This coming Valentine’s Day, more than love will be in the air. And more than just candy hearts and chocolate will be exchanged as some new potential relationships look to take place in the Canadian Football League.
Starting at noon on February 14th, a great number of CFL free agents will be officially on the market in search of a raise and/or a new place to ply their trade. This will include several Montreal Alouettes, who as of this going viral remain unsigned. This will be the first free agency period without Jim Popp being the one to get players signing on the dotted line. Now it will be the tandem of Kavis Reed and Catherine Raiche who will be convincing CFLers to join the flock.
So far, re-signings have been few and far between. But the Alouettes have been able to convince some fan favourites to stay put. Already, players like Nik Lewis and Luc Brodeur-Jourdain have put pen to paper and will be wearing the red/blue/silver in 2017. Local talent has also signed on such as Jean-Samuel Blanc and Jesse Joseph. And while he wasn’t on the Alouettes’ list when it was first released, the team ensured that the recently acquired Darian Durant would be 100% signed, sealed and delivered before the 14th.
There’s still a fair amount of talent left for the Alouettes to consider before the free agency period kicks off. Naturally, every fan wants every single player to stay while adding parts from other teams. That’s simply impossible as each team has a salary cap that needs to be respected. Without knowing the exact amount of cap space the team has, it’s a speculation at best as to who Montreal will end up re-signing and who they won’t deem worthy of contract discussion.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at five current Alouette free agents that I feel the team would be wise to have locked up before this Tuesday at noon:
1. Alan-Michael Cash: As far as I am concerned, locking up Cash should have been done long before pursuing a Darian Durant. When you talk about the key pieces to this Noel Thorpe defense, Alan-Michael is right there with John Bowman as the leader shoring up that Montreal defensive line. Still a young man at 29, Cash has done nothing but get better overall with each passing season.
This past season, Cash racked up 25 defensive tackles, down from previous years. But his presence allowed Bowman and others to get that much-needed pressure on the opposing quarterback, often resulting in a sack. Cash is always a threat to cause a turnover at the most crucial time. Few have thrived under Thorpe’s direction like Alan-Michael has and now the rest of the league has taken notice. Cash is gonna live up to his last name in 2017 and he is going to get PAID.
The 2017 defensive line could easily one of the most feared in the league with Bowman, Cash, the recently signed Keith Shologan and this next hopeful returnee….
2. Gabriel Knapton: Few in this league are as fearsome-looking as this former Wyoming Cowboy. But beyond the heavily tattooed arms, thick beard and war paint lies a smart football mind that simply attacks on every play. With an astounding 49 defensive tackles and 9 QB sacks in 2016, Knapton more than lived up to the billing that saw him earn the Alouettes’ nomination for Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Only 27, Knapton has a ton of good football left in him and had garnered some NFL interest this off-season. Another strong year up north will only stoke those fires unless someone in the CFL can convince him to remain and become a true superstar. There’s no doubt that Alouettes Nation would be thrilled if Kavis Reed could convince this hunting enthusiast to set his crosshairs on QBs like Zach Collaros, Ricky Ray and Bo Levi Mitchell for years to come.
3. Brandon Rutley: Often considered an afterthought due to the presence of Tyrell Sutton in the backfield, Rutley has proven to be a solid dual threat for Montreal when Sutton went down to injury. While 800 all-purpose yards doesn’t exactly get people up out of their chairs, scoring touchdowns does. Brandon managed to notch 6 this past season despite the offensive woes that the Alouettes had.
A season with a proper OC will solve a lot of those woes and Alouettes head coach Jacques Chapdelaine will find a way to get the running game going much more effectively. Rutley’s speed and muscle will be a valuable asset, especially when you look at the depth chart and see names like Cam McDaniel and Martese Jackson. They are also looking to get some reps behind Sutton. But you can’t buy experience like what this former San Jose State Spartan has. However, you can sign it to a contract. I expect Kavis Reed to do exactly that.
4. Daryl Townsend The biggest Achilles’ heel for the Alouettes has been special teams play. It will also be a huge question mark this upcoming season as the team still searches for their next coach in that department. In that vein, having experienced pros will be crucial when Montreal kicks off the season. Townsend provides that along with National defensive depth.
The Windsor native has been a stalwart on special teams and has also been able to slot into the secondary. But with Marc-Olivier Brouillette occupying the middle and either Anthony Coady or Dominique Termansen ready to assume the throne should Brouillette not stick around, Townsend could be seen as expendable. I do think former ST coach and current GM Kavis Reed does see the value in a Daryl Townsend and will keep him playing in the 514.
5. Nicolas Boulay When he was drafted in the fourth round in 2013, I thought that Nicolas had the tools to be a true player in Montreal. He’s been a bonafide soldier for the Alouettes and helped further the view of Quebec-born players in the league and beyond. While not the flashiest player, his motor is incredible and he attacks each play like it’s his last.
As far as linebackers go, there is a dearth of them in this lineup already without pending free agents Winston Venable and Kyries Hebert to consider. But Boulay does have the ultimate ace in the hole; a Canadian passport. National depth and experience will keep you employed in this league and as a CFL general manager, you may as well get someone signed who reps his city and province with pride. That someone is Nicolas Boulay and while you don’t have to break the bank for him, he belongs on this team.
Honourable Mentions go out to Marc-Olivier Brouillette, Michael Klassen, Kyries Hebert and Jovon Johnson. I do think very highly of the abilities of these guys but injuries and age are huge concerns. If Kavis can get any of them under contract as well without breaking the bank, that’d be great. But certainly not at any cost.
The 2017 Montreal Alouettes are a team that is going to rely heavily on youth in many areas as they re-invent themselves once again. For the first time since 2013, quarterbacking will not be a total crapshoot. The offense looks to finally have some direction and the defense will still be this team’s core identity. But more importantly, this will be a new-look team. You only get one chance to make a first impression, thus Kavis Reed is eager to establish himself and prove to the doubters of his hire that he does belongs in the GM chair.
You simply cannot buy a Grey Cup championship. The past few winners were teams that were developed carefully and well-coached. There was a time when Montreal was one of those teams, but their eyes were taken off the prize with miscalculated personnel moves and less than inspiring PR stunts. I have to believe that such moves are finished for the time being, hopefully forever.
Depth-wise, Montreal has some nice pieces going forward that will surely get a lot of looks at training camp. The temptation to add a proven vet at a high price is there, but is what’s out there attainable at a price that doesn’t land you in hot water? Montreal is not in the salary cap hell that some scribes suggested last year, but the Alouettes did shell out a fair bit of coin to sign Darian Durant long-term. That will no doubt be a factor in who Montreal pursues next Tuesday, if anyone at all.
With any luck, the Alouettes will have a few more names signed before Tuesday to hopefully calm some of the fears that this fan base has of losing out on top homegrown talent. Or perhaps the lack of signings will instead shed more light on this team’s eventual direction and Tuesday will usher in yet another new era in Montreal football.
This coming weekend will tell the tale for all nine CFL teams, as many will make their final decisions on who they want to keep under their employ. Fans in the meantime have been eagerly playing armchair general manager, imagining certain players with their own team. So this coming Monday, we’ll do the same here on The ALSternative.
Part Two of this tale will be who could be ideal options for the Alouettes to consider in free agency. Who do YOU want to see in Alouettes colours? Hit me up on Twitter and let me know what potential name jumps out at you.
The off-season is long and painful for football fans, but events like this and the schedule release help keep everyone going strong until that ever-lasting question, “Is it June yet?” is finally answered with a resounding YES!
See you back here on Monday for some fantasy GM action!
GO ALS GO!!!