Seven pending CFL free agents the Redblacks should target

Julian Howsare-Hamilton Tiger Cats-22sept2021-Photo Scott Grant

A 4-14 record and a third consecutive year of missing the playoffs necessitate changes in the nation’s capital.

But unlike last season when general manager Shawn Burke found himself with a roster that needed upgrades at every single position, the Ottawa Redblacks already have talented players under contract.

Over the past few weeks, Burke has been busy retaining his own pending free agents — extending the contracts of nearly 20 players who he believes are part of the solution going forward.

Yet holes remain. Several key areas need an infusion of fresh blood: at running back, the receiving group, and the defensive line.

Let’s look at seven players that Burke would be wise to target when the legal tampering window opens on Sunday.

A.J. Ouellette, RB, Toronto Argonauts

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After taking over the lead back role when Andrew Harris went down injured last season, Ouellette often sparked the Argos’ offensive attack. Despite his smaller stature, the five-foot-nine, 208-pounder runs angry when the ball is in his hands.

Not only was he strong rushing the ball but his pass-catching and blitz pick-up skills were a huge asset to Toronto’s passing game. Ouellette’s career 5.4 yards per carry and nine yards per reception are extremely respectable.

For fans in Ottawa, his violent rushing style is reminiscent of another back who once donned the red and black in the nation’s capital: former Renegade Josh Ranek. A Little Ball of Hate 2.0 would do wonders to take some of the pressure off Jeremiah Masoli’s shoulders.

Eugene Lewis, REC, Montreal Alouettes

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It seems unlikely that Darvin Adams, Ryan Davis, or R.J. Harris will be re-signed in Ottawa. The departure of those veteran Americans creates an opening for someone like Lewis to step into.

The biggest name at the position on the market aside from Kenny Lawler, last season’s East Division’s Most Outstanding Player is coming off a career year that saw him haul in 91 passes for 1,303 yards and ten touchdowns. The 29-year-old’s crisp route running skills, soft hands and long arms mean anything thrown remotely within his radius usually results in a reception.

His familiarity with offensive coordinator Khari Jones’ system — the two spent time together during Jones’ tenure as the Alouettes’ head coach — would also be a boon. The question becomes how high will Burke go in a bidding war for Lewis, as he’ll have multiple teams seeking his services and is asking for top dollar.

Shaq Evans, REC, Saskatchewan Roughriders

Shaq Evans-Saskatchewan Roughriders-30oct2021-Photo Scott Grant

When healthy, Evans is a dynamic playmaker who demands attention from opposing defences. The problem is that due to a pair of broken legs, he was limited to just seven games in 2021 and ten in 2022.

Still, the former fourth-round NFL Draft pick hasn’t averaged 15.8 yards per catch and generated 793 of his 2,830 career yards after the catch by accident.

Signing Evans would be a gamble but with the right contract, his addition could prove impactful. He would be a cheaper option than Lewis, yet still provide Jaelon Acklin with more favourable looks from the defence.

Kaion Julien-Grant, REC, Montreal Alouettes

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The Redblacks already boast a handful of promising young Canadians at receiver in Nate Behar, Keaton Bruggeling and Tevaun Smith. However, adding Julien-Grant would provide head coach Bob Dyce with plenty of flexibility when it comes to managing his game-day roster.

The 26-yard-old is heading into his fourth season as a pro and currently has 45 receptions in 40 career games. What catches the eye though is the fact that he’s averaged 14.6 yards per reception and that more than half of his career yardage (375 of 658 yards) came after the catch.

Joel Figueroa, OL, B.C. Lions

Joel Figueroa-BC Lions-30june2022-Photo: Scott Grant

As things currently stand, the only tackle the Redblacks have with CFL experience is Dino Boyd. Ucambre Williams seems to have retired, while Randy Richards has yet to be extended.

Inking Figueroa would provide Ottawa with a proven veteran presence at left tackle. The 33-year-old is durable, as demonstrated by the fact that he’s suited up for 79 regular-season games over the last five years.

The only catch is that with so few tackles set to hit the market, Figueroa could be in high demand.

Julian Howsare, DE, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Julian Howsare-Hamilton Tiger Cats-22sept2021-Photo Scott Grant

Luring an under-the-radar defensive end out of Hamilton to the nation’s capital worked well for Burke last off-season, so why not try it again?

Howsare is an ascending talent who notched 31 tackles, seven sacks, a knockdown and a pair of interceptions en route to being named an East Division All-Star for the first time in 2022.

A relentless pass rusher who is also stout against the run, a duo of Howsare and Lorenzo Mauldin IV at defensive end would provide plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Jumal Rolle, DB, Hamilton Tiger-Cats

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Another name that Burke is already familiar with from his time with the Ticats, Rolle’s got size, technique and durability. In fact, he’s never missed more than four games in a season.

With Sherrod Baltimore and Abdul Kanneh seemingly not returning, there is a starting spot up for grabs in Ottawa’s secondary. Burke could do much worse than filling it with a two-time all-star who boasts eleven career interceptions.

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).