The Free Agency period in the CFL is where the real difference makers are found in the Canadian game. The NFL has the ability to build through the draft, but the CFL draft is primarily for finding Canadian talent to help with the ratios and finding special teams gunners. FUN! Most of the real difference makers for teams come through free agent signings, either from others CFL franchises, NFL camp cuts, or open tryouts in the offseason. Knowing who wound up where in the offseason and who some of the incoming new talent may be will be a big help in determining your week one lineups on DraftKings in only a couple week’s time.
You can find a rundown of the West Division moves here. We’re on to the East Division!
The good news for the Ti-Cats was that they managed to finish in second place in the East Division last season. The bad news was just about everything else. Their record was tied with Montreal at 7-11 and they suffered an early exit in the first round of the playoffs against the fourth place team from the West. Zach Collaros showed flashes of brilliance when healthy, but was hampered by injuries for most of the season and really didn’t look like himself by the last third of the season. Free Agency hasn’t necessarily been kind to them either.
Key Losses –
|Name||Targets||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Carries||Rush Yards||TD|
As was kind of a running theme for Hamilton last season, injuries took a major toll on their team. Leading receivers Luke Tasker (somewhere TSN’s Rod Black is yelling “SON OF STEVE TASKER” into the void) and Terrence Toliver missed significant portions of the season, which led to Andy Fantuz becoming the unlikely focal point of the passing game in what turned out to be his last season in professional football. Fantuz took a job in the front office in the off-season and speedster and special teams return man Chad Owens left for Saskatchewan. If Tasker and Toliver can stay healthy the receiving core should be fine, but if one or both of them go down to injury again, Hamilton will find the cupboard bare. It could however lead to opportunities for guys like Jay Lee.
|Jay Lee (NCAA)||38||758||8|
Key Additions –
Jay Lee played in a pretty prolific offence at Baylor University opposite highly drafted NFL receiver Corey Coleman. Lee is thankful to have the opportunity to play with a better QB than the multi-headed hydra the Browns wheel in at QB any given week. The high pace spread offence that the Baylor Bears run is more similar to CFL style football than the NFL is and may present a shorter learning curve for Lee than some of the other receivers new to Canada. Listed at 6’3” and 205 lbs, he’s a big receiver that has elite top end speed. There’s no reason to bank on him becoming a major contributor right away, but he’ll more than likely be min-priced to start the season on DraftKings, so the depth chart bears watching, especially if injury befalls Tasker (“STEVE TASKER’S SON”) or Toliver.
One of the Ti-Cats biggest weaknesses last season was in their defensive secondary. The could stop the run, and generate a pass rush, but if the QB managed to get the ball out before being hit there were always big plays to be had. Abdul Kanneh was likely the best DB on the Grey Cup winning defence of the RedBlacks last season and will provide a significant upgrade to the defensive backfield. One man can’t fix a defence, but they will certainly be better with him there.
Key Losses –
AJ Jefferson isn’t an elite defender, but he has great ball skills and instincts that can create turnovers. He missed six games, due to injury last season so his numbers could look even better. Let’s be honest: It’s not like the Toronto defence was ever and interesting option to start with. His absence doesn’t decimate the secondary, but it does take away their best bet for a defensive TD making them that much less interesting.
Will the mystery of Diontae Spencer’s DK pricing ever be solved? Not likely. After and enormous first game of the season for him with 18 targets, he was basically fool’s gold. That didn’t keep his price from being $8K+ for the remainder of the season though. His teammate Kenny Shaw however rarely eclipsed the $7K mark despite being far more productive. I still continue to believe that Spencer’s price was somehow being used as code for overseas black-ops. Prove me wrong.
I was elated to hear that Kenny Shaw would be liberated from the dark spectre of Spencer when he signed with Ottawa. My joy was short lived though when Diontae drove the couple hours down the highway to join him. What a travesty. Kenny Shaw was DK dynamite last season regularly priced around $6K and capable of producing 3x value on a weekly basis. There were weeks where he was the only legitimate receiver on their roster and it showed.
When last season opened up the Toronto receiving depth chart was headlined by the promising trio of Tori Gurley, Kevin Elliott, and Diontae Spencer. The former two were cut midseason and the latter allowed to let walk as a UFA. Toronto basically allowed anyone with talent to walk away in the past year and have started from scratch in their receiving core. Much of this was due to total mismanagement in firing the coach and GM only weeks before free agency was set to begin. The offseason was a flaming dumpster fire of decay and fan apathy that has only recently started to turn the corner.
Key Additions –
|Jeff Fuller (2015)||92||47||619||3|
|SJ Green (2015)||119||71||1036||3|
The biggest additions to the Argos in the offseason aren’t even players on the roster as they managed to lure Marc Trestman back to the CFL after a disappointing run down south, along with hiring former Alouettes GM Jim Popp after he was mercifully relieved of his duties in Montreal. Jim Popp was Jim Popp’s biggest stumbling block. His ego always got in the way of reason when there was no one else to speak sense to him. In their five seasons together in Montreal though the duo of Popp and Trestman essentially ran the league. They appeared in three Grey Cup games, winning two of them while riding QB Anthony Calvillo to two Most Outstanding Player awards in his twilight years.
When Popp and Trestman took their positions in Toronto, the roster was essentially devoid of any real talent. No starter on their offence would have started on any other team in the CFL. In their short time in town though, they have already made some strides in turning things around. They will still struggle this season, but the future will be quite bright.
On the player personnel side of things, Toronto added three receivers with high ceilings but also with significant question marks. Fuller and Green have both showed the talent to be elite receivers in this league, but both have struggled through major injuries in the past two seasons. It’s questionable whether they can ever be significant contributors again especially given the questions at QB for the Argos. Armanti Edwards is also coming off injury, albeit less severe, but also has a far shorter track record. None of them are young and will be more of a stop gap measure while the team looks to rebuild. If any of them begin the season sub $6K they could be interesting low owned options versus a questionable Hamilton secondary.
The big addition on the defensive side came at the loss of their division rivals the Alouettes. Montreal somewhat inexplicably cut their best defensive player a couple weeks back and he has now resurfaced with his former GM Jim Popp in Toronto. He will be a big boost to the Argos D/ST.
Key Losses –
|Name||Targets||Receptions||Receiving Yards||Carries||Rush Yards||TD|
That my friends is an awful lot of talent heading out the door. As often happens to teams in championship years, they just couldn’t afford to keep a lot of their free agents when other teams were willing to pay silly money to “winners”. The loss of Henry Burris is a little bit different as he was expected to retire at the end of the season and Ottawa had already put a succession plan in place in the form of Trevor Harris. The other losses will be much hard for the team to overcome though.
Neither LaFrance or Van were the expected starter at RB last season, but both showed to be capable players and turned out to be great value plays when they received spot starts sub $4K. LaFrance in particular had a great showing in the playoffs. Van has now driven west to Edmonton though while LaFrance is actually found in Saskatchewan. Neither are likely to be starters in their new homes, but may provide value mid-season if injuries strike.
The biggest blow to Ottawa though is in their receiving core with the loss of Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams. That’s 222 targets, 165 receptions, nearly 2500 yards, and 20 touchdowns out the door. Both of them had dominant stretches at different points in the season in which you literally could not win a GPP without them in your lineup. Ottawa’s decision to replace those two with the remnants of the Argo’s 2016 receiving core is about as exciting as root canal day at the dentist. Speaking of which…
Key Additions –
These three former Argos all wound up together again 450 KM farther east. All of them have shown moments of promise in the past, but merely signing the entire receiving core from your provincial rival is rarely a ticket to success. Trevor Harris showed a lot of potential as a starting QB last season while Burris was injured – almost stealing his job – but he will have a lot less talent to work with this season. These three are all fine, like a Kia is a “fine” automobile compared to a Power Wheels, but they are all a ways behind James Ellingson and Brad Sinopoli for relevance in Ottawa. It will be interesting to see how the targets Williams and Jackson left behind will be distributed, but I wouldn’t take any of these three in a cash lineup until there is some workable data to sort through. Ottawa tended to spread the ball around a lot and this only makes the projected targets situation even murkier. Having also lost OL J’Michael Deane to free agency makes this offence that much less reliable to begin the season. The fireworks will not likely be there in the same force as we came to expect in 2016.
Replacing the departing defenders – Hightower and Kanneh – will be a little bit more easily done for Ottawa with the arrivals of Bass and Jefferson. The RedBlacks defence showed a lot of strength down the stretch and into the playoffs, but often wasn’t fantasy relevant as they didn’t create many sacks or turnovers. The simply played good fundamental tackling defence. Bass and Jefferson may bring a little more big play ability to a this defence and provide the upside needed for fantasy relevance.
Every personnel move a team makes has consequences. Just ask Alouettes GM Kavis Reed about consequences. Do you have two minutes to watch a grown man come unhinged? Of course you do. Enjoy!
In all seriousness though, GM Reed is a wonderful man, but he has continually shown questionable judgment as a football management type. We may well get treated to “Consequences: The Remix” by season’s end as Montreal seems intent on jettisoning talent while attempting to rebuild the 2010 all-star team. Just take a look. Nik Lewis, Ryan Phillips, Jovon Johnson … THEY’RE ALL THERE! Add to them perennial second team all stars like Darian Durant and Ernest Jackson and they are getting the Gen-X all decade team together a decade too late. CONSEQUENCES!
Key Losses –
Duron Carter was cut with three weeks to go in the 2016 season. You may think that an odd time to cut a premium player like that. Well, it all stems back to CBA rules that show that after week 17 a player is no longer allowed to sign with another team if they are released. Classy move Als. Classy. This meant Carter was a UFA in the offseason but was denied the right to earn a paycheck for seven months. Classy. His first game back versus Montreal in Montreal in the season opener on June 22 should be appointment viewing. The Als also lost SJ Green to Toronto. When he’s healthy, he’s been an excellent receiver. However, coming off another major knee injury, it remains to be see what’s left of him. All this goes to say that aging Darian Durant’s primary receiving target with be aging “Fat” Nik Lewis. There is NO ONE on this roster that can run farther than a 10 yard out. Head Coach Jacques Chapdelaine and his plodding offensive pace from last season will have to get pretty creative with his sneaky “bunch” packages or there will be – you guessed it – CONSEQUENCES!
In what was likely the most surprising move of training camp in the CFL this year, the Als also released star linebacker Bear Woods. Bear Woods was a fantasy stud in 2014 and 2016, while losing 2015 to injury. It’s rumored the move was salary related. Losing Venable and Woods in the same season is a big blow to a Montreal defence that showed the capacity to take over games at points in 2016. Again, there are more questions here than at the Comey hearings.
Key Additions –
|Jovan Olafioye (OT)|
As I mentioned earlier, the biggest news of the CFL offseason was the trade that send longtime Riders QB Darian Durant to Montreal for a 2017 4th round pick and a conditional 2018 2nd round pick. If this was the NFL draft, that would be a decent return for an aging QB. CFL draft picks though don’t carry nearly as much value. The reality is that Durant was set to become a free agent and the Riders had no interest in signing him to a multi-year deal at an average of $400,000 per year (including a $225K signing bonus). His injury history and age made it easy for management to move on, although Riders fans found it much tougher. IF Durant can stay healthy, he will be an average quarterback in this league to close out his wonderful career. However, he’s already missed training camp time to a knee injury and will have far less talent to work with in Montreal than he did in Saskatchewan. Durant’s days as much more than a GPP flier are likely in the past.
The Als also added 3 other aging veterans in Olafioye, Jackson, and Phillips. The 2010 All Star team reborn nearly a decade later. Ernest Jackson may show some promise as a deep threat if Durant can stay on the field and they can find some chemistry together, so that worth taking a shot on. Most likely though Jackson’s price tag may be inflated to start the season due to the torrid pace he ended 2016 on, and he will have a far weaker supporting cast to draw coverage away from him than he enjoyed in Ottawa.
The Montreal defence will likely spend a lot of time on the field which increases their opportunities to create turnovers and sacks. At least with the signing of Ryan Phillips, Darian Durant will only have to worry about his kryptonite in practices.
Well, that does it for East Division personnel moves, and with great joy I remind you it’s only 7 days until the start of the regular season. Chris Kay and I are excited to bring you multiple articles each week with picks and strategies to help you maximize your return in DraftKings CFL contests this season. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, join in the chat in the Forum, and enjoy the high flying, fast paced football from north of the 49th parallel.