Not much more needs to be said on the Roughriders tumultuous off-season that hasn’t already been said. Chris Jones left the team high and dry for the NFL, Jeremy O’Day was promoted to General Manager. While Craig Dickenson was promoted from special teams coordinator to head coach. Saskatchewan is looking to improve on their 12-6 record in 2018. But more importantly, they’re trying to get over the playoff hump and return to the Grey Cup for the first time since 2013. That poses to be a difficult task unless O’Day can knock free agency out of the park. Without further ado, the Saskatchewan Roughriders free agency preview.
2019 CFL Free Agency begins at 12 p.m. EST on February 12th, 2019
Saskatchewan Roughriders Current Free Agents
Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge.
Rob Bagg, Devon Bailey, Caleb Holley, Brian Jones, Naaman Roosevelt.
Josiah St. John.
Tobi Antigha, Mic’hael Brooks, Makenna Henry, Willie Jefferson, Cory Johnson, Eddie Steele.
Kevin Francis and Sam Hurl.
Marc Olivier-Brouillette, Jovon Johnson.
Must Sign Free Agents
Willie Jefferson, Tobi Antigha, Naaman Roosevelt, Caleb Holley, Cameron Marshall.
Willie Jefferson and Naaman Roosevelt should go without saying. They are arguably the two greatest contributors on each side of the ball. Talent aside, their leadership is desperately needed at a time when much of the coaching staff and quarterback position is in limbo. Strictly from a talent perspective, Holley, Antigha and Marshall are all valuable playmakers that the Roughriders should absolutely retain. Continuity within the locker room will go a long way as the players adjust to new leadership.
What the Riders Have
- Stable Offensive Line
- Running Back Depth
- Elite Canadian Kicker
- Unique Talent in the Secondary
- Veteran Defensive Linemen
Stable Offensive Line
What started the 2018 season as a glaring weakness, quickly turned out to be one of the Riders main strengths. Lead by veterans Brendon LaBatte, Dan Clark, Thaddeus Coleman and the upstart Dariusz Bladek this unit was first in the CFL in sacks allowed with just 27. They were also instrumental in kickstarting the run game which was heavily relied upon.
Running Back Depth
Though Cameron Marshall is a must resign, the Riders are fortunate to have the services of Tre Mason and Marcus Thigpen. These two were also major contributors in a strong run game that saw the Riders finish second in the league in team rushing yards (2,014). Mason was more of the in-between the tackles running back while Thigpen had the potential to break out a huge run everytime he touched the ball.
Elite Canadian Kicker
Brett Lauther. If you don’t know his name, you’ve been living under a rock. Responsible for multiple clutch kicks. And in some cases the majority of points for the Riders offence on days where it simply couldn’t finish drives. The Riders struck gold with Lauther and his 90% kicking percentage, his longest kick on the 2018 season was 56 yards. If the NFL season taught us anything, it’s that quality kickers are hard to come by, Rider nation should not take Lauther for granted.
Unique Talent in the Secondary
Saskatchewan has some interesting pieces in the secondary. However, with Jones’ departure, it remains to be seen how this unit will come together in 2019. That being said, do not sleep on second-year corner Nick Marshall who took the league by storm in 2018 with three interceptions, two touchdowns and one forced fumble. That doesn’t include his contributions as the Riders short-yardage quarterback. Ed Gainey came back down to earth but still added three interceptions and a touchdown to his resume. Crezdon Butler and Loucheiz Purifoy each add a physical element to Saskatchewan’s secondary that will be of benefit for this defence as a whole.
I will be the best corner in the CFL this year!!!!
— Marshall24 (@NicMarshall7) January 23, 2019
Veteran Defensive Linemen
While there are some important players to be signed at this position (Jefferson, Antigha), two players stand out as leaders and major contributors that still remain on the roster. Charleston Hughes and Zack Evans. Hughes tacked on 15 sacks in 17 games last season while Evans anchored the middle for all 18 games. O’Day will need to surround these two special players with more pieces but for the time being the Roughriders can rest assured they have veteran talent at this position.
What the Riders Need
- Starting Quality Quarterback
- Wide Receiver Depth
- An Elite Linebacker
- Shutdown Cornerback
Starting Quality Quarterback
For a comprehensive list on the available options for Saskatchewan, click here. In the meantime, here’s the skinny. Both Zach Collaros and Brandon Bridge had their share of struggles in 2018 that didn’t inspire confidence in the hearts and minds of Rider nation. If there was ever a year to go out and get a quarterback, 2019 would be it. There’s just one problem, 7/9 teams are also looking to do the same. Mike Reilly appears to be a pipe-dream at this point.
Possible candidates: NEG List, Mike Reilly, Trevor Harris, Jonathon Jennings, Travis Lulay, Kevin Glenn, Zach Collaros, Brandon Bridge.
Wide Receiver Depth
The aforementioned free agent receivers of Roosevelt, Holley, Bagg, Bailey, and Jones leave a significant hole at the receiver position. Shaq Evans, Kyran Moore, and Jake Harty all offer up something unique to the position group but it wouldn’t hurt for the Roughriders to either resign their core or go out and grab a few in free agency to round out the group. Don’t expect the Riders to spend big at this group, if Mitchell Picton is far enough in his development, he may have a chance to crack the starting lineup.
Possible candidates: NCAA receivers, CFL Draft, Ryan Lankford, Weston Dressler, Chris Williams, Terrell Sinkfield, Mike Jones, Adarius Bowman.
Cameron Judge and Derrick Moncrief are great building blocks for the linebacker position, however, the loss of Sam Eguavoen hurts this group’s potential. Judge could fill that role as he showed potential with an increase of playing time. But the Riders should absolutely add an elite centrepiece to this defence.
Possible candidates: Chris Ackie, Marcus Ball, Jeff Knox Jr., Larry Dean
The aforementioned Nick Marshall helps the Roughriders immensely but they now need to find someone opposite of him. Gainey and Purifoy likely will slide in at the defensive halfback spots. Jovon Johnson is 35 years old but bringing him back may not be the worst idea if the team still feels like he has enough in the tank.
Possible candidates: Kevin Fogg, Jonathan Rose, Dominique Ellis, Ronnie Yell, Josh Johnson, Jovon Johnson, Emanuel Davis, Ciante Evans, Anthony Orange, Winston Rose, Joe Burnett.
This wasn’t talked about enough throughout the season but Josh Bartel did not have a great year. Bartel was last in the league amongst punters for average yards-per-punt (40.9). Nearly four-yards less than the next lowest. This position should be a relatively easy position to bring low-cost competition to.
Possible candidates: NCAA, NFL cut, CFL Draft, Jon Ryan?
UPDATE: Jordan Reaves and Rob Maver were kind enough to correct me on this take of Josh Bartel. Upon reflection, I did not dig deep enough into the stats surrounding this category when evaluating this position. They obviously are much more in-tune with the game than myself so I will happily take their word for it.
If you knew our scheme and how we handle our punts on specials, you’d rethink saying that…Josh put the ball exactly where coach wanted it at the distance coach wanted it 95% of the time…look at return yards off punt…that’s all @jbartel3
— Jordan Reaves (@JReaves77) February 4, 2019
The Last Word
Jones had a pretty clear philosophy of strong defence supplemented by a solid run game. With Craig Dickenson taking over, that could change, perhaps the priority shifts from resigning defensive pieces to throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Mike Reilly. Whatever direction Saskatchewan decides to go, resigning their blue-chip players should be the number one priority.
After that, I speculate they’ll sign Jeff Knox Jr., bring Adarius Bowman in as a training camp body, Jonathon Jennings and Anthony Orange.
Up next: Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Main image credit:
Embed from Getty Images