Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Getting Out of The Red and Into The Black.
Anyone with any sense of logic knew that the Ottawa RedBlacks would be hard pressed to win many games in their inaugural season. While many people's predictions of six or more wins was a little too optimistic, the two victories they did manage had to be considered a huge disappointment.
That is not to say that the 2014 season was a failure for the CFL's newest franchise. A brand new stadium, sold out games, vibrant crowds and competitive performances were a welcomed highlight in the return of professional football to the capital region.
Yet, the challenges will only get harder and expectations will only get bigger going forward. With the shine and good feeling of the inaugural season in the rear-view mirror, the RedBlacks will have to make significant strides in their 2015 on-field product.
Ottawa did not capitalize sufficiently during last December’s Expansion Draft. Some of it by poor decisions, while some of it due to bad luck. The Kevin Glenn-Henry Burris mess actually worked out well for the RedBlacks, as they turned the draft pick acquired from the BC Lions into solid rookie starter Antoine Pruneau. Trading the No. 1 pick in the draft to Calgary for John Gott was also a wise choice as they received a valuable, veteran offensive lineman that was able to start from Day 1.
Injuries to quarterback Thomas DeMarco, defensive linemen Moton Hopkins and Jonathan Williams, running back Chevon Walker and receiver Carlton Mitchell saw them get very little production value from five of their eight import round selections. That was both unfortunate and simply not good enough for a team trying to make an impact in their opening season.
Yet, some odd decisions also prevailed. Selecting an injured Joe Eppele, as well as Marwan Hage and Rory Kohlert (both of whom had expressed indecision about even reporting to the team) were definite head-scratchers. Hage would retire and Kohlert would re-sign with the Blue Bombers, both never playing a down for Ottawa.
Before any talk of free agent acquisitions, if I were general manager Marcel Desjardins, I would start my off-season by sitting down with veteran quarterback Henry Burris and seriously discuss restructuring his contract. The reported $475,000 that is tied up paying an aging and no-longer-elite quarterback has to be amended or eliminated. Otherwise the Rouge et Noir will never climb out of the basement.
Smilin' Hank is not a half-a-million dollar quarterback in this league anymore, and any money the team could get from restructuring Hank’s deal could be used to get what he needs most: weapons. If he were smart, Henry would become part of the solution rather than remain part of the problem.
The good news along the banks of the Rideau Canal is that the RedBlacks do not face a lot of potential free agent losses in 2015. As far as their pending free agents, Joe Eppele and Jason Pottinger are expected to retire while Moton Hopkins appears to be testing the waters south of the border.
Alex Krausnick-Groh is valuable, as he can play multiple positions along the line of scrimmage and also has long-snapping capabilities. The Calgary native may get some attention from other teams around the league in need of Canadian depth up front, but his best opportunity to start remains in Ottawa.
It becomes interesting when evaluating receivers Miles Wallace and Dobson Collins, the RedBlacks second- and fourth-most productive receivers respectively. I don’t see Collins having many suitors elsewhere and if given the opportunity to re-sign in Ottawa, I would think he takes it.
The same question exists regarding Wallace Miles. While I do believe he would garner attention from other teams, his 2014 campaign was not stellar as he battled with the dreaded “dropsies” for much of the season. He simply did not capitalize upon the opportunity presented him and that could hurt him as he seeks a new contract.
A team that finished 2-16 obviously has a ton of holes to fill – basically, Ottawa needs help everywhere – but realistically all of their needs cannot be address in one off-season, so Desjardins will have to prioritize.
The RedBlacks three highest priorities should be at receiver, offensive lineman and defensive end. They simply need guys to catch the ball, protect the quarterback and get to the quarterback.
Ottawa native Tyler Holmes would be an excellent acquisition for the RedBlacks. The former first-round pick of the Argos is only 26 years of age and just entering the prime of his career. Holmes would prove to be a solidifying leader along the offensive line for many years to come should he leave the double blue and head home.
At receiver, the one prospect the RedBlacks should target is Hamilton’s Greg Ellingson. Ellingson had difficulty cracking the Tiger-Cats’ lineup in 2014 after returning from injury and a change of scenery could do the former Florida International and Arena League star some good. Durability is an issue, but when healthy, he can be a difference maker. He has a pair of the best hands to come north of the border in years, and is more elusive and quick than people think. His connection with Henry Burris – they were teammates with the Ti-Cats in 2013 – should not be overlooked.
Here is a big, bold prognostication – And they get no bigger or bolder than in the form of one Nikolas Lewis! Yes! Nik Lewis. Geronimo Jones. Simon Sleepwalker. Lewis Mangenius. Nikelo Dymes. Dexter Dundidit. I think there is still mileage left on his tires, but I do not believe it will be with the Stampeders. Why not Ottawa? Reuniting “Thik Nik” with Smilin’ Hank would provide solid veteran leadership and a level of toughness and edge that the RedBlacks could desperately use, especially on offense.
Finally, some assistance is needed on the defensive side of the ball, especially in getting to the quarterback. Former Ti-Cat & Roughrider Brandon Boudreaux could finally find a home and the stability needed to get his once blossoming career back on track. I believe he would come in at a cap-friendly number and provide some much needed pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
I also would not count it out of the realm of possibility to see Ricky Foley make his way back across the country and trade in his green and white for some red and black. Saskatchewan has a grain silo full of free agents to re-sign and not everyone will be brought back. Pairing Foley with Justin Capicciotti as National bookends or in a rotational platoon would most definitely help with ratio issues elsewhere on the roster.
The 2015 RedBlacks season will prove to be crucial in its franchise history. The sweet feelings of the inaugural season will turn sour if they cannot get out of the Red and into the Black.