Friends become foes, bags will be packed, and fan favourites will change colours… It’s CFL Free Agency!
The open market will commence at noon ET on Feb. 13, following a whirlwind of a communications window, more known as the tampering window.
“We’re still going to attack it like we do every year and spend to the cap. Hopefully, those decisions that we make are good and just like any other year, we will have a priority of guys we will want to talk to and attack them in a certain way,” O’Day told Britton Gray and the rest of the media before the CFL’s communication window opened.
“We will talk to the players that we want to become Roughriders and hopefully the feeling is mutual.”
Well the early results indicate that the feeling was more than mutual.
Saskatchewan was the most aggressive team in the league during the window, agreeing to terms with numerous big-name players including A.J. Ouellette, Jermarcus Hardrick, Jameer Thurman, Malik Carney and Jalon Edwards-Cooper. It should be noted those deals can’t be made official until that noon ET mark on the first day of free agency.
With that in mind, here is the projected depth chart for the 2024 season.
Pending Free Agents:
QB Jake Dolegala, RB Jamal Morrow, FB Albert Awachie, SB Juwan Brescacin, RG Evan Johnson, RT Colin Kelly, LT Eric Lofton, DE Pete Robertson, DT DeMarcus Christmas, MLB Larry Dean, MLB Justin Herdman-Reed, CB Trumaine Washington, CB Jeremy Clark.
Offensively, O’Day and new head coach Corey Mace have plugged a lot of the holes that have plagued Riderville during back-to-back years of non playoff football. They kicked it off with a big bang (literally), signing 6-foot-5, 317-pound stalwart Jermarcus Hardrick, making him the highest paid American offensive lineman. The former Bomber was brought in to solidify the right tackle position that’s been somewhat of a turnstile recently. The Green and White also re-signed starters Logan Ferland and Phillip Blake to contract extensions to man the interior.
Thor is coming to the motherland to run the rock the for Riderville.
A.J. Ouellette is coming off of back-to-back East Division all-star nods while setting career highs across the board last season. The 28-year-old finished fourth in the CFL with 1,009 yards, second in the league with eight touchdowns, and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. He’s a three-tool back who runs hard, has shown some receiving chops, and block effectively.
The receiving core largely remains the same, however, Tevin Jones was snatched away by the reigning Grey Cup champions Montreal Alouettes. Regardless, Saskatchewan was able to bring back breakout star Shawn Bane Jr. and Brayden Lenius. Canadian Samuel Emilus had multiple NFL workouts but will more then likely be remaining in the 306, joining fellow Canadians Kian Schaffer-Baker and Mitchell Picton to round out the pass-catchers.
All of this will surround the 37-year-old pivot Trevor Harris, who will be coming off of a broken leg in his first season in Riderville. In only five games last year, Harris threw for 1274 yards and six touchdowns.
Defensively, the Riders will have a new identity.
Along the line, Malik Carney joins the team after recording a career-high 52 tackles, five sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception in 17 games last season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. He’ll join Bryan Cox Jr. and Lake Korte-Moore of the edge, while the extensions of Anthony Lanier II, Micah Johnson, Miles Brown, and Charbel Dabire solidify the interior.
The linebacking core will look completely different, with not a single day one starter from last season on the roster currently. The second Hamilton defender to move to the prairies this off-season, Thurman will man the middle. The 29-year-old finished seventh in the CFL with a career-high 98 tackles, a career-high five sacks, and two interceptions.
Adam Auclair comes over from the nation’s capital to man the weak-side, replacing Micah Teitz who has agreed to terms with the Calgary Stampeders. After the release of Derrick Moncrief, Saskatchewan extended C.J. Reavis on a two year deal to be the team’s new starting strong-side backer after impressive performances last season.
On the back end, Edwards-Cooper comes in as presumably the team’s No.1 cornerback, following the release of Nick Marshall and the uncertainties around Trumaine Washington. Rolan Milligan Jr. will try to shake off an injury riddled 2023 season, playing alongside Amari Henderson at half-back while Canadian Jayden Dalke roams around at safety.
There are still some holes to be filled, and expect O’Day, Mace, and the Riders to plug them. While a lot of the starters are set heading into training camp, some more depth at cornerback, both inside linebacker positions, and along the offensive line could certainly help out this current construction.
These are the key moments and decision making that could be the difference between winning a Grey Cup, and falling short. Especially for a team that hasn’t made the postseason in back-to-back years, with a fanbase hungry for wins as ever. So, if a championship does come back to Saskatchewan come November, these decisions will be looked back at as the first steps towards greatness.
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