Ottawa Redblacks make an early free agency splash; CFLFA officially open on Tuesday

There has been a large number of transactions coming out of the CFL over the last couple of days. Sure, the moves have come across the entire league, and all 9 teams have been active this off-season but the majority of news has come out of the nation’s capital with the Ottawa Redblacks.

Coming off of the second straight 3-win season in 2021, and another year without a playoff berth, Mark Goudie and the Ottawa Redblacks’ ownership with OSEG went out to hire Shawn Burke as the Redblacks’ new general manager. Since taking over as the organization’s second general manager in their history, Burke has changed the look of the Ottawa Redblacks and he’s done so very quickly. Even before free agency opens officially on Tuesday February 8th at 12:00 PM EDT, Burke has made a huge splash in free agency.

Thus far as the Redblacks general manager he has re-signed Abdul Kanneh, Randall Evans, Davon Coleman and Nate Behar, but has also brought in quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, running backs William Powell and Jackson Bennett, receivers Jaelon Acklin and Llevi Noel, offensive lineman Jacob Ruby, Ucambre Williams and Darius Ciraco, defensive linemen Kwaku Boateng and Lorenzo Mauldin and defensive back Ty Cranston. Headlining that list is of course Jeremiah Masoli who comes in as what looks to be the Redblacks starting quarterback for the next two CFL seasons. He will be ahead of 23 year old Caleb Evans and 25 year old Devlin Hodges. William Powell and Jaelon Acklin also make a mark as big moves for the Redblacks early on this off-season. Powell coming back to Ottawa where he began his CFL career coming out of the NFL, playing in 25 games with the Redblacks running for 2,835 yards in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and 13 touchdowns. The last two seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders he had 1,826 yards and 15 scores on the ground as well as 595 receiving yards. Powell and Bennett at running back all add towards De’Lance Turner, Justin Davis and Brendan Gillanders who are already under contract for the 2022 CFL season. Acklin adds to Nate Behar and Ryan Davis who combined for 1,028 yards in 2021. With 1,386 yards and 7 scores over the last two seasons in Hamilton, Acklin is a great pass catcher for the Ottawa Redblacks, however he may not be considered a number one receiver just yet. The Redblacks may have some work still to do when it comes to bringing in weapons for Masoli. Llevi Noel was signed, however he has mainly found himself on special teams during his CFL career with the Argonauts, racking up 864 yards in 74 career games and 79 special teams tackles, so he may be looked at as more of a special teamer than a receiver for Ottawa’s Bob Dyce.

On the offensive line, the Redblacks have gotten better, bringing in Ruby, Williams and Ciraco, but Nolan MacMillan and Mark Korte are set to hit the market on Tuesday, so there looks to be some question as to who will fill the other two open spots on the offensive line. Dino Boyd could be one of the players filling a spot on the line, having played with Ottawa in 2021 and set to come back but there are also a large number of players still available for Ottawa to sign as well.

Some players that are not available would now be Kwaku Boateng, Lorenzo Mauldin and Ty Cranston on the defensive side of the ball. The Ottawa Redblacks defence wasn’t bad in 2021. Mike Benevides did a great job coaching the defence and called a great system throughout the 2021 CFL season, keeping the Redblacks in the games defensively when they weren’t able to do so offensively. By the looks of it, they want to go from good to great on defence for the 2022 CFL season. Boateng is looked at to be one of the best pass rushers in the CFL, and as a Canadian, pairing up with Cleyon Laing on the defensive line he could easily become a ratio breaker for the Redblacks. Mauldin is a former NFL Draft pick and has shown glimpses of what he’s capable of in the CFL while Ty Cranston comes back to Ottawa where he played with the Gee Gees coming off of a 29 tackle, one interception season with the Alouettes in 2021. The Ottawa Redblacks just lost defensive back Brandin Dandridge to the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, so even though Cranston is signed, the defensive side of the ball should continue to improve in Ottawa, especially with other key players Stefan Charles, Micah Awe, Don Unamba and Antoine Pruneau yet to be re-signed.

The moves made by Burke and the front office so far have been fantastic. They have changed the narrative in the city of Ottawa and for the Ottawa Redblacks but with free agency officially opening on Tuesday at noon, it’s clear that there is still more work to be done. Burke and his squad should be focused on wide receiver and offensive line on offence and linebacker and defensive back on defence. At receiver there are a number of players still available for Ottawa to sign. Greg Ellingson, Brandon Banks, Ricky Collins Jr, Markeith Ambles, Darvin Adams and Jordan Williams Lambert just to name a few. On defence, Jonathan Rose may just be a perfect fit for the Ottawa Redblacks defence, especially with Dandridge off to the NFL. Rose already lives in Ottawa, and has spent time with the Redblacks previously in his career as one of the league’s top defensive players. It should be a no brainer to bring him in for 2022.

Before they sign anyone else though, they should re-sign their remaining star free agents. R.J Harris and Micah Awe should be the easiest re-signs for the Redblacks. Don Unamba, Avery Ellis, Mark Korte, Nolan MacMillan and Antoine Pruneau would be great re-signs as well but there isn’t a lot of promise regarding that news yet.

The main goal going into 2022 for the Ottawa Redblacks is to win a Grey Cup. So far it looks as if they are on track to do exactly that, but they need to ensure that they stay on that track.

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