To cap off what has been a weird calendar year for the CFL, we now see the largest group of free agents in league history. Last year, when life was normal the Redblacks had 35 free agents going into the 2020 free agency period in February, this year the team has the third most with 47 behind both Montreal (50) and Edmonton (49).
Of course with a number that high and seeing the reality of it, the Redblacks’ likely will not be able to sign everyone on that list, but knowing that the the majority of our Redblacks’ team and all of the other teams in the CFL are free agents, we must have quite the salary cap to spend on some of the best players in the league. Seen by just looking at one or two teams free agents, there are a lot of great players available and if Marcel Desjardins and the Ottawa Redblacks were to bring back some of our own free agents and also bring in some new talent, the team can improve a lot and we can be in for another run to the Grey Cup.
The first question when looking at the free agents and seeing that there’s 47 of them is who isn’t a free agent.
Whether its because they were re-signed by the Redblacks or had signed a deal through the what would’ve been 2020 CFL season, the Ottawa Redblacks can safely say they will have a few studs for the 2021 season. Starting with the most important player on the field, Nick Arbuckle.
Arbuckle, after being officially signed by the team in late January was without a doubt a huge get by Marcel Desjardins and the front office in Ottawa. The players were excited, the new coaching staff was excited and more importantly the fans were excited. After Henry Burris left football in 2016 the Redblacks’ were lucky to have had a great quarterback like Trevor Harris to replace him, though after Harris left in ’18 there wasn’t anyone of that caliber to start the 2019 season. Though the quarterbacks the team had in 2019 did great, and were able to put together some great games like the 3 wins Davis was able to put in the standings for Ottawa, you simply can’t play a season with 3 different starting quarterbacks.
Yes we saw the Winnipeg Blue Bombers pull it off with Collaros, Nichols and Streveler, although it wasn’t quite the same situation. Having Nick Arbuckle in Ottawa gives the fans and the players a guaranteed starting quarterback going into every game in the 2021 CFL season and seeing what he was able to do in Calgary when Bo Levi Mitchell was injured, the Redblacks should be excited to have Arbuckle around.
Along with Arbuckle, back for the 2021 CFL season is a great group of Ottawa Redblacks offensive linemen. If you’re a football fan, or if you know anything about football you should know that the offensive line is the most important position in football. When you don’t have a good offensive line, you simply will not have a good offence. Looking at what Paul LaPolice has done in Winnipeg as the offensive co-ordinator, he likes a steady run game and to carry that with him to Ottawa the offensive line has to be on point and luckily for himself and the front office of the Redblacks they’ve got some key pieces locked up for the upcoming season.
Starting off with the best centre in the league, and one that was able to learn from Jon Gott, Alex Mateas. Finishing the 2019 CFL season, the Ottawa Redblacks were able to lock up the hometown hero Alex Mateas for a 3-year contract extension. With the 2020 CFL season non existent, Mateas has 2 years left on his contract with the Redblacks, meaning he will be able to snap and block for the new comer quarterback in 2021 Nick Arbuckle.
Lined up with Alex Mateas on that great Ottawa offensive line, and with the Redblacks for the 2021 CFL season is veteran offensive lineman Nolan MacMillan. MacMillan has been with the Redblacks since the expansion season and despite the injuries he’s faced over the span of his career, he’s been a solid piece for the Redblacks and its been tough for opposing defences to get through to the Redblacks’ backfield with him on the field. Of course we’d like to think having Mateas and MacMillan would seal the deal and we wouldn’t need any more pieces to add, though that’s not the case. With that being said, the Redblacks are very fortunate to have a few pieces locked up with 2020 draft picks Jakub Szott and Ketel Asse as well as some linemen that have been around the team in both Alex Fontana and Daniel Omara. The six linemen for the Redblacks that are locked up for 2021 are great and its a great start heading into the off-season though the team does still have some big names on the market still with former first round picks, Mark Korte, Jason Lauzon-Segin and Evan Johnson. These are all great offensive linemen and if the Redblacks don’t bring them back to Ottawa they will be able to find a home very fast come free agency.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, and looking at some of the positions that every football fan cares so much about, the Ottawa Redblacks’ don’t have a lot of skill position players coming back for the 2021 CFL season. Going into what would’ve been the 2020 season, every Ottawa Redblacks fan had a right to be excited to see the skill position players that the team had going. Having RJ Harris back, Sinopoli, bringing in veteran studs like Coombs and Saunders and then having a good group of young receivers with Dedmon, Smith and Hobbs, 2020 could have been an ecstatic year for Coach LaPolice in his first season in Ottawa. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and like many things this year the CFL season had been cancelled, though the Redblacks have the chance to do all of that in 2021 when the CFL hopes to be back.
It may not be the same group listed from 2020’s potential season, though the team already has Brad Sinopoli, DeVonte Dedmon and Jerminic Smith locked up at receiver and then going over to running back they have Canadian running back Brendan Gillanders. It may not be the largest group, but after bringing back guys like Harris, and Coombs the Redblacks may be able to have a similar group to what they had going in that 2020 off-season period, so if you’re a Redblacks fan I would stay tuned for any signings in the skill position group to see who will go with Dedmon, Sinopoli and Smith for 2021.
Now heading to the defence, the Redblacks, going into what would’ve been a 2020 CFL season had improved a lot. On paper they didn’t look like a team that just went 3-15, if you’d have to guess they looked like a playoff caliber team and the defence is what stuck out the most. On the defence and set to return for 2021 will be veteran CFL studs in both Antione Pruneau and Cleyon Laing. The two have been big names in the league since entering and are 2016 Grey Cup champions, they will play along side some younger players looking for their first grey cups. 2020 draft picks Adam Auclair and Dan Basambombo will be in Ottawa for 2021 and so will both Chris Larsen and Ironhead Gallon who will be packing that front seven for the Redblacks in 2021.
Of course the team has a few more players locked up like receivers Micah Wright and Shannon Smith and defensive players Nigel Romick and JP Bolduc, though the players named will hopefully be either key players in 2021 for the Redblacks or be big surprises for the team.
Stay tuned for more Redblacks’ news as we head into a very exciting CFL off-season.