On Sunday morning, just before football fans got their fantasy football lineups and their NFL bets locked in, the news came out of Ottawa that the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks had hired their newest general manager. After failing to win more than 3 games in back to back seasons, going 6-26 over the past 32 games, Redblacks’ ownership, led by Mark Goudie of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group decided that they would move on from long-time general manager Marcel Desjardins. Having just come into the CFL in 2013, Desjardins was the only general manager the Redblacks have known, but now they will know Shawn Burke, their next general manager.
Burke spent the last 14 years with the Hamilton Tiger Cats, serving as their Senior Director of Player Personnel and Co-Manager of Football Operations most recently.
Prior to Shawn Burke, it was Jeremy Snyder running the show after Marcel Desjardins was fired, and Snyder, as the Redblacks’ interim general manager re-signed a number of key pieces to the Ottawa Redblacks including DeVonte Dedmon, Sherrod Baltimore, Avery Williams, Lewis Ward, Richie Leone, Justin Howell and others. For many, the news of a new general manager coming to Ottawa is very surprising, simply because of the amount of work, and good work Jeremy Snyder put in during his time in charge alongside Jean-Marc Edme who was serving as the interim assistant general manager. If one were to have to guess, it looked like both Snyder and Edme would remain in charge of the Ottawa Redblacks football operations. They’ve been on staff with the Redblacks for some time, they each have a lot of experience in the league, and know how to build a championship caliber team, something they’ve done in Ottawa a number of times now, not to mention, they know more about this Ottawa Redblacks roster than anyone else. However, thats not what is happening in the nation’s capital, and it is too early to tell whether it is a good or bad thing that Shawn Burke is taking over in Ottawa, but the answers to all of those questions are to come very soon as we head into the off-season.
Talking about the opportunity in front of him, Burke said in the media release, “I’m incredibly excited to join the Ottawa REDBLACKS and the entire OSEG Family, I’d like to thank Roger Greenberg and the entire ownership group, Mark Goudie and Adrian Sciarra for giving me this great honour and responsibility. R-Nation, we’re going to hit the ground running — let’s get to work!”
Coming into this new gig, Burke has a lot of major decisions to make, and decisions to make early on. The Ottawa Redblacks’ front office has already brought back a number of key pieces to their team for the 2022 CFL season that were pending free-agents. With a large list of players still ready to hit the open market from Ottawa in February, Burke has to find out who he would like to bring back from the 2021 Ottawa Redblacks.
Among the pending free-agents that would only make sense to bring back would include receivers R.J Harris, Kenny Stafford and Nate Behar, offensive linemen Nolan MacMillan and Mark Korte, defensive linemen Avery Ellis, Davon Coleman and Stefan Charles, linebackers Micah Awe, Don Unamba and Christophe Mulumba as well as defensive backs Abdul Kanneh, Randall Evans and Antoine Pruneau.
Bringing back the named pending free-agents would add to the roster that is already built in Ottawa which headlines quarterbacks Caleb Evans and Devlin Hodges, running backs De’Lance Turner and Justin Davis, receivers Ryan Davis, Jordan Smallwood, and DeVonte Dedmon, offensive linemen Dino Boyd, Chris Ferguson, and Jakub Szott, defensive linemen Cleyon Laing, Kene Onyeka, Praise Martin Oguike and Nigel Romick, linebackers Avery Williams, Adam Auclair, Shaheed Salmon and Dwayne Norman, defensive backs Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge, Justin Howell, Treshaun Abrahams Webster and specialists Lewis Ward, Richie Leone and L.P Bourassa.
Of the names mentioned is quarterback Caleb Evans and Devlin Hodges, and along with the players Burke will need to make decisions on whether or not they should return to the Redblacks for the 2022 CFL season, he has a big decision in front of him regarding the quarterback position. Sure the most popular opinion would be going out and signing a veteran in free agency. With Dane Evans, Jeremiah Masoli, Mcleod Bethel Thompson, and Zach Collaros all set to become free agents, and speculations around Trevor Harris going back to the open market, the typical fan would wonder why the Redblacks wouldn’t just go after one of those quarterbacks, as they are already proven in the league, but the decision, which may be a little unpopular, especially as a new general manager that Burke should lean towards is having Caleb Evans lead the Ottawa Redblacks for the 2022 CFL season. Yes Devlin “Duck” Hodges will be there as well, with two years remaining on his contract with Ottawa so there could be a training camp battle between the two, however after his first season in the CFL, starting 7 games as a 23 year old, and performing the way he did, Caleb Evans has the potential to be a championship winning quarterback in the CFL if there is a team built around him. His test in 2021, although he did pass it, wasn’t all that fair. There were a number of injuries to the Redblacks’ team when he came in, the offensive line hadn’t performed that well all season long and he struggled finding a consistent weapon on the offensive side of the ball to make plays for him. If Burke and the Redblacks’ front office can spend the 2022 off-season building around the young quarterback on the offensive side of the ball, while keeping Mike Benevides’ defence around, the Redblacks could be back as a contender for the 109th Grey Cup in Regina.
Some free agents around the CFL set to hit the market that would be huge pickups for the Redblacks offence, and that Burke would be able to afford with Caleb Evans still on his rookie CFL contract would include Bryan Burnham, Darvin Adams, KaDeem Carey, Duke Williams, Reggie Begelton, Brandon Banks, Jon White, Rasheed Bailey, Andrew Harris, Kyran Moore, Lucky Whitehead, Ricky Collins, Will Powell, Makeith Ambles, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Kenny Lawler, Hergy Mayala, Jake Wieneke, Shaq Johnson, Papi White and Steven Dunbar. Of course, they can’t all be signed by the Ottawa Redblacks, but if the Burke and his staff could get hands on a couple of them, while re-signing Evans’ favourite targets from 2021 like Harris, Behar and Stafford, the Redblacks offence could have a lot of weapons to scare opposing defences. On the offensive line, re-signing both Nolan MacMillan and Mark Korte will be crucial, but on the open market in February will be a list of other offensive linemen, including Brett Book, Josiah St John, Stanley Bryant, Shane Richards, Jermarcus Hardrick and more.
Evans has all of the traits of a winning quarterback in this day and age. He has the arm, he has the legs, he has the brain and he has the leadership. At just 23 years old, he has a long career full of potential ahead of him, if offensive weapons, and a good offensive line are added to his disposal, everyone will be able to see him play his best football.
When talking about Evans in the end of season press conference Jeremy Snyder told JZ Media’s Jordan Zlomislic in response to a question regarding the young talent Ottawa has, “Caleb Evans, you’d never want to see, I don’t want to say never but you don’t expect to see rookie quarterbacks take reps like that so early in their career. Guys like Trevor Harris, think of his career, he went for a long time before he actually got reps on the field in a real game. We’ll have to work at it and keep going but it’s good to see him perform and do their job at the best that they could in the circumstances we had but they performed very well.”
As for the defensive side of the ball, the Redblacks’ front office has already brought back quite the group from 2021, starting with the backfield of Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge, Justin Howell and Ranthony Texada. Linebackers Avery Williams, Adam Auclair, Shaheed Salmon and Dan Basambombo are set to return two Ottawa as well alongside defensive linemen Cleyon Laing, Kene Onyeka and Praise Martin Oguike, but Burke will still need to re-sign some more players for 2022 and add to the group. Avery Ellis, Davon Coleman, Stefan Charles and Frank Beltre are pending free agents on the line as well as Micah Awe, Don Unamba, Randall Evans, Abdul Kanneh and Antoine Pruneau in the backfield. They all would make significant impacts if re-signed, but the Redblacks also have draft picks Alonzo Addae, and Deshawn Stevens coming out of their NCAA careers this off-season. If they are not earned the opportunity to play in the NFL the Redblacks would add a safety/defensive back and an edge rusher. Hitting the open market in the CFL will also be a large group of defensive stars, and although the Redblacks don’t have any specific needs on defence, the addition of some defensive playmakers would never hurt. Some of the players set to become free agents that would be good signings include Tunde Adeleke, Mathieu Betts, DaShon Amos, Jonathan Kongbo, Mercy Maston, Jonathan Rose, Dylan Wynn, and Henoc Muamba.
With the off-season officially started, Shawn Burke will be the centre of attention in Ottawa, and he has a lot of decisions to make over the next couple of weeks and months. Will he make the right decisions?
Burke will speak to media on Monday morning to talk more about the opportunity he now has to be the general manager of the Ottawa Redblacks as well as his plans moving forward.