The 2022 CFL free agency period will open at noon eastern on February 8th. One week from today the Ottawa Redblacks will have a lot of major decisions to make, and they already have been preparing to make those decisions with the CFL’s negotiations window open as of January 30th. Of course, first of all they have a long list of free agents of their own to deal with, which they have started to by re-signing defensive backs Abdul Kanneh and Randall Evans. Kanneh, a 31 year old defensive star is coming off of a year, where is seemed like he could carry the Ottawa Redblacks at times… because he did. He had two interceptions in week one, including a pick six, and then had one more interception later in the year on top of 28 defensive tackles. Evans made a big impact in 2019 and 2021 with the Ottawa Redblacks as well, having made 150 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and forcing two fumbles in 31 games. Re-signing Kanneh and Evans gives the Redblacks Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge, Abdul Kanneh, Justin Howell, Jordan Beaulieu, Ranthony Texada, and Treshaun Abrahams-Webster in the backfield as experienced CFL players alongside both Denzel Rice and Anthoula Kelly who have been signed as American free agents. Ottawa has yet to re-sign defensive stars Antoine Pruneau, Micah Awe, Avery Ellis, Don Unamba and Davon Coleman. Before signing anyone outside of the organization next week Shawn Burke and his front office should prioritize re-signing some of their own star power on defence.
Once that is done though, there is plenty of talent around the CFL that he and his staff can get hands on and bring to the nation’s capital. Going into free agency, some of the key players and parts of the team in Ottawa right now stand as quarterbacks Caleb Evans and Devlin Hodges, running backs De’Lance Turner and Justin Davis, receivers Ryan Davis and Nate Behar (R.J Harris is a pending free agent), offensive linemen Jacob Ruby, Dino Boyd, Jakub Szott and Andrew Pickett, defensive linemen Cleyon Laing, Praise Martin Oguike and Kene Onyeka, linebackers Avery Williams, Shaheed Salmon, and Dwayne Norman and defensive backs Sherrod Baltimore, Brandin Dandridge, Randall Evans, Abdul Kanneh and Justin Howell as well as specialists L.P Bourassa, Lewis Ward and Richie Leone. The team’s needs would come at receiver, offensive line, defensive line and linebacker depending what they decide to do with their own pending free agents.
Reports have come in saying that Burke is looking to pursue veteran quarterback Jeremiah Masoli from Hamilton. In 2021 the Ottawa Redblacks struggled on the offensive side of the football. They weren’t able to put points on the board on a number of occasions and weren’t able to keep up with the competition a lot throughout the 14 game season, but the struggles rarely came from quarterbacks Caleb Evans and Devlin Hodges who are under contract with the Redblacks for 2022. The Ottawa Redblacks gave up a league lead 53 sacks in 2021 and the receiving core only helped the quarterbacks pass for an average of 194 yards per game. It was not the quarterback play that put the Redblacks behind in 2021. It was the offence built around the quarterback and the way the offence was managed that put the team behind. In 7 games under centre in 2021 Caleb Evans won 2 games. He threw for 1,279 yards and ran for 345 while scoring a total 8 touchdowns. He brought a spark to the Ottawa Redblacks’ offence, and at 23 years old he showed potential to be a great quarterback in the CFL. Shawn Burke and the Ottawa Redblacks do not need to pursue Jeremiah Masoli and spend what would likely be over $400,000 for a quarterback. They have their quarterback on the roster today, what they do not have though is a team built around him. With a strong and reliable offensive line as well as some playmakers to throw to, Caleb Evans is a quarterback that can bring a Grey Cup back to the city of Ottawa.
Building around Caleb Evans, or whoever the Redblacks want under centre in 2022 will be hard without Mark Korte on the team. Korte has been offered a contract from his hometown Edmonton Elks and is expected to sign with the Elks once free agency officially opens next week. Nolan MacMillan remains unsigned by the Ottawa Redblacks, he would join Justin Renfrow, Josiah St John, Brett Boyko, Matthew O’Donnell, Cody Speller, Kay Okafor, and a number of other proven CFL offensive linemen in the free agency pool including B.C Lions’ lineman Hunter Steward who the Redblacks reportedly have interest in. It is clear that the offensive line is an area in need of improvement for the Redblacks, and it should be addressed with proven and reliable talent.
Moving to wide receiver, and what could be the most influential positions for the Ottawa Redblacks in 2022, like it was in 2015 when Ernest Jackson, Brad Sinopoli, Greg Ellingson and Chris Williams came to the team, Ottawa is in need of a playmaker, or two. R.J Harris is a pending free agent, and should be re-signed as a proven veteran pass catcher. He may not have the flashy 1,000 yard seasons that you love to see for fantasy football, but he has been a great veteran on and off of the field for the Redblacks and is continuously a reliable pass catcher no matter who is under centre. If he is re-signed by Ottawa that gives Caleb Evans, or who ever plays quarterback in Ottawa R.J Harris, Ryan Davis, Nate Behar and Jordan Smallwood at receiver. On the market next week though is Duke Williams, Darvin Adams, Rasheed Bailey, Kenny Lawler, Hergy Mayala, Jake Wieneke, Brandon Banks, Greg Ellingson, Jevon Cottoy, Jaelon Acklin, Jordan Williams Lambert and Ricky Collins who would each come to Ottawa with an insane ability to succeed in red and black. To be able to get back in the Grey Cup, Ottawa needs at least two or three top tier offensive playmakers. Running back De’Lance Turner and receiver Ryan Davis showed their potential to be exactly that in 2021, but adding proven talent to the mix would only help Paul LaPolice and his Redblacks offence for the 2022 CFL season.
On the defensive side of the ball, if everyone is re-signed there is not much more to do to improve Mike Benevides’ squad. In 2021 the defence is what kept the Redblacks in games for the most part of the season. Players like Micah Awe, Randall Evans, Avery Williams, Abdul Kanneh, Brandin Dandridge, Sherrod Baltimore, Praise Martin Oguike and Davon Coleman were the heart of the Redblacks defence, and when they all were healthy it was a powerful defence to go up against. It is unlikely that everyone comes back from the 2021 CFL season though, so some names to keep eyes on in free agency would include Kwaku Boateng, Dylan Wynn, Darnell Sankey, Ja’Gared Davis, Ed Gainey, Cariel Brooks, Jevon Santos-Knox, Jumal Rolle, Trumaine Washington, Jonathan Rose, Branden Dozier, Alden Darby, Patrick Levels and more. Defence wins championships, and the Redblacks defence, all things considered, was very strong in 2021, with a couple of key additions this off-season, it could be one of the best in the league and lead the Redblacks to a Grey Cup.
As described, there are a lot of decisions to be made this week and next week for newly hired general manager Shawn Burke. Depending on the decisions he makes, as well as how they play out during the 2022 CFL season, a lot of what happens within the next couple of weeks will determine whether or not he was the right hire for the Ottawa Redblacks as they aim to get back into the Grey Cup after two three win seasons in 2019 and 2021. If you were the general manager in Ottawa, what would you do? Would you build a team around young quarterback Caleb Evans who is full of potential, or spend on a veteran quarterback like Masoli with limited space for a team built around him? How much of a difference would it be going with a veteran under centre?