Free Agency Recap and Prediction
Published: Thursday, Mar 14th 2019, 8:03am
By: Stephen Safinuk (@Safimod)
With CBA talks starting up, and free agent acquisitions slowing down to a crawl, we have hit the quiet point of the offseason. There are some key dates coming up just around the corner (Rules Committee from March 20-22, Combine from March 22-24, etc), but now seems as good a time as any to look at the changes the Saskatchewan Roughriders have made to their offense. Will they be better or worse than the 2018 team that finished 12-6? Will they host another home playoff game or slide down the standings and miss the playoffs entirely? There is still a lot left in the offseason, but let’s look at the moves made so far.
Brian Jones – Wide Receiver
Caleb Holley – Wide Receiver
Jordan Williams-Lambert – Wide Receiver
Brandon Bridge – Quarterback
Cameron Marshall – Running back
Rob Bagg – Wide Receiver
Cory Watson – Wide Receiver
Emmanuel Arceneaux – Wide Receiver
Kienan Lafrance – Running Back
William Powell – Running Back
Cody Fajardo – Quarterback
While the Riders lost a talented young receiver in Jordan Williams-Lambert, the remainder of their losses on the offensive side of the ball are minimal. Caleb Holley, while talented, under-performed through most of his time in Saskatchewan. The potential was always there for him to break out, but it just never happened. Brian Jones had 2 catches for 20 yards in his time in Saskatchewan, and a total of 148 yards receiving in his 3 seasons in the CFL. Cameron Marshall is an effective running back, but he was replaced by arguably the best running back in the CFL in William Powell, and that can only mean good things for our offense. Cody Fajardo provides a replacement veteran QB behind Zach Collaros after Brandon Bridge’s departure. Bridge, much like Holley, showed signs of breaking out. But rather than have that breakout season that everyone hoped for in 2018, he regressed to the point that screen passes became an adventure. Many, myself included, expect Jordan Williams-Lambert back at some point in 2019. Combine that with the addition of Emmanuel Arceneaux and another training camp for the likes of KD Cannon, Shaq Evans and Kyran Moore, and it’s hard to image this offense being worse than it was in 2018. Honestly, even if we made no changes, it would have been hard to imagine this offense being worse than it was in 2018. If Williams-Lambert returns, the additions of Arceneaux and Powell will give Zach Collaros some solid weapons to work with.
Cory Johnson – Defensive Lineman
Willie Jefferson – Defensive Lineman
Sam Eguavoen – Linebacker
Tobi Antigha – Defensive Lineman
Kevin Francis – Linebacker
Marc Olivier Brouillette – Defensive Back
Dyshawn Davis – Linebacker
Micah Johnson – Defensive Lineman
A.C. Leonard – Defensive Lineman
The Riders certainly lost some key players on the defensive side of the ball. Willie Jefferson, Sam Eguavoen and Tobi Antigha were all key parts of a very successful Riders defense. But the team went out and made a few big moves to plus a couple of those holes. While Willie Jefferson was arguably the best Defensive Lineman in the league, Micah Johnson is without a doubt the best interior Defensive Lineman in the CFL today. Adding him gives the Roughriders both guys who finished 2018 at the top of the CFL Sack tally (Charleston Hughes #1, Micah Johnson #2). Add in A.C. Leonard, and the defensive line that was so successful in 2018, might actually be better in 2019. The loss of Sam Eguavoen is likely the loss that hurts the most at this point, as the team has not yet done much to replace that loss. One name that keeps coming up is former Saskatchewan Roughrider Jeff Knox Jr, who remains unsigned. Should the team get close to camp and feel the guys they bring in to compete for that spot (FA and minicamps) don’t fit the bill, I would expect Jeremy O’day to pick up the phone and give Knox a call.
The biggest change in special teams is not on the field, but off it. 2018 Special Teams coordinator Craig Dickenson has replaced Chris Jones as Head Coach of the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The special teams unit as a whole was a big part of why the Roughriders were able to win 12 games in 2018 without anything that resembled an offense. Whether it be Brett Lauther, Josh Bartel, the kick return team or the kick coverage team, the 2018 Special Teams unit was undoubtedly special. The question is, will they continue to be under new Special Teams coordinator Merritt Bowden. Its hard to imagine them falling off with Dickenson as head coach, but how much time will he have to help steer that unit?
Final Thoughts and a Season Prediction
The team has improved offensively, dropped off a little defensively, and remained the same on special teams. The biggest loss may be off the field, with 2018 CFL Coach of the Year Chris Jones heading to Cleveland to take on the role of Senior Defensive Assistant. How will his departure affect the team going forwards? How will rookie Head Coach Craig Dickenson handle the increased responsibility.
The biggest concerns, on the field, for the team at this point is replacing Sam Eguavoen and keeping Zach Collaros healthy. The former is far more likely than the latter, especially given Collaros’ history over the past few years, but seeing as one cannot predict injuries, I will assume a healthy Zach Collaros for the 2019 season. Given the changes made on offense, I predict an 11-7 season from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, good enough for 2nd in the West and a home playoff game in 2019.