Tuesday Morning QB (Off-Season Outlook)

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The CFL is entering a new era as the 2015 season closes out with a new champion, new logo, and new campaign.

It is easy to see that the 2016 season is all about the future for the league as they move away from their storied path.

Whether you like the new parts of the league or not the CFL is moving forward as they look to change the way they are perceived in the sports world.

Professional sports are only getting bigger and there is no sign that that they are slowing down but with that growth comes bigger and better competition.

The CFL has long had a strong base of fans that began following the sport when it was the only thing on TV.

Now the league has to compete with every sport on a major scale as there are more options than ever.

In an attempt to compete the CFL is ready to begin a new era where they look to the younger sport fan to try and ensure a bigger fan base.

This year during Grey Cup week the reasons were clear as new CFL commissioner held his first state of the league address.

In that address he announced that viewership was down and that attendance across the league was stagnant.

There are plenty of reasons for this as there was some major competition this summer including the Women’s World Cup, Pan Am Games, and the Toronto Blue Jays great run to the postseason.

In the stands there are some struggling teams but Hamilton and Ottawa regularly sell out and Toronto had a strange season where three home games were played away from home in front of smaller than normal crowds.

The CFL could still be concerned though as they can see the end coming where their older fan base has to give way to a new younger fan base.

To get those fans the CFL is beginning to focus on changing the way they do things to appeal to the younger fan.football-sidebar

The brand of football should be perfect for younger fans as the three downs and shorter play clock make for a much faster game than the American version.

The level of play is still recovering from the expansion but there is no question that some very talented players are just emerging to provide plenty of excitement.

So the CFL announced that they will change the logo for next year with a more modern look.

They also changed their campaign from “This is Our League” to “What We’re Made of” with a new video that highlights the stars of the league and what makes the CFL so great.

They will go ahead with this new logo and new attitude as they look to continue their good growth from the past few years.

It will be a new era in the CFL and there is plenty to look forward to as for four years the league has seen a new champion.

That truly gives every team a chance when the new season begins and there is never an indication of who will step up when the season begins.

For now though there is the off-season where big moves can change a team, see the REDBLACKs, and where questions will need to be answered.

Heading into the off-season there are plenty of storylines to watch with every team looking to have a season like the Edmonton Eskimos did as the preparation begins now to earn a trip to Toronto.

edm-eskimos

The Edmonton Eskimos are Grey Cup champions and it only took Chris Jones two years to do it after turning his teams around. They are sure to celebrate until the new year as they are the best team in the league until June when everyone is back at 0-0. The Eskimos will finish their celebrations and then get back to work as Jones and the rest of the team want another one. It isn’t an easy task though as the Montreal Alouettes were the last to do it in 2009-10 when Anthony Calvillo was still under centre. Mike Reilly and the great defence will attempt to be the next team to repeat as champions. They have some work to do to get there though as they have a long list of potential free agents that every team would love to add to their roster. Every year Grey Cup teams have the potential to be gutted as other teams want a good player with that experience. This year there are a few big players ready to take that experience to a big payday. The receiving corps is one of the biggest concerns as the league’s leading receiver for the last two years, Adarius Bowman is sure to get interest from every team and the NFL. The Grey Cups’ Most Outstanding Canadian, Shamawd Chambers is also a free agent and there are plenty of teams that want a productive Canadian receiver. The offence could see more changes as well with John White also entering his free agency in the new year. The offence isn’t alone though as Almondo Sewell and Aaron Grymes are free agents while Dexter McCoil is in the midst of a contract dispute. The Eskimos are sure to enjoy their time on top of the league but they have work to do as losing any of these players is going to leave a hole in the team. They won’t be able to just offer regular contracts either as the rest of the league and the NFL will be interested in many of these players as bidding wars are sure to come up with the defending champions trying to keep their Grey Cup team together.

ott-redblacks.fw

The REDBLACKS almost completed the best turnaround season in the history of the CFL with a two-win season in 2014 and a Grey Cup appearance this year. Ottawa did that with a great off-season in 2015 signing a number of major contributors. This year that might not be the case as the REDBLACKS might stay put or add a few extra pieces. They will need to focus on potential free agents in Chris Williams and Damaso Munoz but most of their additions will be staying with the team. For the league’s newest team the third year might not be as exciting, at least in the off-season. The real question for the team is at quarterback where Henry Burris had the season of his career. There is almost no chance that he has the same numbers as he did in 2015 but the question is how far of a drop will he see. He may come out with the same group of receivers and once again be the best quarterback in the league. He could also come out and have a bad year and the REDBLACKS may be trying to find their quarterback of the future. Burris is not getting any younger as next year he will be 41-years-old and to repeat the performance of this season is going to be tougher at a year older. They will look him once again to lead the team but it is not going to be an easy task for him or anyone else on the team. Winning two  Grey Cups in a row is a tough enough job but getting back only after coming so close is just as tough. It is hard to figure out what they did wrong and where the weakness is after they fell short. They weren’t good enough to win but they were better than seven other teams in the league as they approach the off-season with an attempt to get back to the Grey Cup. They have set a major standard in Ottawa and they need to keep it but it won’t be easy as their off-season is full of questions surrounding whether or not they need to change anything.

cgy-stampeders

The Calgary Stampeders did not get to where they wanted as they fell short of returning to the Grey Cup at the hands of their provincial rivals. It was a bad end for a team used to winning but what makes it even more heartbreaking for the team is that this season marked the end of an era in Cowtown. The Stamps entered the season knowing that there was going to be changes but they ended the season with more changes than they expected. After winning the Grey Cup in 2014 question rose about the future of head coach John Hufnagel. He had been in Calgary since 2008 and won his fourth Grey Cup and had nothing left to prove. Shortly after the game he announced that he was going to step down as the head coach and stay on a GM. The off-season will be a major change as Dickenson takes over as the head coach and although he has been groomed by Hufnagel there is sure to be some things that he will do differently. Whether they are successful changes or not remains to be seen but filling the shoes of a future hall of famer is never easy. It will only be that much tougher with Hufnagel in the box above him and if he struggles with a team that is expected to keep winning the leash may be very short. Hufnagel will be a little busy as Eric Rogers, Anthony Parker, and Junior Turner are all free agents this year. Their biggest free agent will be Jerome Messam though as the mid-season add did well this year in Calgary and may be needed a lot more. Three-time Most Outstanding Canadian and the back bone of Dickenson’s offence, Jon Cornish announced that he might retire. He has not made his decision yet but indications are that multiple concussions and opportunities outside of playing have him leaning towards leaving the game. Cornish leaving means that there would be a big hole in the offence and signing Messam could be the solution but he will have plenty of suitors. The Stamps will be spending most of the off-season getting ready for the changes in a big year for a team with a new coach and potentially one less leader.

ham-tiger-cats

The Hamilton Tiger-Cats missed out on the Grey Cup after two years of being the kings of the eastern division. It wasn’t looking like that at the start of the season as Hamilton was clearly the best team in the division through the first three quarters of the season. It wasn’t until an injury to Zach Collaros near the end of the year that the Tabies began to struggle. They couldn’t get back and now they enter an off-season with some major work to be done. The Ti-Cats have a lot of free agents, upwards of 35 when including players heading into an option year. Not all of them are major players in the team but there are some big names that could be on their way out of the Hammer. Some of the biggest will be Andy Fantuz, Ted Laurent, Courtney Stephen, and Emmanuel Davis. All of these players will enter the off-season without a contract and there are even more entering the option year of their contracts. The Ti-Cats have an interesting off-season ahead as they have a few options with all of their potential free agents. On one hand they have had plenty of success with these players on the team going to two Grey Cups and getting to the eastern final this past year. On the other hand they have been so great in the regular season but they have never won the Grey Cup with these players and they may want to look for some other people to fill the holes that will be left. Then there is the more likely option as a few players are likely to come back unless they get some offers from teams south of the border. Then there is the question of their quarterback as Zach Collaros will spend the off-season recovering from knee surgery. Collaros was a major part of the strong start to the season and the team fell off when he went down as he will try to get back in time to start the season. Ti-Cats’ fans will be paying close attention hoping that everything goes as planned for their star quarterback.

tor-argonauts

The Argonauts might have one of the more interesting off-seasons in store as they look to forget a disastrous year in 2015. The Argos didn’t necessarily do a terrible job on the field finishing third and making the playoffs. Instead it was things out of their control as they began their season with a home game on the road in Fort McMurray. They were then kicked out of the Roger’s Centre while the Toronto Blue Jays went on their great run to the postseason. It was an embarrassing month of October for the Argos and the league but as of 2016 they hope to put all of that behind them. As of January 1st the Argos will no longer be owned by David Braley, who saved the team from folding but rarely spent the money necessary to make the Argos a great team. Instead Bell Media and Larry Tanenbaum’s Kilmer Sports Inc. will take over bringing in a brand new ownerships that seems committed to the team, they are the official broadcasters of the league and need Toronto to be successful. With the new ownership come a brand new stadium as the Argos move to BMO Field for the 2016 season. The new stadium should give the Argos a more favourable schedule with TFC, a team that only plays one game every week, as the only other tenant. With new ownership, a new stadium, and the Grey Cup at home the Argos will likely try to make an impact this year and they will need to work quickly. Ricky Ray, Trevor Harris, Chad Owens, and Ricky Foley are among the biggest free agents in the league this year. The Argos will need to decide on a quarterback between the aging Ray and the younger but less experience Harris. They will also need to pay Owens the highest non-quarterback salary if they want to keep him while Foley is sure to be a popular option for a lot of teams. It is worth noting that every one of these free agents has stated publicly that they want to be back in Toronto for a home Grey Cup run. The league’s oldest team is heading into the off-season with more optimism than they have had in a very long time which is refreshing for the biggest market in Canada.

bc-lions

The BC Lions may be the next team to follow the Toronto Argonauts as David Braley is looking to sell. He is being very specific about the owners though as he wants someone or multiple people that will be as committed to the Lions as he has been. He will not sell to just anybody and so this sale may take place in the off-season or during the season or even in the next few years. Closer to the field the Lions may be undergoing some major changes both on the field and on the sidelines. The Lions hired Jeff Tedford to get their offence back on track as the former Cal coach came into BC looking to get the offence to the level of their defence. It didn’t quite work for the first year CFL coach as the offence sputtered again and with Travis Lulay often injured they couldn’t find a quarterback until too late. They didn’t finish how they wanted to and so the rumours began about a change on the sidelines. It was only fuelled by the fact that a number of very big NCAA jobs opened up and Tedford has been linked with many. If Tedford does leave or they don’t want him back it could be former coach Wally Buono back on the sidelines again. However the coaching situation works out it could be a very different teams to work with as some key free agents are waiting to be signed. Chief among them is Travis Lulay, Andrew Harris, and Manny Arceneaux as all of them could be leaving. Injuries have kept Lulay off of the field for most of the last two seasons and the Lions found Jonathan Franklin this year who might be their QB of the future. Andrew Harris has often been under-utilized in BC and as one of the best rushers in the game has expressed that he might want to leave. Arceneaux is more likely to sign but there is no shortage of teams that would want him on their team. The Lions could be in for an off-season of massive changes from the top down as CFL fans will keep a close eye on the west coast.

mtl-alouettes

The Montreal Alouettes’ season did not go according to plan from the very start of the season when both their starting quarterback and back-up quarterback were injured. That left them with rookie Brandon Bridge to finish out the first game of the season and brought hopes of a starting Canadian quarterback in the CFL. Then the Als signed Rakeem Cato to take over and from that point on the position became only more convoluted. They never found a quarterback and before Labour Day they fired head coach Tom Higgins while GM Jim Popp took over the head coaching duties. The team announced that Popp will be back as the head coach of the team while he likely grooms Noel Thorpe or Anthony Calvillo for the job. With one big question out of the way the focus in Montreal will turn to the quarterback position where the quest to replace Calvillo continues. They thought they had the man in Crompton but an injury gave them a look at a number of other potential players. The man they signed to back Crompton up, Dan Lefevour, should be returning in the off-season from his Week 1 injury and might get a serious look this off-season. Meanwhile Cato was impressive before his injury and will be in the heart of a competition if he returns to the CFL. Meanwhile Bridge was great in his single start of the season and is the CFL fan favourite as he might be the best Canadian quarterback in a very long time. The Als will make up their mind and with Lefevour entering the free agent market they might just see one of their decisions made fairly easily. It is a tough call for anyone involved and if one of the potential quarterbacks isn’t happy they may very well be a big deal on the trade market. They continue to try to find a quarterback after the retirement of legendary QB and now offensive coordinator, Calvillo, and so far have had no success. It has been one of the best franchises since 2000 but they have yet to get back to that and an off-season decision on their quarterback is sure to make an impact for the team.

wpg-blue-bombers

The Blue Bombers had so much hope heading into the new season as Mike O’Shea was entering his second year with plenty of promise. He had made the Bombers competitive again but fell just short at the end of the season after an injury to Drew Willy held up the offence. Then Willy went down again and the Bombers season went to the bottom of the league for another year. They got some relief in the form of Matt Nichols who was signed mid-season and brought some stability to the position. The end result was a second to last place finish in the league and an off-season full of questions. The though around the league is that O’Shea’s tenure as head coach and Kyle Walters’ tenure as GM might be coming to an end soon. They won’t be fired this off-season but if something isn’t done soon they may both be looking for a new job. One of the biggest issues they both will have to solve together will be the quarterback situation. Willy was considered the new face of the Bombers as a member of the younger group of quarterbacks that were about to take over the league. That hasn’t happened because Willy has been hurt in both of his years as a starter and hasn’t played enough games to make a major impact on the league. He has shown that he can be a great QB in the league and with some more weapons around him he can guide this team to the Grey Cup. He just has to stay on the field and that has been the biggest issue with Willy’s time in Winnipeg. The issue for O’Shea and Walters is that they have never had a viable option as a back-up. When Willy goes down they scramble to find a back-up and it usually sinks their season. That is where Nichols comes in as he is a great back-up quarterback that can take over the team if they need to. The problem is that he is a free agent and that he might want to go to a team where he can start instead of be the back-up. It will be a major consideration this off-season for the Bombers who need to get back to winning soon to avoid major changes.

ssk-roughriders

The Saskatchewan Roughriders are a team with a lot of pressure and so when they don’t perform they need to make changes. The Riders have been near the bottom of the league for the past two years after winning the Grey Cup in 2013. In 2014 an injury to Darian Durant ended the hopes of the Riders to repeat and in 2015 it happened again. Durant was hurt in Week 1 and the Riders didn’t win a game until Labour Day sinking to the bottom of the league for the entire year. Just before their Labour Day matchup the Riders fired head coach Corey Chamblin and GM Brendan Taman. It was a reaction to the pressure felt in Saskatchewan to be successful every year. Now the Riders will enter the off-season looking for an entirely new regime as they try to find two people who can handle the pressures of being a part of the Riders and get them back to winning. At head coach the Riders will look at interim head coach Bob Dyce while rumours have surfaced surrounding John Hufnagel and Chris Jones. Some believe that the Riders can coax Hufnagel out of retirement from coaching and entice Jones to leave Edmonton. Neither seems too logical as Hufnagel has already said that he is not leaving Calgary and jones would be crazy to leave the team he just brought to the Grey Cup. It is a tough job though and they will need to find the right person to take over unless they remove Dyce’s interim title. At GM the Riders were also rumoured to be offering Hufnagel the job until he shot down that idea. There are some legitimate contenders though as Ottawa assistant GM Brock Sunderland and Calgary assistant GM John Murphy have reportedly been interviewed for the job. There are also rumours of the return of Eric Tillman while interim GM Jeremy O’Day is sure to get some consideration. The Riders will be looking to find that next pair to bring them back to the top of the west in a closely watched search.

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