Tuesday Morning QB (Off-Season Outlook)

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The CFL season is over and the Grey Cup is headed to the nation’s capital as the Ottawa REDBLACKS have won their first Grey Cup as a franchise.

Nobody would have thought that the REDBLACKS were going to win and it wasn’t even that they were facing the best team in the league.

Anyone in the west was supposed to beat an eastern team after a season where the west was once again the far better division.

It has been a constant battle in the CLF as the west and the east have been very uneven over a number of years.

The introduction of the REDBLACKS only increased the divide between the two divisions and this year they continued to see that divide.

The west included the best team in the league and had a number of surprising teams rise to the occasion to fight for the top spot.

The east had a full division of losing teams with the REDBLACKS winning the division with a losing record.

The yet somehow the REDBLACKS found a way to take home the title and they will enter the off-season looking to prepare for a repeat.

They will have some extra motivation for that repeat as well with the Grey Cup in Ottawa next year near the end of a yearlong Canadian celebration.

The CFL is sure to be a big part of a big year for Canada as the country will celebrate its 150th birthday, including having the 105th Grey Cup in Ottawa next November.

As team prepare to be a part of that celebration there will be plenty to work with this off-season but this year the off-season seems a little quieter.

Last year the CFL saw a very busy off-season and it started very early when rumours began about the defending champions losing their head coach.

When Chris Jones left the Edmonton Eskimos things started to get busy as the Riders began building their team with former Eskimos.

Then the Eskimos needed to find a new head coach of their own, settling on former quarterback Jason Maas as their guy.

The Calgary Stampeders were also transitioning as John Hufnagel was retiring from head coaching and leaving Dave Dickenson to take over.

The Lions were seeing a big change as well with Wally Buono announcing that he would return to the sidelines.

Meanwhile, there were some big names on the free agent market like Andrew Harris who ended up with his hometown Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

In the east, there were questions about who could find their way to the top of the league once again.football-sidebar

The REDBLACKS had to overcome a Grey Cup loss and potentially changing their quarterback from a veteran to a young promising QB.

The Argos were moving to a new home and wanted to impress while Hamilton was trying to get back to relevance.

For Montreal it was trying to figure out what was going wrong and if they needed to make a change.

It was a busy off-season as there were changes to the sideline in almost every western team while major signings were creating better stories.

The east was just trying to fix things with their same teams in hoping to go into a new season trying to get to the Grey Cup.

Not all of the plans worked out as they wanted with the REDBLACKS finding the right formula.

Now a new off-season approaches and things seem to be a little calmer but it is just the start of the off-season.

Things could get interesting very fast as there are teams that could make decisions in the next few weeks that could send things into overdrive.

Things could also stay generally the same as this off-season could change the face of a number of teams and might shift things in the league.

Then again, the teams could look much the same when the off-season is over and try to figure out some way to win in 2017.

It may all come down to a few decisions that could make everyone scramble or keep things calm.

ott-redblacks.fw

It didn’t take long for the REDBLACKS to find their way to the top of the league although fans have been waiting a while. The last time the fans got to see their team raise the Grey Cup was 40-years ago but for the REDBLACKS it has only been three years. Three years ago the REDBLACKS began their first season and began what turned out to be a terrible first season, albeit an expected one. Then they made the Grey Cup in year two and now they are Grey Cup champions in a historic rise through the league. Things won’t get much better as they have to repeat or the 2017 season will be a disappointment especially in a year where Canada is celebrating their 150th year and the nation’s capital is playing host to the biggest football game in Canada. That is what they are pursuing as they head into the off-season but the biggest question they will have is how their team is going to look. Since signing with the REDBLACKS, Henry Burris has only added to his Hall of Fame credentials with his greatest season in 2015 and now a Grey Cup in 2016. Still, he continues to receive doubters who believe he can only fight off father time for so long, after all, father time is undefeated. That was seen this year as he rarely stayed in the lineup with multiple injuries and almost missed the Grey Cup with a knee injury. Now he enters an off-season with questions about whether or not he will be back for 2017. There may not be a better way to go out, aside from winning back to back Grey Cups in front of a hometown crowd in the nation’s capital during the 150th celebration. His decision this off-season is going to influence everything about this team as his return means a potential QB battle with Trevor Harris who did plenty to earn the top spot last year but ultimately faltered down the stretch, partially due to injury. If Burris does retire, then the team is Harris’ to lose as he will finally get a team to himself and won’t be behind a CFL veteran. The REDBLACKS could be interested in one of the many young QBs that could be available for the right trade but they will likely give Harris the ball and let him work with Danny O’Brien backing him up. Fans and the REDBLACKS’ executives will hope that he makes up his mind quickly though as their off-season doesn’t truly start until they get some clarification at QB.

cgy-stampeders

A season couldn’t have turned as poorly as it did for the Stampeders who were pursuing one of the best records in the history of the league yet couldn’t finish the season off. They were clearly the best team in the league all season with nobody even coming close to just how dominant they were. They moved into the playoffs with some concern over rust after they rested their best players in their final game giving top players three weeks off before the west finals. They put that rumour to bed against the BC Lions though as they looked just as good as they had all season. Then came the Grey Cup where the team that had walked over everyone, especially in the east, seemed human for the first time ever. They couldn’t get anything going on offence and on defence they couldn’t put a stop to a legendary game by Burris. As they enter the off-season the Stamps are left in a tough spot, possibly the toughest in the entire league. They have everything that they could want with the best players in the league and the Coach of Year and yet they still didn’t get the only trophy that means anything. They will need to think hard to figure out what went wrong and why while the players simply need to use their loss as motivation to get better. It is not going to be an easy off-season as analysts will pick apart their performance and the players will do the same. In the end, though they are going to remember that they were the best team in the league until the final day of the season and that next year they can do the same. One of their biggest concerns for the off-season is putting together another team that can match or exceed their performance from a year ago. There will be a lot of choices to make as well with the Stamps now having to deal with some big name free agents. There is a certainty that some will end up in the NFL while others might just be too expensive to keep around. Almost their entire receiving corps will look to the free agent market while their defence could be full of holes with Charleston Hughes, Micah Johnson and Glenn Love could all be gone. There is no chance that the Stamps keep everyone but they will have to choose who they think are the most important parts of their team from a year ago and who they can move into a new season without. That will be the biggest focus in Calgary as they look to solve some unfinished business in the 2017 and they will start with a busy off-season.

bc-lions

The Lions were somewhat surprising in 2016 as they came alive with Wally Buono back as their head coach once again. The biggest story of the season was their quarterback though as Jonathon Jennings was one of the biggest discoveries of the year. He did show signs of just how good he could be in 2015 but it wasn’t until this season that he became part of a new wave of young quarterbacks taking over the league. Jennings powered the Lions to the playoffs as the always stellar defence finally had some consistent support on offence. It looked like they could make an impact but they ran into the Stampeders who took care of the Lions and ended a promising season. That was an accomplishment for the Lions though as nobody expected them to be a win away from the Grey Cup. Now they head into the off-season with a lot of question, many of which will be solved only in the season. There is the question of how good Jennings can be as he did make some mistakes that are expected from a young QB. If he can cut those out the sky might just be the limit for him as he has the ability to be the best in the league. The Lions as a whole will also be talked about as they did have a great year but they can’t afford to fall short of new expectations in 2017 as they should be competing for the top spot in the west if they can continue their rise from 2016. As big as Jennings is to that success the defence has been the rock of the Lions for years and continued to be this year. The heart of that defence is the self-titled “Team 100” or more simply the pair of linebackers that patrol the middle of the field for the Lions. Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill are two of the best in the league and put together they make a great second level for the Lions. This off-season there is a possibility that “Team 100” gets broken up as the reigning Most Outstanding Defensive player, Elimimian enters free agency. The Lions will likely want him back but a man that might go down as one of the best ever will demand a lot and the Lions have to decide whether or not they are willing to give a lot to keep him. There is no question he will find somewhere to go, whether it be the NFL or another CFL team. He is one of the biggest names on the market and the biggest for a Lions team that has a total of 24 potential free agents as some big decisions need to be made this off-season.

wpg-blue-bombers

The Bombers began their season in a very familiar way as it seemed like they were headed for another bad year where they had no chance of coming close to the Grey Cup. It seemed like they were once again headed to a rebuild with Mike O’Shea probably on his way out as the head coach. Then Drew Willy went down with another injury and Matt Nichols took over which turned out to be the difference for the team. The Bombers put together a great season and although they lost out on a home playoff date they were back into the playoffs with a chance to get a win for the first time in a long time. They lost to the Lions in the semi-finals but that was not necessarily the goal of the team this year. The Bombers were relevant again and now they enter an off-season with many wondering just how good they might be in 2017. The goal is to not only make the playoffs anymore as the Bombers now want to win and make a run with their QB situation potentially figured out. Nichols is a free agent this year though and that is going to be a top priority for Kyle Walters this off-season. Another priority will be locking up O’Shea who was likely set to walk away at the end of his contract had things not turned around. These two signings will be the biggest parts of the off-season for the Bombers this year as they may have finally found a pairing that can actually bring the Bombers to prominence after years of poor performances. That could solve some long-standing offensive issues for the team but once they are solved Walters will need to work on his defence. It will be the only way that the Bombers can get back to the Grey Cup and there are some great players available. Walters claims that this year won’t be as active as last when they signed Andrew Harris to fix their running game but a big signing or two on defence might change this team for the better. Walters has work to do like many other GMs in the league as the Bombers head into an off-season where hope could be realised unless he can’t get anything done. It could be a defining off-season for Walters as he tries to turn around a team with the longest championship drought in the CFL in a few months that could either make them great or push them back to the bottom of the league.

edm-eskimos

It wasn’t exactly what the Eskimos expected when they headed into the off-season fresh off of a Grey Cup title. They were looking like a team that might be able to run the table more than once, that was until their head coach left for Saskatchewan. Without Chris Jones, the Eskies scrambled to find a replacement while also scrambling to keep a number of players that loved their coach. Former Eskimos QB Jason Maas was brought in to lead the team while they lost a number of top defensive players who either went to the NFL or followed Jones to Regina. The losses and the change certainly had an effect as the Esks stumbled out of the gate but eventually they found their stride. They had to use the crossover to keep their chance of repeating and in the east fell just short of returning after losing the REDBLACKS in the eastern finals. The Esks remain one of the top teams in the league and with a more stable off-season they hope to rise to the top of the division for another year. The Eskimos won’t see the same type of turmoil they did a year ago but that doesn’t mean that change won’t be coming. The biggest one might just be the curse of talent that many CFL teams suffer every year. When players begin to get noticed in the CFL as being young and talented with great size it is not only the CFL that is taking notice. More often than not these great young players are being watched by NFL scouts and when the season is over there are countless CFL stars that head south of the border to try to get a bigger contract in the NFL. The Eskimos could be in for this type of change as one of the most promising young receivers in the league could find his way to the NFL this off-season. Derel Walker will be a free agent this year and the consensus is that he won’t be staying in the CFL for 2017. There is a lot of interest from the NFL and with the money that a lot of teams would give him to be their top receiver, there is no chance he stays here. The Esks will need to try to replace him as Adarius Bowman will need a partner to be as effective as he is. Bowman has shown it year after year that if there is someone else to focus on aside from just himself he can put up big numbers. The search will be on and with a number of potential free agents and unknown prospects it will be interesting to see where the Esks land on his replacement.

ham-tiger-cats

The Tiger-Cats went from being the eastern powerhouse to barely able to make the playoffs as it was only the fact that Toronto and Montreal were so much worse that they earned second place. A lot of that had to do with their quarterback as Zach Collaros simply didn’t play enough throughout the 2016 season. The Ti-Cats are used to winning and Collaros has been a big part of that as he provided a young replacement for Burris and began to take over. He was quickly becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league until the injuries took over. He has yet to play a complete season for the Ti-Cats and without him, their offence is just not as good as it could be. That coupled with the injuries and losses they suffered on defence meant the Ti-Cats struggled most of the year. When he was in the lineup it was clear that the chemistry he usually had wasn’t there and when it started to develop he went down with injury again. They now enter another off-season where they couldn’t meet the expectations and the potential that this team has on their roster. There is no doubt that they have that ability to win a championship but time is running out for Austin and for Collaros. Neither will be gone this off-season but they will be on thin ice as with both needing to do some work in the coming months. The biggest question throughout the next few months will be what Collaros can do to try and shake off the injury bug. If Collaros can’t stay on the field and Austin can’t start finding ways to win there may be some changes in the forecast. There may also be some more immediate change as Orlando Steinauer has been one of the top defensive coordinators in the league over the last few years. He has also been a favourite when talking about head coaching positions and although there are none officially that could change quickly. Steinauer’s contract is officially up this off-season and there is no doubt that if a team does need a new head coach he will be one of the first that those teams look to, to fill their vacancy. It could be a big loss to the Ti-Cats as they have been a strong defensive team with a lot of that coming from the aggressive style of the former defensive back. There is a lot to wonder about for the Ti-Cats as they seem on the edge of some major changes.

mtl-alouettes

Another season meant another year full of quarterback questions and questionable management from the Alouettes. They entered the season with plenty of options at quarterback but none seemed all that great while GM, Jim Popp remained on the sidelines after firing another coach in 2015. The Als couldn’t find a quarterback to lead them the entire season as their offence struggled under Kevin Glenn and then under Rakeem Cato with locker room issues developing. Popp meanwhile, continued to try to turn things around but not making any moves that truly improved the team. It ended with Popp taking himself off of the sidelines with Jacques Chapdelaine taking over and the team finishing near the bottom of the league. Something needed to change for the Als as they have not been successful since Anthony Calvillo retired. They enter an off-season full of uncertainty as the only GM they have ever known is no longer there while their coaching and quarterback situation is still up in the air. The first decision that the Als will need to make will be their GM as they have interviewed multiple potential executives including Montreal Carabins head coach and former Grey Cup-winning head coach Danny Maciocia. Once the next GM is in place other decisions will fall into place as they will need to decide on whether Chapdelaine will remain the head coach or they will go with someone new, Steinauer and current Montreal defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe could be a good candidate as well. Chapdelaine does seem to fit the best on the team and the players have expressed that they do like playing for him making it seem like a clear decision. If he stays he will have a big job ahead of him to try to figure out their quarterback issues. The Als will need to decide between Vernon Adams Jr. and Rakeem Cato or any other option they may bring in and make up their minds on a quarterback. Bringing in a number of QBs won’t get the job done and they need to realise that as they head into another new season. There are a lot of decisions to make for the Als as they hope to find their way back to prominence. For a team that had been so good for so long, there is little patience among the fans as they want a winner and they want one now. It all starts from the top as there are big changes coming to Montreal and it could change the fate of this team and the franchise.

tor-argonauts

There could not have been a worse way to kick-off the first season in a new home than what the Argonauts pulled off in 2016. They finally got their wish to move into a stadium that suited football far better than the Rogers Centre as they took up a new home at BMO Field. It was supposed to be the first step for the Argos to return back to being a legitimate part of the Toronto sports landscape. Then came the disaster of a season as they looked bad from start to finish only winning two games in their new home and ending the season at the bottom of the eastern division. It didn’t help their issues in Toronto as they are in the midst of a renaissance in Toronto sports and with such a bad season they only fell further behind everyone else. They enter an off-season where stability at the top is finally here as there is no debate over ownership or their stadium. They now have a solid owner in Bell and a great home that they aren’t about to get kicked out of anytime soon. That leaves a new executive team to focus on football rather than the move and ownership. It could be a big job too as the new executive group may just act as any new group does in sports, clean house. More often than not when a new group takes over they take a season to focus and the next season they make massive changes. There is no reason not to this off-season as the Argos finished last and after a few seasons of underperformance, it seems like things are about to look a lot different for the Argos next year. Rumours are all around the team as longtime GM Jim Barker could be on the way out alongside head coach Scott Milanovich. Both seem to be nearing the end of their time in Toronto leaving some big holes to fill. There are plenty of options to replace both with Ottawa’s Brock Sunderland getting interest from places like Montreal and if the Argos need someone he will likely be at the top of the list. Coaches like Steinauer and Thorpe could also be headed to Toronto should they need a head coach. They may also need to find a quarterback as Ricky Ray is a free agent and doesn’t seem like he will return after years of injuries. Drew Willy could be the new starter but there are young QBs that could be available. The Argos have some work to do but they also might stay with the status quo as no decisions have been made with some mystery surrounding what they might do in the coming months.

ssk-roughriders.fw

Last off-season the Roughriders made one of the biggest splashes in the off-season and it was all about a new boss. They went out and offered a defending champion a contract to take over the team and he made the jump to Regina where a challenge awaited. Chris Jones had already turned the Edmonton Eskimos around and made them Grey Cup champions but most expected him to stay and try to repeat. He might have been able to as well but instead he chose a challenge in taking over the Riders as the GM and head coach. With full power to shape the team, he wanted the Grey Cup winning coach jumped ship and tried to change things in the one city with more pressure than anyone else. The season didn’t turn out to be great as the Roughriders limped through most of the season to finish in last place as the first team out of the playoffs. They did seem to turn things around at the end of the season as they looked like a competitive team near the end. That is how things work for jones though as it was the same story in Edmonton and his second season in charge should be a much better. He will go to work trying to find ways to improve the team and make them competitive next year but there is one big question he will need to answer. That is what he will do with starting quarterback Darian Durant who is a free agent and who has yet to be signed. He has been one of the highest paid players in the CFL and one of the best quarterbacks. For the Riders, he has been one of the legendary players as he helped guide them to a Grey Cup at home only a few years ago and has been the difference for this team more than once. Then again he is an older player and has suffered through some injury trouble over the last few years. His struggles to stay on the field have caused plenty of doubt for the Riders and with Canadian Brandon Bridge and international Mitchell Gale, there are other options. The Riders, and mainly Jones, will need to make a big decision and when they do they will need to find their way with or without their veteran QB. It will change a lot about how this team is built and just how long they will take to be competitive again.

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