The dog days of the football season are upon us as the dust has cleared somewhat from the free-agency frenzy that started Feb. 14.
It’s a foolish gesture to say which team capitalized the most in free agency. For reference, let’s look at last season where the Riders signed Shawn Lemon, Maurice Price, Justin Cappicotti, Kendial Lawrence and others, and let’s see who are still around in the Rider merry go round these days.
Yeah, so much for 2016 free agency.
The signing of Derek Dennis at offensive lineman is a welcome start because he is the outstanding offensive lineman in the CFL last season. The Riders are a bit short of offensive linemen, especially Canadian ones as Chris Best announced his retirement due to health reasons.
Dennis might have gone to Toronto if they had a general manager and coach in place, which they finally got into place this past week with the news that Jim Popp is the new GM and Marc Trestman is interviewing assistants to form his coaching staff.
While readers of this column know I have absolutely no use or respect for Popp as a coach, I have to admire his chops in finding talent although some of his pics like Michael Sam seemed more like public relations picks than anything else. As long as Popp keeps to the booth and leaves Trestman alone on the sidelines, Toronto may start turning a long corner towards relevence in the wasteland of southern Ontario.
Michael Copeland who was tasked by the owners for coming up with a football Czar and a structure similar to that of the Toronto Maple Leafs, apparently wanted some NFL type like Jerry Angelo, formerly of the Chicago Bears, who bailed when Scott Milanovich bailed out as head coach for the NFL.
Apparently Copeland was looking for the high profile respectability that an NFL retread would have, while overlooking the impact of other former NFL and NCAA big wheelers who came to the CFL and fell flat because the CFL game is different from the American game.
Future generations may note it worked out for the best that Angelo passed on the opportunity to show he had no ability to learn on the run with the CFL game in the CFL’s biggest market. Popp and Trestman will have to play catch-up pretty fast and the real impact of their hiring will be seen next off-season when they have a chance to compete for free agents.
At least they don’t have to have the CFL game explained to them and Trestman in Montreal was pretty good in coaching a winning team. How Ricky Ray and Drew Willy fit into that scenario will be interesting, but at least the Riders took advantage of the Toronto disorganization and grabbed a pretty good offensive lineman.
The Riders have not signed Michael Deane, the Canadian offensive lineman with Ottawa, who is on the free agency list coming up to two weeks now. If the Riders sign him that would help the offensive line formerly known as the Swiss Cheese line of 2016. The Riders have more question marks in players like Josiah St. John who needs to work on his strength and other things for this season.
So if the Riders don’t trade their first overall draft pick for say, James Franklin, Vernon Adams Jr. or Brock Jensen of Ottawa, I would think they go for another offensive lineman or perhaps a defensive lineman.
Rider assistant GM John Murphy mentioned in an interview the Riders are looking at potentially eight Canadian starters, which helps in case of injury because they would be one Canadian over the ratio limit. Of course if you get eight Canadian starters, you would need Canadian back-ups who would not hurt your team if they were forced into action.
The Riders signing of receivers like Chris Owens and Bakari Grant is being seen by many as the Riders stockpiling potential assets for a trade for a young quarterback. The Riders let Michell Gale go and he signed with Calgary, who traded Drew Tate, the proverbial backup to Ottawa.
The Riders may well start Kevin Glenn at quarterback, but not likely for an extended time because they want to bring in a young quarterback to start the next stage of the Riders’ development. The Riders could wait for Franklin to come available since his contract in Edmonton expires at the end of this season and if Toronto traded for Franklin, they would do do on condition that Franklin signed a new contract.
Adams could come loose in Montreal as Montreal signed Jacory Harris as a potential backup. Harris has previous CFL experience and while Adams came to Montreal with a high price tag, a first round pick, he is not keen on sitting behind Darian Durant.
As the Riders Canadian situation sorts itself out, such as Best’s retirement and the uncertainty regarding LaBatte, the Riders may well be thinking instead of rolling the dice with draft picks and receivers, hang onto the draft picks and use them on the team and wait to see if the Rider scout every 100 miles in the States can shake out some prospective quarterbacks.
As much as people think Glenn is not an upgrade over Durant, they may be missing the point the Rider defense may well be better, their receiving corps definitely is, and if they can play their cards right, their offensive line may be better able to keep whatever quarterback shows up upright long enough to hit what could be an amazing receiving corps.
I go for two hours on an elliptical machine while watching tapes of Rider games going back to 2014, although I have the 2007 and 2013 Grey Cups available in case I get too depressed. While watching Kevin Glenn in 2015, statistically he moved the club, but he suffered from a tendency to make the game killing turnover now and then.
If the Riders can come up with a Canadian running game able to take a lot of pressure off, then Glenn might be less pressured to push the envelope and manage the offense better within the parameters of its capabilities.
The upside of the Riders might well be 9-9 which might be good enough for fourth or perhaps slipping into the playoffs depending on what happens. Which is not a bad way to open a new stadium.
It’s not an ideal situation because you’d like to at least find out who your future starter is, but if he isn’t in town yet, that makes things awkward.
But perhaps not as awkward as they could have been. You may remember the Riders trading the negotiaiton rights to Oklahoma quarterback Curtis Mayfield to Toronto along with a fourth round pick for offensive tackle Bruce Campbell who promptly retired rather than coming out to the city that rhymes with fun.
Well Mayfield got arrested for public intoxication, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest in Arkansas. Which probably means Popp somehow manages to get him to Toronto after the NFL passes on him although he has one more season of NCAA football remaining.
So the interesting thing will be to see if the Riders can sign Deane and if so, that opens up a few options for the team and helps to rebuild the offensive line. In the meantime, there is the CFL week planned for March 21-26 with the CFL combine, player interviews and enough fan activities to make things interesting. It will be held at Cooperators Place and the new Mosaic Stadium, which will be a nice setting, but it will be the next stage for many teams in terms of planning for their 2017 draft and what if anything they want to do with it.
Ah, Vince Young. The Riders have him on their neg list and he might might it to the mini-camp in Florida so the Riders can see what kind of arm and shape he is in. While Young is apparently doing this for the legacy reason, to show his middling NFL career is not the last statement on his abilities, the question is whether a quarterback out of the game for four years or whatever, can bring enough to the table to make it worthwhile for the Riders.
Credit the Riders for rolling the dice and leaving no stone unturned, and while the move at the very least will have people talking about the Riders, I have my doubts Young will make it to training camp if he gets to the Florida camp. The Riders like to talk about how they have invested in scouting. This would be a good time to see that investment pay off.
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