No need for free agency panic in Edmonton
There has been a lot of talk about the Eskimos and their “lack of activity” in free agency. Some have gone as far as to say that the Esks will be a shade of the Grey Cup winning team from just last November. If you focus on just the first two weeks of free agency, there may be some merit to that statement – especially with the defection of the entire coaching staff to Saskatchewan – but looking at the whole offseason shows a bit of a different picture.
Let’s start with the losses, and yes, there were a lot, starting with three players going to the NFL – Not a common occurrence in the CFL, but one that has happened more frequently in recent years. Dexter McCoil, Willie Jefferson and Aaron Grymes all signed NFL contracts. At least two of those were expected; Grymes was a bit of a wildcard to sign and probably leaves the biggest hole to fill.
Then the cards started to fall to Saskatchewan: Shamawd Chambers, Otha Foster, Kendial Lawrence and Andrew Jones all departed Edmonton for their old coaching staff. None of these were surprises to leave the Esks and, while all are capable players, none are irreplaceable.
Kenny Stafford left for Montreal to have the same third-option WR role at a higher pay rate. Brian Simmons goes back to Hamilton, and Ryan Hinds heads to the nation’s capital.
Again, a lot of these moves were expected. Every team wants a champion player and every such player wants to capitalize on those contracts right after a win. Ed Hervey couldn’t pay them all, so some change was bound to happen.
So why not panic with all that talent lost? It starts back in November, when Hervey extended Nate Coehoorn and Cory Watson: Both are good national receivers and veterans. Then, in December, Adarius Bowman and Almondo Sewell also signed extensions, effectively removing two giant free agents from the market while keeping two core players in green and gold. Sean Whyte was extended next, securing the kicking game and, once again, providing some player consistency from the Grey Cup champion team.
Once CFL free agency opened, Hervey re-signed JC Sherritt, Jon White and Donny Oramasionwu locking up not only two huge starters but a great depth national for the D-line. If you’re keeping score, that’s six starters lost against seven starters re-signed. The other thing Hervey does so well is get two-year contracts, rather than one-year deals, to keep team core consistency as much as possible.
The free agent signings then started to come in. Neil King, brother of long snapper Ryan King (And how often will Rod Black say that?), joins the team as a great national special teams player and DB. Natey Adjai joined Edmonton from Toronto as another national receiver. Zander Robinson, a hulk of a fullback, also came over from the Argos and adds even more national depth to the offense.
Then Hervey scored a couple ex-NFL players for the Eskimos in Jacoby Ford and Joe McKnight. Both have speed to spare and will likely challenge for the spots left open by Lawrence and Stafford. All these signings fill in for some of what was lost and likely at lower cost than the higher-tier free agents.
Don’t forget: The Eskimos still have Mike Reilly, Derel Walker and, for the first time in a very long time, a consistent offensive line that gelled very well at the end of last season. Edmonton still have Payrick Watkins, John Ojo, Deon Lacey, Marcus Howard, Eddie Steele and “The Mayor of Commonwealth” Odell Willis under contract for this year. That’s a lot of talented starters that are back playing together again. This doesn’t even account for who Paul Jones or Hervey might find at open tryouts that are coming up, and leaves the salary cap in great condition if another player needs to be added.
So, yes, the Eskimos will look a bit different. Every CFL championship team does as they return to the field. Players will come and go, but keeping the core together and adding pieces with better contracts is what gets a team closer to long-term success. There’s no need to panic in Edmonton quite yet. After all, do people remember who “won” free agency or who won the Grey Cup? Think the Eskimos would rather the latter...
– written by Andrew Hoskins