Free Agency Preview: Edmonton Eskimos

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OTTAWA, ON - AUGUST 10: Mike Reilly (13) of the Edmonton Eskimos looks downfield for a pass against the Ottawa Redblacks in Canadian Football League (CFL) action at TD Place in Ottawa, Canada on 10 August 2017. (Photo by Sean Burges/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

When the 2018 CFL season concluded last November so too were a lot of player contracts. Around 250 players will hit the open market on February 12 as free agents, meaning there will be much work to do for the nine CFL general managers. While teams have been busy locking up some of their free agents, a lot still remain without a contract.

The Edmonton Eskimos are one of those teams with much work to do. General manager Brock Sunderland has been busy this off-season signing some of his team’s free agents, and releasing numerous to pursue NFL opportunities. Here is a look at what the Eskimos still have on their roster as well as their to-do list heading into free agency.

2019 CFL free agency begins at 12 P.M. on February 12, 2019

Edmonton Eskimos Current Free Agents

Quarterback:
Kevin Glenn and Mike Reilly.

Running Back:
Alexandre Dupuis, Martese Jackson, Pascal Lochard, Calvin McCarty, Christophe Normand.

Wide Receiver:
Nate Behar, Juron Criner, Samuel Giguere, Vidal Hazelton, Jamill Smith, Kenny Stafford, Derel Walker.

Offensive Line:
Travis Bond, Colin Kelly, Justin Sorensen.

Defensive Line:
Arnaud Gascon-Nadon.

Linebacker:
Chris Edwards and Ryan King.

Defensive back:
Aaron Grymes, Forrest Hightower, Brandyn Thompson, Josh Woodman.

Must-sign Free Agents

Mike Reilly, Derel Walker, Aaron Grymes.

If the Eskimos cannot get a deal in place with Reilly and he goes to another team, this, of course, would leave a massive hole in this organization. A hole that would be difficult to close in just one off-season. Simply put, the Eskimos must find a way to re-sign Reilly.

Derel Walker is the number one target the Eskimos need to re-sign in order to shore up some of their receiving core. Walker played in only 11 games in the 2018 season but amassed eight touchdowns and 875 yards in that time.

Since 2013, Grymes has spent his entire CFL career with the Edmonton Eskimos. The heavily tattooed defensive back from Seattle is coming off his best season as an Eskimo. In 17 games, Grymes had 58 tackles, three interceptions, and one touchdown.

What the Eskimos have

  • Solid Running Game
  • Excellent Kicking Team
  • Veteran Defensive Linemen
  • Weak-side National Linebackers
  • Canadian Offensive Linemen

Solid Running Game

Running back C.J. Gable is coming off his best year in the CFL. Gable played in 16 games in 2018 and had his first career 1,000-yard rushing season (1,063). He added seven touchdowns during that time as well. Gable provides the Eskimos with a solid ground attack when healthy. If he can carry over his play from 2018, the Eskimos should not have to worry about the ground game in 2019.

Excellent Kicking Team

With both punter Hugh O’Neill and placekicker Sean Whyte locked up for 2019, the Eskimos will boast a solid kicking game this season as well. O’Neill is coming off his best punting season since joining the CFL in 2013 with an average of 45.2 yards per punt. Whyte continues to be a consistent kicker for the Edmonton Eskimos since joining the team in 2015. His field goal percentage for each of his four seasons with the Eskimos has never dipped below 90%.

Veteran Defensive Linemen

Kwaku Boateng, Almondo Sewell, Mike Moore, Alex Bazzie, Evan Gill, and Nick Usher are all under contract heading into the 2019 season. Even though the Eskimos lost Jake Ceresna to the New York Giants, the Esks defensive line is already in good shape for next season.

Weak-side National Linebackers

Weak-side linebackers Adam Konar and Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga are back and provide great ratio flexibility. Expect Konar to remain as the weak-side starter, and with J.C. Sherritt retired, expect Mulumba-Tshimanga to battle Internationals Taylor Reed and Korey Jones for the starting middle linebacker spot, where Mulumba-Tshimanaga could have an upper hand due to his National status.

Canadian Offensive Linemen

The Eskimos have an impressive pool of Canadian offensive lineman to deploy next season, including starters Matthew O’Donnell and David Beard, backups Kwabena Asare, Curtis Krahn, Jean-Simon Roy and Jacob Ruby, and coveted prospect Mason Woods, who could fill in at left guard if free agent Travis Bond signs elsewhere.

What the Eskimos need

  • Starting Quarterback
  • Wide Receivers
  • Linebackers
  • Returners
  • Offensive Linemen

Starting Quarterback

If the Eskimos are unable to sign Mike Reilly, expect them to go hard after free agent quarterback Trevor Harris. Harris is the second best free agent quarterback this off-season, assuming Stampeders’ free agent Bo Levi Mitchell signs in the NFL.

Possible candidates: Trevor Harris, Zach Collaros, Jonathon Jennings, Travis Lulay.

Wide Receivers

With the departure of Duke Williams and Bryant Mitchell to the NFL, look for the Eskimos to work hard at signing some of their own free agent receivers. As mentioned, Derel Walker needs to be signed but he is not the only one. Nate Behar, Vidal Hazelton, Juron Criner, and Kenny Stafford still remain unsigned by the club.

Possible candidates: Nate Behar, Vidal Hazelton, Kenny Stafford, Adarius Bowman, B.J. Cunningham, Dominique Rhymes, Duron Carter, Myles White, Shamawd Chambers, Mike Jones, Terrell Sinkfield, Terrence Toliver, Weston Dressler, Nic Demski, Devon Bailey, Caleb Holley, Ricky Collins, Shaq Johnson.

Middle and Strong-side Linebackers

The defensive heart and soul member of the Eskimos for the last few years has been J.C. Sherritt. Unfortunately for the Eskimos, Sherritt announced his retirement from pro football a couple of weeks ago. This position will need to be addressed with high priority. However, with everything that Sherritt brought both on and off the field, it is unlikely that there will be a quick fix here. This issue could be fixed in-house with all of Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga, Korey Jones, and Taylor Reed under contract. Pending free agent and strong-side linebacker Chris Edwards is also unsigned by the Eskimos.

Possible candidates: Chris Edwards, Chip Cox, Chris Ackie, Kyries Hebert, Jeff Knox Jr., Bear Woods, Kyrie Wilson, Kevin Francis, Sam Hurl, Courtney Stephen, Don Unamba, Kevin Fogg, Otha Foster.

Returners

Last season the Edmonton Eskimos traded their third-round pick in the 2019 draft for return specialist Martese Jackson. The Eskimos had not had a good consistent return game since the departure of Henry “Gizmo” Williams. So with the addition of Jackson, the Eskimos felt as though they had corrected that issue. Fast forward to this off-season and Jackson is set to become a free agent, so a replacement may be needed.

Possible candidates: Martese Jackson, Nic Demski, Chris Rainey, Myles White, Kevin Fogg, NCAA.

Offensive Linemen

Currently, the Eskimos have three offensive linemen on their free agent to do list. Travis Bond, Colin Kelly, and Justin Sorensen remain without contracts for the 2019 season. This will be an area of focus for Brock Sunderland in order to shore up the offensive line, but likely to be addressed in-house with players like Mason Woods gearing to become a starter, and the three pending free agents being re-signed.

The Last Word

It’s obvious that there are many holes in the lineup that Brock Sunderland needs to fill. The good news is that most teams find themselves in a similar boat to the Eskimos this off-season. With the number of free agents still out there it is not inconceivable that the Eskimos will be able to round out their roster effectively. But there is an awful lot of work still left to do, and it starts with retaining Mike Reilly.

If Reilly leaves, expect the Eskimos to make hard pushes for Trevor Harris and Jonathon Jennings. Also look for Edmonton to pursue B.J. Cunningham, Myles White, Nic Demski, Chris Rainey, Kevin Fogg, Chris Ackie, and Don Unamba.

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