Marcel Desjardins’ first-round trade to unload a disgruntled Kevin Glenn.
Both players have made countless plays in the seven seasons the Redblacks have taken the field. MacMillan has started 83 of his 84 career games while Pruneau has started 82 of his 103 career games. The efforts of each were crucial in the team making three Grey Cup appearances, including a thrilling 2016 win, in four years.
The two of them have also been incredible ambassadors for the team through countless charity events, quarterback clubs and other marketing initiatives.
Yet heading into 2022, the pair are over 30, had statistically mediocre seasons, are coming off injuries which saw them end the year on the sidelines, and are set to hit the free agent market.
Personally, I’d attempt to re-sign both, but if Burke really wanted to send a message that things are changing in the nation’s capital, he could let them walk.