The Ottawa Redblacks have a long list of needs heading into free agency — nearly every single position group could use an enhancement — but two areas stand out more than any other: offensive line and receiver.
That’s what happens when your team misses the playoffs for two consecutive seasons while putting up a pair of historically inept offensive showings.
Agreeing to terms with Jeremiah Masoli to play quarterback is a start — even if it’s not a move I’m convinced was necessary — but unless the talent around him is significantly upgraded, it won’t change much.
With that in mind, here’s a look at ten players who general manager Shawn Burke would be wise to target when things kick-off on Tuesday, February 8 at noon ET.
Ucambre Williams (offensive lineman)
Before doing anything else in free agency, the Redblacks must address the issue which has crippled their offence in recent seasons — poor offensive line play. In 2021, no team gave up more sacks than the 53 Ottawa did. In fact, the next closest team, Saskatchewan, conceded 40.
Williams should be target No. 1 because of the versatility he provides. Capable of starting at both left tackle and centre, the six-foot-three, 312 pounder is experienced with 63 career starts under his belt while being tough and a tone setter.
Inking Williams would provide the Redblacks with the foundational piece on their offensive line that they’ve been lacking since SirVincent Rogers left town.
Darius Ciraco (offensive lineman)
Given Burke’s background with the Ticats, he’s had a firsthand view of the 25-year-old’s development. Ciraco has started 46 games since being drafted by Hamilton in 2018. As an added bonus, the 292-pound Burlington native can play centre or guard.
Since it seems inevitable that Mark Korte won’t be back and considering the lack of news surrounding 2019 first round pick Alex Fontana’s future, Ottawa desperately needs a starting calibre centre — Ciraco could be that guy.
Jake Wieneke (receiver)
Along with the offensive line, Ottawa’s receiving corps is the other positional group likely to see wholesale changes. That’s probably for the best given that no receiver gained more than 595 yards in 2021. Wieneke meanwhile had 56 receptions for 898 yards and 11 touchdowns last season — Ottawa’s entire offence scored 13 touchdowns in 2021.
Over the course of 32 career regular season games, the six-foot-four, 215-pound receiver has averaged 15.1 yards per reception and snagged 19 touchdowns.
What makes Wieneke so good isn’t his size — there’s plenty of tall receivers in the league — it’s the crisp routes he runs and his ability to win jump balls.
Darvin Adams (receiver)
Coming off a statistically down year, whoever signs Adams could find themselves with one of the best bargains in free agency.
Despite “only” amassing 441 yards and four touchdowns, the six-foot-two, 204 pounder still averaged 17 yards per catch. He had a strong showing in the post-season too, catching five passes for 61 yards and one touchdown in the Grey Cup. Signing Adams would reunite him with Paul LaPolice, who coached him in Winnipeg.
Greg Ellingson (receiver)
R-Nation needs no introduction to Ellingson, as they are quite familiar with the four 1,000-yard seasons and three Grey Cup trips he produced while wearing the red and black.
Despite only playing 10 games in 2021, the 33-year-old Tampa native still averaged 14.6 yards per catch, hauling in 47 passes for 687 yards and one touchdown.
Bringing Ellingson back to the nation’s capital would play well amongst the fan base and right a wrong, he never should have been allowed to leave town in the 2018 off-season.
Kwaku Boateng (defensive end)
Don’t let Boateng’s 2021 numbers fool you, the 27-year-old Canadian is still among the league’s premiere pass rushers. His combination of skill and high motor, he takes no plays off, means long days for opposing tackles.
Signing Boateng would reunite him with his former defensive coordinator Mike Benevides, under whom he had his best statistical season.
Ryker Mathews (offensive lineman)
The fact that Matthews missed nearly all of 2021 as a result of a concussion is concerning, but if he is healthy, the Redblacks would be smart to put in a call, if only for the fact that the American is capable of playing both tackle positions. Positional flexibility is huge when it comes to the trenches.
Llevi Noel (receiver)
Similar to Matthews, Noel missed the majority of 2021, but if healthy, the Toronto native is capable of chipping in on offence from the slotback position, his career average is 10.6 yards per reception, and being an impact special teams player, as demonstrated by his 79 career special teams tackles.
Brandon Banks (receiver)
At 34-years-old, it’s fair to wonder how much Banks has left in the tank. But you can’t teach experience and the four time all-star and 2019 MOP has a long history of production. In 2021 the shifty Raleigh native still averaged 10.8 yards per reception and 9.1 yards per rush.
As long as he isn’t asked to be an offence’s focal point or a team’s main returner, look for Terry Williams to fill DeVonte Dedmon’s shoes, Banks could be effective. Doubly so as a result of his pre-existing familiarity and chemistry with Masoli.
Shawn Lemon (defensive end)
You can never have too many talented pass rushers and regardless of what uniform he wears, Lemon continually proves he can get the job done.
The 13-year pro notched eights sacks in 11 games for the Stampeders in 2021. Even if just used situationally, the 33-year-old would provide Benevides another experienced weapon to use to attack opposing offences.