Every East Division team’s biggest remaining question mark after CFL free agency

Photo courtesy: Argonauts.ca

In the modern CFL, free agency can reshape an entire team overnight.

Laughing stocks can become contenders and powerhouses can suffer their demises as impact players bounce from city to city, but the work doesn’t end when the ink dries on the last blockbuster deal.

While most teams have addressed their biggest needs, every squad across the CFL has holes on their roster waiting to be battled over in camp or seized by an unexpected youngster. With less than three months to go until rookies report to camp, it’s time to look at the biggest remaining positional question marks on each CFL team’s roster.

We kicked things off with the West Division on Saturday. Today, we’ll finish up out East.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant /CFLPhotoArchive.com

Hamilton Tiger-Cats: left tackle

After arguably having the league’s best offensive line in 2019, the Ticats were brought down to earth hard by some seriously questionable tackle play last year.

It seemed that North Texas product Jordan Murray emerged as the most passable solution, but he won’t be back next season after signing with the Indianapolis Colts — one of the more head-scratching CFL-to-NFL signings in recent memory.

Now, the only two possible candidates on the roster are American Travis Vornkahl and converted Canadian defensive end Kay Okafor. Both saw a number of starts at left tackle last season, but heading into 2022 with that tandem vying for the blindside job is a scary proposition.

The Ticats are sure to add talent to compete for this role over the next couple months and need to find a viable long-term solution. They likely require more than one option as well, as standout right tackle Chris Van Zeyl battled injuries last season and turns 39 in September, making neither bookend spot particularly sturdy.

Photo courtesy: Argonauts.ca

Toronto Argonauts: defensive end

Spectacular play of Shawn Oakman aside, the Argos had one of the CFL’s worst pass rushes last season — particularly off the edges. They’ve endeavoured to fix that issue with the high profile signing of Ja’Gared Davis in free agency, but last I checked you need to start two defensive ends.

On paper, the battle for the spot opposite Davis will come down to former NFL first-round pick Shane Ray or the recently unretired Adrian Tracy. Ray won the job out of camp last year, but was limited to six games due to injury and didn’t record his first (and only) sack until the East Final. Meanwhile, Tracy is 34 in April and hasn’t played since August of 2019. That’s simply not a good situation to be in.

Canadian Robbie Smith offers a nice rotational piece and linebacker Travis Feeney has chipped in off the edge, but right now Adams State sack master Alani Pututau is the only fresh blood that’s been added. It will take more than that to ensure this is a position of strength come opening day.

Photo courtesy: Scott Grant / CFLPhotoArchive.com

Ottawa Redblacks: right tackle

After fielding the worst offensive line in the CFL in what was hardly a banner year for the hoggies, the Redblacks have moved heaven and earth to create a unit which might finally stay consistent for two games in a row.

American Ucambre Williams gives them a stalwart left tackle they haven’t had since SirVincent Rogers and the Canadian trio of Hunter Steward, Darius Ciraco and Jacob Ruby will look nice in front of solid national depth. The only problem is the last spot on the right, where former Bombers depth man Dino Boyd is the only American option currently signed.

Boyd made a trio of starts last season, two on the left and one on the right, but hardly separated himself among the carousel of turnstile tackles. For the second year in a row, the Redblacks should have a handful of rookies vying for the role with fingers crossed that at least one emerges. At least they can rest easy knowing that none will be as bad as Chris Ferguson.

Photo courtesy: Dominick Gravel/Montreal Alouettes

Montreal Alouettes: middle linebacker

The easy answer here — and probably the correct one — is the battle at left tackle expected to take place between Chris Schleuger and Nick Callender, among others. But I didn’t title this article “Three East Division teams that need an offensive tackle,” so I’m going to go off the board with Montreal.

Last year, converted safety Ahmad Thomas started all but one game in the middle of the Alouettes defence. He was fine, if somewhat forgettable, in the role, but ultimately his 39 defensive tackles made him the least productive true linebacker in the league. He added two sacks, one forced fumble and one interception off the now-retired Sean McGuire, but it was hardly a dazzling season for the Oklahoma product.

Montreal clearly likes Thomas’ athleticism, but they still have to determine if he is their future at the position. Some solid competition in training camp would go a long way, but so far the list of American linebackers on the roster includes his 2021 backup Tre Watson and then a handful of castaways from other teams in Reshard Cliett, Tyrice Beverette and Jawuan Johnson. A promising neg list addition or two could really make a splash on that depth chart.

Abbott is a UBC student, youth coach and lifelong CFL fanatic. He specializes in coverage of the CFL draft and the league's global initiative.