One month until free agency; what do the Redblacks need to do before February 8th?

In just one month, the CFL’s annual free agency period will open up. It will be the first time that the league’s Ottawa Redblacks will enter a free agency without their former general manager Marcel Desjardins. Outside of the 2015 CFL free agency period, in which the team signed a number of CFL stars like Greg Ellingson, Brad Sinopoli, Ernest Jackson, Chris Williams and Sir Vincent Rogers, the Redblacks have typically been very quiet when it comes to free agency. The majority of their off-season moves have come when re-signing players and signing already available free agents coming out of university or NFL camps, but there is changes expected now that Shawn Burke has taken over as the organization’s general manager. The only questions though would be, what kind of changes will he make this off-season? And, when will changes be made?

Well, February 8th is when he and his staff, announced last week- Jeremy Snyder, Brendan Taman, Chad Hudson and Phillippe Moreau, will be able to sign any free agents across the CFL, however prior to that date there are some decisions to be made. According to CFL.ca there are still 32 players set to hit the open market in February from the Ottawa Redblacks. Among those 32 players are key contributors from the 2021 CFL season R.J Harris, Nate Behar, Kenny Stafford, Mark Korte, Nolan MacMillan, Avery Ellis, Stefan Charles, Davon Coleman, Micah Awe, Don Unamba, Antoine Pruneau, Abdul Kanneh and Randall Evans. Those names, along with some others like Anthony Coombs, Christophe Mulumba, Frank Beltre, Wesley Lewis and Timothy Flanders should all come up in discussions within the next couple of weeks in Ottawa’s front office, deciding whether or not they will return to the nation’s capital for the 2022 CFL season.

RJ Harris, photo by Jordan Zlomislic

Taking a look at what happened, and who made the biggest impacts during the 2021 CFL season it would be a no brainer to bring back at least one or two of the receivers who are to hit the market. R.J Harris, Nate Behar, and Kenny Stafford each had significant roles in the Redblacks’ offence last season, and would be very productive if brought back to Paul LaPolice’s offence in 2022. Also a key part to the offence in 2021 was Mark Korte on the offensive line. Yes the line wasn’t all that great over the course of the season, but Korte was a bright spot on it, having played every single position on it, and being a player that the team can rely on when it came to Bob Wylie’s offensive line. Nolan MacMillan, another Canadian offensive lineman is also set to become a free agent alongside Americans Tyler Catalina, Na’Ty Rodgers, Juwann Bushell Beatty, and Jamar McGloster. Shawn Burke is expected to address the offensive line situation in both free agency and the draft, but will need to see who he wants to bring back from 2021 as well. Who ever is under centre for the Ottawa Redblacks in 2022 will need time in the pocket and weapons to throw to, that is for sure.

As for the defensive side of the football, Mike Benevides’ defence was great in 2021. There were some weeks where they didn’t exceed their full potential, and may have played poorly, however when the starting unit was healthy, the defence was something that the Redblacks could lean on in 2021. The defence is what kept the Redblacks in games over the span of the 2021 CFL season. By bringing back the same crew that was in Ottawa for 2021, and bringing in some other pieces to improve it, the Redblacks, with Mike Benevides have a real shot at having the best defence in the CFL. To get there though, they must re-sign at least 3 or 4 of their big name pending free agents. Avery Ellis, Davon Coleman, Stefan Charles, Micah Awe, Don Unamba, Christophe Mulumba, Abdul Kanneh, Randall Evans and Antoine Pruneau are all set to hit the market on February 8th alongside some other Redblacks defensive stars, but R-Nation cannot see all of them leave the nation’s capital. If any of them would be listed as “must re-signs” for Burke’s staff, Davon Coleman, Avery Ellis, Micah Awe, and Abdul Kanneh would fit that description. There is plenty of talent across the CFL that will also become available on February 8th, and Burke should 100% acquire some outside talent as well, but the main focus right now should be the 32 pending free agents, starting with those named earlier.

It is clear that there is room to improve from the 2021 CFL season for the Ottawa Redblacks, and yes there are decisions to make when it comes to pending free agents coming from the Redblacks themselves and those across the league as well as the 2022 CFL Draft, but the biggest decision that Burke will make could be in house. The Ottawa Redblacks need to figure out who will be taking snaps for them in 2022. Will it be Caleb Evans? Or will it be Devlin Hodges? Or will it be someone else? Trevor Harris is a current free agent, while Jeremiah Masoli, McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Dane Evans are pending free agents across the league. Could one of them come to Ottawa for the 2022 CFL season? Maybe. It will be a decision that needs to be made soon, though, because it can impact the entire roster that is built around the quarterback. By going with one of the players under contract now, it would be a lot cheaper, and would give Burke the chance to bring in all-star talent across the board for the 2022 CFL season.

What do you think will be done, and what should be done by the Ottawa Redblacks?

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