Prioritizing the Redblacks’ soon-to-be free agents

While the jubilation resulting from the Redblacks’ Grey Cup win will sustain R-Nation throughout the off-season, the reality is that GM Marcel Desjardins cannot rest on his laurels if he hopes to see his team repeat at home next year.

But before Desjardins can even think of reloading for next year’s Grey Cup run, he must first look to take care of business on the home front, as with 31 potential free agents, the Grey Cup champions could lead the CFL in roster turnover.

Here’s a look at which players Ottawa’s GM should concentrate on extending before they hit free agency on Feb. 14th.

High priority

Offence:

Kienan LaFrance, RB, National

Nolan MacMillan, OL, National

Ernest Jackson, WR, International

Greg Ellingson, WR, International

The two absolute no-brainers from Ottawa’s potential FA list are Jackson and Ellingson. Not only did they post 1000 yard seasons for the second consecutive year, but both are capable of taking over a game. If anyone doubts their importance, just look back to Ottawa’s 2014 season and watch receivers kill drives by dropping catchable ball after catchable ball.

When it comes to LaFrance, not only does he help the ratio with his passport, but the 2016 playoffs were his coming out party. Having proven that he is a viable starting option at running back in addition to being a significant special teams contributor, it’ll be interesting to see where LaFrance winds up on next year’s depth chart if he re-signs.

Lastly, until Nolan MacMillan returned from his broken wrist in September, Ottawa’s offensive line was in a constant state of flux, with the starting five being shuffled around every week. The 1st pick in Redblacks’ franchise history is a stabilizing presence who must be retained.

Defence:

Taylor Reed, LB, International

John Boyett, LB, International

Antoine Pruneau, DB, National

Mitchell White, DB, International

Abdul Kanneh, DB, International

Much like MacMillan stabilized the offensive line, Reed’s addition to Ottawa’s defence was a catalyst for the unit’s strong play down the stretch. His veteran presence and sure tackling was a boost to a group that lacked both at times during the season. Before getting hurt, Boyett was another impact player and a LB corps consisting of Munoz, Reed and Boyett would rank among the most dangerous in the league.

Canadian Antoine Pruneau has started nearly every game since being drafted by Ottawa and settled into his new position at safety following a mid-season move from linebacker. Aside from the obvious benefit of having a National starter in the secondary, Pruneau finished the year with the second most special teams tackles.

Although Kanneh is on everyone’s mind because of his incredible goal line tackle in the Grey Cup, since joining Ottawa in July, White was one of the Redblacks’ best corners. Even when he was beat, it was often by an incredible catch as he consistently maintained good position. As for Kanneh, though his torpedo like hits sometimes result in missed tackles, the reality is he’s a two-time CFL All-Star and brings an infectious confidence/swag that rubs off on his teammates.

Medium priority

Offence:

Travon Van, RB, International

William Powell, RB, International

J’Michael Deane, OL, National

Scott MacDonnell, WR, National

Khalil Paden, WR, International

Jamill Smith, WR, International

Who should be Ottawa’s lead tailback? Once everyone gets healthy, it’s an interesting question for the Redblacks. Is it worth bringing back Powell given what he showed in 2015? Or will his recovery from a ruptured Achilles make Desjardins wary of offering him another contract? As for Van, with his healthy 5.2 yards per carry and his ability to make defenders miss, will the team want him in the mix come training camp?

Despite his propensity for being flagged, Deane is an excellent offensive linemen. That being said, perhaps he will be viewed as expendable given the money tied up in former 1st round pick Alex Mateas and the fact that depth OL Matt Albright held his own in limited starts. Not to mention it’s extremely likely the Redblacks scoop an offensive linemen or two in the early rounds of this year’s draft.

This group of receivers is an interesting one. Already cut once, will Paden’s 17.9 yards per catch be enough to earn him a new deal? Paden has fantastic hands and quick feet and could be the team’s new deep threat if Chris Williams leaves. Though MacDonnell is a non-factor in the passing game, he does contribute on special teams and provides Canadian depth behind Brad Sinopoli and Jake Harty. Smith is another receiver whose main contributions come on special teams, specifically in the return game. Given that he shared the role (and starts) with Tristan Jackson, I don’t see them both returning.

Defence:

Moton Hopkins, DL, International

Aston Whiteside, DL, International

Nigel Romick, DL, National

Ettore Lattanzio, DL, National

Andrew Marshall, DE, National

Jerrell Gavins, DB, International

Forrest Hightower, DB, International

An emotional leader, Hopkins has been with the franchise since Day One and was an integral part of Ottawa’s defensive line rotation. Though he wasn’t a full time starter, Lattanzio made the most of each rep, turning limited action into 24 tackles an 5 sacks. Marshall and Romick not only provided Canadian depth but were valuable contributors on special teams, with the former leading the Redblacks with 16 special teams tackles on the year. One year removed from a torn knee, Whiteside often failed to dress and struggled to get after the QB when he did hit the field. Still, when healthy, his ability to pressure opposing QBs is second to none.

As for Gavins and Hightower, though I don’t have them listed as high priority, both deserve to be brought back and likely will, depending on what happens with Kanneh and White. Gavins’ transition to SAM linebacker was flawless and he acquitted himself well despite his smaller (for a LB) frame. In his first season as a regular starter, Hightower played well but saved his best for the biggest moment of the year, stepping up in the Grey Cup by picking off CFL MOP Bo Levi Mitchell twice.

Special teams:

Ray Early, K, International

Tristan Jackson, DB/KR, International

With the up and down season he had, Chris Milo must have felt a bit uneasy watching Ray Early come in and make every field goal he attempted. At the very least, Early deserves a shot to fight for Milo’s job in training camp. With regard to Jackson, even if he struggled with injuries and missed significant time, he was Ottawa’s most dangerous returner, as evidenced by the two punts he returned for TDs.

Low priority

Offence:

Danny O’Brien, QB, International

Chris Williams, WR, International

In three seasons with the Redblacks, O’Brien has played in 15 games, completed 55% of his passes, thrown 2 TDs to 7 INTs and averaged 5.9 yards per pass. Frankly, it’s hard to see him back with the team as Brock Jensen is more than capable of backing up Burris and Harris. As for Chris Williams, though he is arguably the most explosive and fastest player in the CFL, it’s unlikely he’ll be healthy until at least mid-season. Furthermore, he won’t come cheap as he amassed 1246 yards and 10 TDs in just 14 games. If Desjardins chooses to let Williams walk, the emergence of Juron Criner in the playoffs helps soften the blow. All that being said, if Henry Burris does retire, I expect a bigger push from Desjardins to sign Williams, due to the chemistry he’s shown with Trevor Harris.

Defence:

Cleyon Laing, DE, National

Mike Moore, DL, International

Jeff Richards, DB, International

Nicholas Taylor, DB, International

Dan West, DB, National

Laing was signed to help the Redblacks capture the 104th Grey Cup and that’s exactly what he did. Since it was common knowledge he still harboured NFL aspirations, it’s no surprise that he’s already been released. Moore, Richards, Taylor and West were mainly special teamers who rotated in but if Desjardins fails to re-up the guys they back up, their value increases.

Santino Filoso

Santino Filoso

Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)
Santino Filoso
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Santino Filoso
About Santino Filoso (203 Articles)
Born and raised in the 613, Santino has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know.)

13 Comments on Prioritizing the Redblacks’ soon-to-be free agents

  1. jimmy Breslin // December 11, 2016 at 1:26 pm //

    Love this analysis Santino and no real beefs except perhaps a tweak here & there if you’ll permit.

    High Priority: Kienan LaFrance, while i’d love to have him stay, given his monster snow game against the Esks, can he really do this on a consistent basis like say a Jerome Messam ? For me he’s a keeper but medium priority.

    Medium Priority: Having followed the team since it’s inception I find Scott MacDonell could be used more, I love Jake Harty, a terrific special teams guy, but he struggled in that game against Winnipeg having more than one drop, MacDonell is a very steady receiver when they put him out there which is rare. Little noticed but his completion ratio since day one is the best of all slotbacks at 13.6 yards per catch. ( i’m just quoting the team’s own stats ) Case in point they threw him one pass this year, and sure enough a 14 yard completion. Backing Brad Sinopoli we definitely need to keep Jake and Scott, God forbid anything happens to 88 either one can step in and secure our ratio at that position.

    Low Priority: While true we did win it all without Chris Williams for half the year he is an absolute burner & game breaker who should be at the very least a medium-priority signing for Desjardins. As for Brock vs Danny for backup QB I was disappointed in Jensen’s performance in that end of season throwaway game against Winnipeg, he appeared so very tentative in many of his throws, or should I say non throws, I found O’Brian to be more assertive, it’s a correctable issue but still worrisome. Let’s conclude by saying I pray we keep ’em all. Campbell preaches continuity as a goal well I hope that happens.

    Bottom line this team proved they’re a bunch of winners.

  2. george fogarty // December 12, 2016 at 6:32 am //

    Nice overview Santino. Will be tough to keep the team intact, however there seems to be a chemistry among these players that may keep them here. I am sure a few will seek greener pastures but they will never experience the passion of RNation or TD Place anywhere else in the CFL.

  3. Enrico Della Penta // December 12, 2016 at 10:29 am //

    Marcel has a big job in front of him and I know that he will do what is best for the team. Changes will be made some players will go, new ones will come on board. Bottom line the REDBLACKS have done well in 3 years since being back in the league creating a good core of players. Here’s hoping to keep some of these FA around and adding to the core.

  4. Enrico Della Penta // December 12, 2016 at 10:30 am //

    Where are the comments from my pal Robin(fromtheCity)?

    • Jimmy Breslin // December 12, 2016 at 12:55 pm //

      Hahaha was he the one who came on here and predicted the Stamps would steamroll right over the REDBLACKS ? hello out there, hello hello ???

      • Enrico Della Penta // December 12, 2016 at 8:35 pm //

        Yup just kept shout off on how the city would roll up the sidewalk after the Grey cup game and The REDBLACKS were gonna get trounced. Where are you know Robin (fromtheCity) in the bat cave?

  5. Wouldn’t it be nice if they eliminated the “Canadian content” – no scrambling to sign over priced Canadians and no worries about meeting the ratio. Time for the best players to make the team, it shouldn’t matter if you are Canadian.

    • Jimmy Breslin // December 12, 2016 at 12:51 pm //

      Tired old lament JayAre no one’s scrambling get over it. The REDBLACKS have often played with 10 sometimes 11 Nationals. Minimum requirement is seven. To quote Coach Campbell “we play the guys we think will win for us if that means we have more Canadians than other teams we’re fine with that, if they’re in there it’s because they deserve to be there” – I love the Canadian flavour of the CFL if this bothers you tons of NCAA and NFL action you can follow from every corner of this Continent and beyond.

      • But WHY do you want to give Canadians an advantage?
        Ottawa started more Canadians than other teams because they had more good Canadians, the other teams couldn’t find them. A guy like Sinopoli would make the team anyway.
        Teams would not be restricted, they would be free to start 20 Canadians if they were good enough

        • Jimmy Breslin // December 12, 2016 at 2:57 pm //

          You’re confusing me. Teams are free to start as many Canadians are they want now ! – the entire squad could be made up of Canadians !! – All the league requires is that at least seven Canadians be in the lineup, the reason is simple it creates opportunities for Canadian players to showcase their skills. Far more importantly it nurtures and encourages the development of the game in this country. Is that such a horrible proposition ? we have Canadians playing south of the border right now, in the NFL, there strictly on merit, in most cases developed up here. In your world that may not be allowed to happen.

        • It’s not to give them an advantage, it’s to avoid a disadvantage. You don’t want coaches to ignore the smaller talent pool because the larger (American) one is so much easier to sort through.

          There has long been a bias that American players are immediately better prepared to play the game. Without the ratio in place, a lot of Canadian players wouldn’t even be given the opportunity.

  6. Good cover guys are very difficult to find I would list DB Forrest Hightower as a true high priority

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