Ottawa just keeps signing starting level players at key positions of need. It seems with every passing day since the legal communication period began we have been getting announcements about players signed. The last two days have been no different.
Following the news that Ottawa had signed Jeremiah Masoli, William Powell, Jackson Bennett, and Ucambre Williams more news broke that the Redblacks have signed a group of wide receivers including Jaelon Acklin who is familiar with the GM, Shaq Johnson, Bj Cunningham and Llevi Noell, as well as defensive backs Ty Cranston, Monshadrik Hunter, Patrick Levels, Trumaine Washington. They didn’t stop there snaring offensive linemen Hunter Steward, and Darius Ciraco. The Redblacks have aggressively addressed needs at every level without pause.
Their working motto has been 3 wins is not good enough. Their actions have spoken just as loudly with them throwing around money like its going out of style. The main theme will be competition as evidenced by the bulk of these Signings, as well as the rash of extensions for their own free agents. Let’s take a look at the players Ottawa signed and how they fit with the squad.
First of all Jaelon Acklin is a guy who has played his full career with Hamilton after going undrafted in 2018 signing with the Ravens. Acland would ultimately suffered a hip injury before the end of training camp that would end in his release. After this he joined the Hamilton tiger-cats in 2019 following his rehab. The 6ft 2in 195 lb receiver has gone on to develop into a reliable Target for Hamilton. As a CFL rookie cop 58 of 74 Target totaling a little over seven hundred yards and three touchdowns, in 2021 he returned catching 50 of 77 Target in 14 games totally a little over six hundred and seventy yards with four touchdowns this time. This displayed consistency despite his relatively young age of only 26 oh, he joins the Redblacks as a potential starter in 2022 depending on how the competition shakes out at wide receiver. Acklin was brought to Hamilton do to Sean Burke who is now the GM of the Redblacks so this was a move that was expected to be on ottawa’s radar.
The next receiver on our list is Shaq Johnson a former fourth-round pick of the BC Lions back in 2016. The 6 ft 178 lb receiver, is a former CFJL player, and a Canadian national. He has the speed to burn DB’s having run a 4.39 40 yard dash. The majority of his rookie season was spent on the practice roster. In 2017 he caught 27 passes for 501 yards and 2 tds averaging over 18 yards per reception. Last January he signed a 1 year extension with BC. Johnson has not been a starter to this point. Johnson is the type of receiver you bring in in situations as a third or fourth option in the passing game. He’s been fairly consistent seeing about 50 Target to season and catching about 30 of them throughout his career. In 2019 he saw his best season catching 39 passes of his 58 targets for a little over five hundred yards. I honestly think he will be fighting for 3rd or 4th role on this roster especially being that RJ Harris was re-signed.
Bj Cunningham is the next man on our list oh, the former NFL receiver has last on with Montreal in the CFL which Alton Garner name recognition prior to hitting free agency in 2022. Cunningham is another big-bodied receiver at 6 ft 2 in and 211 lb. Cunningham is known for his ability to rack up yards after the catch despite the fact that he is 32 years old and probably past his prime oh, he will join the Redblacks as a veteran option who can the key on crucial conversion downs.
The last man on our list is Levi Noel Canadian national receiver previously a member of the Toronto Argonauts. Drafted in 2016 he is another former 4th round pick in the CFL draft. He stands 6’2 210 lbs, and is known for his special teams coverage prowess. In his first two seasons in the league he totaled 46 tackles in 36 games, and set a Grey Cup record notching five special teams tackles on his way to a victory in just his second season with Toronto. In his first two seasons he caught just 4 passes, before exploding in year 3. He would go on to play in all 18 games for a 3rd year straight. He would see 60 targets catching 47 of them for 512 yards. 265 of those yards came after the catch. In 2019 he had another decent season playing in 16 games seeing 35 targets with 28 receptions and 259 yards. 87 of which came after the catch. In 74 career games, he has logged 79 special teams tackles, 6 defensive tackles, and scored a 49 yard td on a muffed punt. He would also add 18 kick returns for 370 yards showing his versatility.
At defensive back the Redblacks signed Ty Cranston from the Allouettes. The 6’3 205 lb DB was a 7th round pick in 2017. Originally from Manitoba, Winnipeg, the 27 year old went to the University of Ottawa and will return to where he attended college in his 6th season. Despite spending his rookie year finishing his eligibility with the Gee Gees. He would go on to make the active roster in year 2. In 3 seasons he has primarily been a role player and active participant on special teams totalling 34 games played, with 38 defensive tackles, 24 special teams tackles, and 1 int, ironically against Ottawa last season. He is coming off a career year in 2021 playing in 13 games with 29 defensive tackles, 1 int and 8 tackles on special teams.
The second of the Montreal DB’s that Ottawa signed via free agency was Monshadrik Hunter. Hunter hails from America originally but never appeared on an NFL roster prior to joining the CFL in 2018. He is another guy who adds premier size at 6’1 193 lbs, as are most of the guys signed this offseason by Ottawa. Having attended college at Arkansas State, he played in 59 games collecting 222 tackles, 6 ints, and 1 sack. Due to an injury following his final season in college he missed all of the 2017 season, signing with Edmonton following his rehab. He played in 12 games starting 9 of them. He was able to rack up 26 tackles and 2 ints on defense, adding 9 special teams tackles. After assuming the halfback duties (better known as a sort of big nickelback position in the NFL), Hunter found himself becoming a full-time starter. He would play in all 18 games collecting 59 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 more ints, as well as 2 special teams tackles. He would sign with Montreal following the 2019 season, opting to stay with them following the 2020 cancellation. He would play in all 14 games following the cancellation. As a starter in Montreal he would record 44 tackles, 2 ints, and 1 more sack, He was named an All Star for the first time in his career. Following the 2021 season he became a free agent and Ottawa pounced on the chance to add a quality halfback to their defense.
Next up on the list of DB’s added to the roster was Patrick Levels. Levels is a 27 year old CFL veteran, originally from Dallas, Texas. He has been a member of the CFL since 2017 when he joined the Calgary Stampeders. In just his second season, and last with Calgary he would win a Grey Cup. However he has not reached that feat since, and signs with Ottawa in an effort to change that in 2022. Despite two stints with Montreal, 2 seasons in Calgary, and 1 year with Hamilton during the 2020 shut down, he has not earned another ring. Levels despite his lack of size shows versatility, and a willingness to come up rush the passer, or help in the run game. In 2019 he collected 85 tackles, and 5 sacks. He followed that up in 2021 with 12 games, 42 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 interception, and 1 touchdown. He should add yet another high end presence to the secondary that desperately needs it.
The final name added to the secondary was Trumaine Washington who is by far the smallest athlete on this list. At 5’9 185 lbs, he is certainly not the physical player that Ottawa targeted in Hunter, and Cranston. He originally began his career on the practice roster for the Toronto Argonauts before joining the active roster in July and earned his first start less than a month later. Over his two seasons in Toronto he would appear in 25 games, collecting 56 defensive tackles, 5 interceptions, and 1 touchdown. He was headed to free agency in 2020, and Toronto opted to release him early. He would later land with Edmonton. After 3 years in the CFL, Washington has recorded 111 defensive tackles, 1 special teams tackle, 10 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Ottawa is adding a ball hawk to their secondary who is known for creating turnovers. This is exactly what they were hoping for in a DB. It remains to be seen how the depth chart works out with all of these men looking to make an impact, but having this much quality depth is never an issue.
Finally moving on to the offensive line.
Hunter Steward was signed after 8 seasons with the BC Lions. He was once drafted 6th overall in the CFL draft back in 2013, as a Canadian National, despite playing college ball in the United States. He didn’t appear in a game in the 2013 season. In 2014 he would go on to play in 7 games primarily at left tackle, before a foot injury ended his season. He would end up following up by playing just 3 games in 2015, after he reinjured his foot in training camp. After the 2015 season the Lions penciled Steward in as a starter this time at left guard, during year 4 he had a brief stint on the bench being used as the 6th lineman, but overall played 79 games over the next 5 years. He would miss just 7 games during this 5 season stretch from 2016 to 2021. Steward began his college career at Virginia before transferring to Liberty. In 2011 he would actually play defensive line collecting 9 tackles including 1.5 for a loss. With Ucambre Williams slotting in at left tackle, Steward will look to shore up the left guard spot solidifying the blind side of the offensive line for new QB Jeremiah Masoli.
The final name on this list is Darius Ciraco. The 6’4 292 lb offensive lineman is another Canadian National player. Hailing from Burlington, Ontario he attended school in Calgary. At 25 years old, he has just 3 seasons of playing experience behind him. Drafted 6th overall in the CFL draft back in 2018, he was immediately named the Tiger-Cats most outstanding rookie following the 2018 season. He started all 18 games and 2 playoff games that year showing how durable he was in year 1. Prior to the 2021 season Ciraco resigned with Hamilton, pairing him with the QB he will play with in Ottawa for his previous four seasons. Jeremiah Masoli signed in Ottawa just prior to Ciraco signing on the dotted line to join him. Meaning his entire career has been spent blocking for Masoli in one way or another. He will slot in at either center or right guard having played both positions at the CFL level already. Ciraco is one of a handful of players that have proven that not all Canadian players need time to adjust to the speed of the game.
Ottawa finished a league worst 3-11 record tying with Edmonton. More importantly Ottawa found no advantage playing in their home stadium and actually won more road games (2), than they did home games (1). After 13 games the Redblacks found themselves with a 2-11 record, with Edmonton sitting at 3-10, staring at the potential of the worst record in the CFL at 2-12, however they went on to win their last game while Edmonton would lose leading them to tie at 3-11. Due to this situation the Redblacks have secured the 2nd overall pick in the 2022 CFL Draft. This is especially crucial given that the Redblacks have spent a lot of cap space on veteran free agents, many of whom will likely be hitting the end of their careers while a member of Ottawa. This makes their draft this offseason all the more important. If they are unable to bring in young talent to cement the depth at certain positions this offseason they will find themselves in the exact same situation in only 1-2 years when all these contracts begin to expire once again.
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