Chip Cox, Tyrell Sutton, Eric Deslauriers and Nicolas Boulay, they were also the first club to kick off the New Year by re-signing four pending free agents.
On only the second day of the New Year, and first business day of 2015, general manager Jim Popp announced contract extensions to four pending free agents that will greatly strengthen the formidable Larks’ defensive front: middle linebacker Bear Woods, the versatile Winston Veneble, defensive end Aaron Lavarias and defensive tackle Scott Paxson.
I have given high praise to Jim Popp previously, and these moves only solidify the belief I have in his ability to identify, assess and retain top-notch talent. Woods is a tackling machine and entering the prime of his career at only 27 years of age. Venable, who is also 27 years old, is an extraordinarily versatile player who can play two linebacker positions as well as safety and defensive halfback. The 26-year old Lavarias has also proven to be impactful and versatile in Montreal’s changing defensive scheme. Finally, the 31-year old Paxson is a proven veteran leader who has delivered a high level of professionalism to the team.
In my mind, these are all truly excellent moves by Popp, yet I doubt any of these four would have come cheap. Woods had a monstrous season and would have commanded top dollar as the East finalist for the Most Outstanding Defensive Player. Venable, Lavarias and Paxson have all had the pleasure of earning NFL pay cheques previously in their careers, and I would think that they arrived in Canada well above the league-minimum contract. In order to extend these veteran internationals, Popp would have had to open up his wallet.
So that leaves the prospects of re-signing veteran defensive standouts Geoff Tisdale and Jerald Brown very much in question. There is only so much money available to be spread around to all those wanting. Further complicating the process is the fact Duron Carter is as good as gone and All-Star slotback S.J. Green remains unsigned. Money will have to be earmarked for either Green or someone of his quality at the interior receiver position.
Both Tisdale and Brown have had outstanding seasons in Montreal. Tisdale, who will turn 29 in February, and a little bit of the journeyman, can most likely be replaced at wide-side corner by someone younger and cheaper. Yet, the older Brown, at 34 years of age, is right on the cusp of that difficult decision that many GM’s face: “Does he have another year in him?”
Many personnel people would say that they would rather release a player a year too early than keep them a year too late. Yet, Jim Popp is not most personnel people and the past has shown Jim to be a very veteran friendly administrator.
If Montreal can keep one of these two, my bet is that it will be wily defensive back Jerald Brown leaving Tisdale looking for a fifth home in his eighth season. I have always liked Geoff and even though he does not fit the Ti-Cats’ needs or ratio alignment at field-side cornerback, I for one would not be averse to seeing him, for a third time, in black and gold.