An ALSternative look at 2018 CFL Free Agency, Part Two

In Part One, we looked at the Montreal Alouettes free agents that we felt had to be signed before the CFL free agency period kicks off this February 13th at noon. In case you missed it, click here.

Axl Rose once coined the phrase, “Nothing lasts forever and we both know hearts can change”. That certainly applies to anyone that a Canadian Football League team decides to add to their roster. You go out of your way to land that prized free agent or make a deal to land the object of your affection via trade.

Then you have a grand ceremony where you invite the press and hold up that new player’s jersey with their name and number on it. Smiles all around! You hear the same rehearsed lines from them over and over like:

“I’m here to help this team win the Grey Cup.”

“This city has the best fans in the league.”

“I can’t wait for training camp to get started.”

When it all comes together, there’s no better feeling. But what happens when things go south and that prized acquisition of yours ends up feeling more like the cheap toy found in a box of lousy cereal? The toy broke after a couple of days and you’re still stuck with a lot of cereal to eat.

Every team goes through that feeling and in 2017, the Montreal Alouettes were certainly no exception. General manager Kavis Reed was promoted from his post as special teams coach to revamp the Alouettes and return them back to their winning ways. In his first off-season, he made a lot of moves that set tongues wagging.

He also tested the patience of this fan base, who saw a lot of their favourite players leave the nest, often finding success elsewhere. The most cynical of people would suggest that thanks to Reed letting a number of former Alouettes end up in Toronto, he did actually help to build a Grey Cup-winning team in 2017. Pity that it was the Argos and not the Alouettes.

With a year under his belt at the GM chair and with a whole new coaching staff to contend with, Reed was effectively given a Mulligan on last season. He was given a chance to bring in his people, now it has to work. That will include players as well as it was abundantly clear that Reed wanted to make this Alouettes team HIS and his alone rather than coast by with the players that Jim Popp had cultivated and nurtured during his 20+ years in Montreal.

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Before we look at who the Alouettes should consider signing when free agency kicks off Tuesday at noon, let’s have a look at who’s been brought in so far and who’s been let go since the 2017 season ended:

What a difference a year makes. This time last year, the CFL world had been flipped on its ear when the Saskatchewan Roughriders traded their long-time quarterback Darian Durant to the Alouettes for a couple of draft picks. Riders head coach/GM Chris Jones had a vision for his football team and Durant would not be a part of it.

Alouettes fans were excited yet cautious as Durant’s record on the field spoke for itself but he was injury-prone and at times didn’t play like the Grey Cup champion he was just 4 years sooner. Kavis was willing to gamble on Doubles redeeming himself in the 514 and signed him to a very lucrative contract.

Durant’s first official game as an Alouette was against those same Riders in Montreal and with a thrilling 17-16 win, Durant celebrated wildly as though he slayed the biggest dragon. He wouldn’t come out and say it, but Darian clearly took Chris Jones’ decision to let him go as a challenge and wanted to show Jones up for the whole world to see.

After the Alouettes’ first seven games, Durant was 3-4 as a starter and had flashes of brilliance along with some humbling moments. But then the offensive output of Durant took a major hit with a 38-6 pummeling in Toronto. Doubles was simply unable to recover as the Alouettes proceeded to lose ELEVEN straight games to end the 2017 campaign.

Durant was due a major bonus this past January. With his unwillingness to negotiate his contract to a more reasonable salary, the Alouettes decided that the Darian Durant experiment wasn’t worth pursuing any further and released the 35-year-old pivot. The search for the next great Alouettes quarterback to replace Anthony Calvillo is back on in Montreal. Again.

When he was signed with the Alouettes as a free agent in 2015, many people were excited that Samuel Giguere would finally be playing for his home team. After stints in the NFL and a serviceable career in Hamilton, a lot of people expected Giguere to become a focal point in the offense and be that National threat that the Alouettes needed at the receiver position.

His first two seasons in Montreal were average at best, what with the offense looking like a nightmare. But 2017 was supposed to be the year that Giguere was finally going to break out and be the star that the Alouettes organization always made him out to be. After all, Giguere was in all of the team’s marketing efforts and had always been called upon to be the face of the team in Quebec, despite him never looking entirely comfortable in that role.

Sam missed the first six games to start the season due to injury and when he returned, he was just like the Alouettes of 2017; a complete disaster. With only 11 catches for 107 yards and one singular receiving touchdown, Giguere had lost what little mojo he had when it came to the art of catching a football. When you paired Sam’s inability to properly catch a football with Darian Durant’s inability to properly throw a football, it’s painfully easy to see why this Alouettes team looked so pathetic last season.

The Alouettes quietly released Giguere this past December, not mentioning it to anyone in the media until well after the fact. My guess is that the team was reluctant to incite any anger from the team’s francophone base as a result of them “giving up” on a Quebec-born player. But in all reality, this fanbase was just as frustrated with Giguere and his poor play. Being a National player, I am certain a team in need of a veteran will add him to their roster as training camp approaches.

The other notable release by the Alouettes was of second year stud Jonathon Mincy, who quickly made a name for himself as a bright spot in Montreal’s young secondary. His release was for a much nobler purpose though, as the NFL came calling and this still-young international player will now try to secure himself a roster spot with the NFL’s Chicago Bears. As a pending free agent, Mincy would have likely been one of Montreal’s top priorities to re-sign. Instead, he will head south and now Montreal needs to explore their options in filling that sizable hole in the roster.

Several others were given their walking papers, but other than Keith Shologan and Tyree Hollins, these were mostly practice roster players and many will likely be invited back to camp as spring time rolls around.

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Now who did the Alouettes add to their roster, besides the pending free agents that were re-signed? Again, a lot of minor moves with players that the vast majority of CFL fans wouldn’t know. But one particular signing was made and it’s a former NFL quarterback with a name of some notoriety. No, it’s not Johnny Manziel.

Last season, towards the end of training camp, former NFL quarterback Josh Freeman was invited to work out for the coaching staff. He attended the pre-season game in Montreal and it was thought that he would somehow become a member of the Alouettes at that point.

But in a weird twist, Freeman was never added to the Alouettes’ neg list. The Ottawa RedBlacks decided to do just that, taking advantage of the inexperience of Kavis Reed as general manager and effectively halting any possible contract progress between Freeman and the Als. Remarkably, when it comes to missteps from this organization in 2017, I don’t think this would even crack the top 10.

But as time passed, Freeman was dropped from the RedBlacks’ neg list and once again the Alouettes decided to pursue this potential partnership. And on January 13th, the Alouettes officially added the former NFL quarterback to their roster. The Alouettes haven’t come out and declared Freeman as the starting quarterback; he will have to compete with the likes of Matthew Shiltz and Antonio Pipkin, among others.

Much like the hiring of Mike Sherman as head coach, there is concern as Freeman has also never been a part of the Canadian game. But perhaps these two are just what the Alouettes need to rinse the bad taste of 2017 out of their mouthes. Freeman is not being brought in as the saviour of this franchise like other QBs have been in the past; this is a no pressure environment for him. When the time comes, we will see as training camp goes just how badly Josh wants this opportunity.

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All right, we now know who’s here and who’s not for the Alouettes. Now comes the fun part; trying to crawl inside the minds of Kavis Reed and this coaching staff to see what potential free agents would be an asset for Montreal in 2018.

As in previous years, please note that these choices are pure speculation on my part and it’s with the understanding that somehow these players could be signed without the Alouettes going over the salary cap:

1- Ted Laurent, DL: When I look at what the Alouettes want to do in making this defensive line a lot more National-friendly, this move seems like a no-brainer. Along with fellow Nationals Jesse Joseph, Jabar Westerman and Fabian Foote, Laurent would be an absolute force on the inside. Despite only playing 2/3rds of the 2017 season, Laurent still made his presence felt for the Tiger-Cats with 13 defensive tackles and 4 QB sacks.

Oh, and did I mention that he is a Montreal native that is French-speaking? This young veteran would be perfect to help develop the younger players listed and solidify this potentially explosive side of the ball.

2- Travis Bond, OL: This current Winnipeg Blue Bomber is a beast of a man at 6’6 and over 350 pounds. Still young at 27, he does bring years of experience along with him. Bond played primarily as guard for the Bombers, appearing in 28 games over a two-year span.

If he can move to tackle and help book-end this Alouettes O-Line along with Jovan Olafioye, I don’t expect whomever is at QB for the Alouettes to be sacked too often.

3- Nic Demski, REC: For whatever reason, Montreal just can’t seem to develop National talent at the receiver position. I fully expect that to change with Jason Tucker as the new receivers coach as well as young hopefuls like George Johnson and Malcolm Carter being given the chance to shine.

Until then, Demski would be a major upgrade from the now-departed Sam Giguere. He was a bit lost in the shuffle last season with the Roughriders and a change of scenery will likely do Demski some good. Many are already expecting this Winnipeg native to go home and sign with the Blue Bombers. But the Alouettes would be wise to get this young receiver inked and play in the East instead.

4- Adam Konar, LB: Remember yesterday when I said that the Alouettes were not looking great at linebacker, even with Kyries Hebert? If somehow Kavis Reed could convince this young Vancouverite to come east, that would be a major coup.

Despite only playing twelve games for the Edmonton Eskimos in 2017, Konar came off the bench and managed an impressive 59 defensive tackles and was able to secure a pair of INTs. The Alouettes need to get younger and at a mere 24 years of age, there’s a metric ton of good football still to be played by Konar.

5- Roy Finch, RB: You know that Tyrell Sutton is the starting tailback for this Alouettes team. But his punishing style of play does tend to get him sidelined and as it stands right now, the next running back up would be 36-year-old Stefan Logan. After that, the largely untested Amir Carlisle would be next on the Montreal depth chart.

With the Als trading away Brandon Rutley, there is still the need for a capable running back in Montreal. Finch has incredible speed and if the O-Line is able to create the holes for him, he would be able to rack up some serious yardage. Finch has had some NFL workouts, but nothing has come of it yet. The chance to complement the bruising Sutton with the CFL’s Most Outstanding Special Teams Player would be a great dynamic for Montreal’s run game.

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We are now just hours away from the official start of CFL Free Agency. Be sure to tune into CFL.ca starting at high noon to get the latest updates on all the moves being made.

As each free agency move is made, I’ll be sure to inform you who Kavis Reed decides to add to the 2018 roster of the Alouettes. You can follow me on Twitter for the latest on who joins (or leaves) the Alouettes after Tuesday’s opening bell.

One thing is for certain, this Montreal Alouettes team has to be creative and think outside the box when it comes to making roster moves. It’s time to freshen things up at Percival Molson Stadium and it will take a lot more than private tailgates and all-you-can-eat food sections to keep fans’ interest.

This city is looking for a winner. It won’t be found on the ice, that much has been made clear. If there’s a positive to a 3-15 football team, it’s that there is a lot of room for improvement.

Let’s see what is going to be done to make some football news here in Montreal. Just one question, is it noon yet?

GO ALS GO!!!

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