Over the last week or so there have been a number of moves made across the CFL. The defending Grey Cup Champions, Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been focused on bringing back their championship caliber roster and other teams have also dedicated this time to re-signing their own pending free agents. Shawn Burke, the Ottawa Redblacks new general manager and his staff haven’t made too many moves since taking over. They did re-sign Jordan Beaulieu and Nate Behar from the 2021 Redblacks as well as sign a few free agents like Canadians Jacob Ruby, Mitch Raper, Shaiheem Charles-Brown, Will Corby, Connor Berglof (from draft), Jersey Henry, Eric Starczala, and Americans Ventell Bryant, Siaosi Mariner and Corey Thompson. Of all the moves thus far, alongside the roster cutdown, the biggest moves that Burke has made with the Redblacks would be re-signing Nate Behar, signing Jacob Ruby who has played in the CFL already and done very well for himself on the offensive line in the league, releasing Dominique Davis, Kenny Stafford, Na’Ty Rodgers, Brad Muhammad and Jerod Fernandez while also discovering American pass catchers Ventell Bryant and Siaosi Mariner. With that being said though, the Redblacks are coming off of back to back 3 win seasons and have a lot more work to be done than just a few moves. CFL free agency is approaching us very fast, and there is a lot of moves to be made by Burke and the front office, but what moves need to be done and who should be on their way to the nation’s capital?
Well to start off, the Ottawa Redblacks have a lot of free agents of their own. A lot of the players set to hit the market from Ottawa were key contributors to the little success the team had in 2021 and should return to the 2022 team to build off of what they started last season. On the list of players to hit the market include R.J Harris, Mark Korte, Davon Coleman, Avery Ellis, Micah Awe, Don Unamba, Abdul Kanneh and Randall Evans. Each of these players, as well as a couple of other big names like Stefan Charles, Anthony Coombs, Antoine Pruneau and Christophe Mulumba would be good to re-sign and bring back for the 2022 CFL season. In 2021 R.J Harris was the Redblacks’ leading receiver and was a reliable target for young quarterback Caleb Evans. If Evans is expected to start in 2022 it would be a no brainer to bring back one of his favourite targets. Korte was the Redblacks’ best offensive lineman in 2021 and showed his versatility and ability to play anywhere on the offensive line. If you don’t want the same or similar struggles up front as the Redblacks had in 2021, Korte would be a must re-sign alongside some new faces on the line like Jacob Ruby who’s already been signed to the Redblacks. As for the defensive side of the ball, its easy. Micah Awe was a top 5 tackler in the CFL in 2021, Randall Evans was in the top 10 while also leading the Redblacks in sacks with Davon Coleman (4 sacks) and forcing 4 turnovers. Abdul Kanneh was tied for third in the CFL for interceptions and played in just 8 of 14 games while Antoine Pruneau, Don Unamba and other pending free agents also played a large role on the defence. With the success that defensive coordinator Mike Benevides had in 2021 it would only make sense to just build off of what was built already instead of rebuilding.
In a perfect world, the Redblacks would see all of the players mentioned, and maybe even more pending free agents back in Ottawa for training camp in 2022, but who should be added to the team from around the CFL?
On the offensive side of the football, if Caleb Evans is to start for the Redblacks, it would be smart to target some offensive weapons as well as some offensive linemen. Available to the Redblacks to sign at receiver would be big name playmakers Bryan Burnham, Darvin Adams, Duke Williams, Jake Wieneke, Greg Ellingson, Derel Walker, Brandon Banks, Kamar Jorden and Kenny Lawler. Those players, if signed would be game changers, but there’s also other players like Rasheed Bailey, Steven Dunbar Jr, Ricky Collins Jr, Devier Posey and Jordan Williams Lambert as well as Canadians Hergy Mayala, Lemar Durant, Jevon Cottoy, Richie Sindani and Juwan Brescasin who can make an impact in the Redblacks offence. Running backs Ka’Deem Carey, James Wilder Jr, Don Jackson, Brady Olivera and Johnny Augustine are also set to hit the market if Burke is not satisfied with De’Lance Turner and Justin Davis in the backfield. As for the offensive line there are a number of experienced linemen available for the Redblacks to sign. Former first overall pick Josiah St. John is expected to hit the market as well as Brett Boyko, Drew Desjarlais, Kay Okafor, and others. If Mark Korte, and maybe Nolan MacMillan are re-signed, one or two offensive linemen would be good to pickup, especially if there isn’t any that can start out of the draft this year.
Then to add to Mike Benevides’ defence for the 2022 CFL season, there may not be any specific need to the Redblacks defence, but any defensive game changer would help big time. In 2021 we saw how much players like Abdul Kanneh can change games, hence week one of the season against the Edmonton Elks, so if more players like that are brought to Ottawa in 2022, there may just be a lot of success on the defensive side of the ball. Big names across the CFL like Darnell Sankey, Simoni Lawrence, Derrick Moncrief, Patrick Levels, Kwaku Boating, Ja’Gared Davis, David Menard, Winston Rose, Trumaine Washington, Jonathan Rose, Ed Gainey, Frankie Williams, DaShaun Amos, Royce Metchie and some others are set to be available for the Redblacks to sign. If everyone mentioned previously are re-signed by the Redblacks, a game changing pass rusher and defensive back would be huge additions to the Ottawa defence. With Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge, Abdul Kanneh and Randall Evans potentially together again for 2022, adding one more threat to opposing quarterbacks could be big to recreate that D-Block that Ottawa had in 2016 with Abdul Kanneh, Jerrell Gavins, Forest Hightower, Jeff Richards, Jonathan Rose and Antoine Pruneau.
Free agency opens up on February 8th, and the CFL Draft will be a couple of months after. Will the Redblacks make the right moves that bring them back into Grey Cup contention? Only time will tell.