I’m a bit late with this particular column. But better late than never, right?
The dust has pretty well settled when it comes to free agency in the Canadian Football League. It was a wild time that saw a LOT of movement among all nine teams, all with the goal of getting better.
The Montreal Alouettes, fresh off another season of unmet expectations, were eager to get the party started at noon on February 12th. The goal was to add some fresh faces to the lineup while retaining those players who proved that they wanted to still be a part of this new-look organization.
Last year’s free agency moves were solid but bore little fruit. Mostly because two of Montreal’s prime acquisitions (Chris Williams and Jamaal Westerman) were sent to Hamilton Tiger-Cats as part of the Johnny Manziel trade. In fact, the only free agent added last year that is still with the team is Tommie Campbell. He turned in a solid performance and helped made the Als’ secondary at least look respectable by season’s end.
Did Alouettes’ general manager Kavis Reed fare better with this year’s crop of free agents? We won’t know until camp gets underway in late May, but plenty of moves were made when the league opened for business. Let’s take a look at who’s staying, who’s gone and who’s now on board.
Who’s Back in the Nest
For me, the biggest name to return to the Alouettes is B.J. Cunningham. With all respect to sure-fire Hall of Famers John Bowman and Luc Brodeur-Jourdoin, this team needed to keep this young star shining. Since arriving in Montreal, B.J. has turned in solid performances year in and year out despite the quarterback clown car that this team has put out on the field.
Only recently are people starting to notice this talented receiver and many thought that he would test the waters to possibly suit up for another team. But Montreal has become home for B.J. and I see him joining the same ranks that guys like S.J. Green and Jamel Richardson did for the Alouettes back in the day.
The returns of Bowman and LBJ weren’t exactly foregone conclusions. Yes, this is the only team these guys have played for and now will likely retire from. But both are not young men anymore. They are back because while that competitive fire still burns inside, both must feel a sense of responsibility to prepare the next generation of great Alouette players at their respective positions.
There is also the matter of leaving a team better than when you found it. I’m sure both John and Luc want to ensure this team is at least in capable hands before they both ride off into the sunset.
Also returning to the Alouettes are Stephen Adekolu, Jermaine Robinson, T.J. Graham and Gabriel Knapton. A solid player both on and off the field, Adekolu is in the prime of his career and this National receiver will make his presence felt when camp gets underway. Robinson was a mid-season addition last year and became a strong contributor to the secondary, making opposing quarterbacks think twice. This young veteran will also help push the talented youngsters like Greg Reid, Dondre Wright and Lekan Idowu to be better players.
Graham got limited playing time last season and didn’t quite live up to expectations when his number was called as a receiver. But there’s no denying his blistering speed and I do believe that he will be THE premier kick returner for the Alouettes in 2019. Knapton was traded to BC last off-season and the Lions couldn’t find use for him, so he was let go. Montreal wisely added him back to the lineup and Gabe proved that sometimes you CAN go home again. This beast of a man is now where he belongs and will once again help bookend this Alouettes defensive line.
Who’s Flown the Coop
The most notable departures for the Alouettes this off-season (besides You-Know-Who) would be Nicolas Boulay and Philippe Gagnon. Both have decided to take their talents down Highway 417 to join the Ottawa RedBlacks. Boulay was a terrific special teams player that was never given many opportunities to get on the defensive side of the field.
Gagnon was bitten by the injury bug often and never developed into the type of lineman that Montreal expected him to be with the second overall draft pick in 2016. Both he and Boulay will find some familiar faces, as several former Alouettes have made their way to Ottawa to keep their careers going.
After a couple of seasons in Montreal, D.J. Lalama is going back home with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Manitoba native contributed on special teams when healthy but couldn’t stay in the lineup consistently for Montreal.
Who’s New in Blue (and Red)
So who’s decided to join this supposed dumpster fire of a football team, probably only because they are paid tons of cash to do so? (insert eyeroll emoji here)
When free agency got underway at noon on February 12th, the Alouettes’ first addition was Christophe Normand. The former Laval Rouge et Or fullback has been a great special teams contributor in Edmonton, as well as helping to protect the QB while making plays downfield. Both he and Spencer Moore will look to bring a new dimension to the fullback position in the 514.
The next big name added will be a great relief to an offensive line that has been in dire need of help. Recent Grey Cup champion Spencer Wilson is now a member of this Alouettes team and his versatility will be greatly appreciated. Wilson played all five positions on the line last season for the Stampeders and excelled when his number was called. Along with LBJ, Spencer will be expected to help mentor the young O-Linemen and rebuild a porous line back to prominence.
The Alouettes weren’t done adding former Stampeders to their lineup. Also joining the Birds of Prey from Calgary is Patrick Levels. This young disruptive force brings a lot of defensive firepower to Montreal. He’s gotten a taste of Grey Cup championship life and he’ll be looking to replicate that while beefing up Montreal’s now dangerous secondary.
Now dangerous? Who else is joining this part of the field for the Alouettes, you say? How about a National ballhawk who’s been a three-time CFL All-Star in his first THREE seasons?? That’s right, while many of us were sleeping that first night of free agency, Kavis Reed went and added Taylor Loffler to the Alouettes’ lineup.
A true Canadian stud since coming into the CFL, Loffler has been living rent-free in the heads of opposing CFL quarterbacks. He brings 185 defensive tackles, 8 knockdowns, 7 fumble recoveries, one quarterback sack and EIGHT interceptions with him from his time in Winnipeg. The thought of Loffler and Henoc Muamba both playing for the Alouettes should be enough to get you fans salivating.
But the Alouettes weren’t done adding talent on the defensive side of the ball. I stated in my free agency preview that Montreal would be wise to add a playmaker on defense like Bo Lokombo. Well I guess someone on staff still reads my writings because that’s exactly what they did.
A savvy National veteran whose been with a number of NFL teams, Lokombo will be a force to be reckoned with. Still young at 26, Bo will come in and make life miserable for anyone on the offensive side of the ball. With 71 defensive tackles and 4 QB sacks for the BC Lions last year, it’s very safe to say that Bo Knows Defense.
“Well, all this defense is good. But this team still needs a playmaker on offense.” — You, probably.
Well, if having Eugene Lewis, Ernest Jackson and B.J. Cunningham in the lineup isn’t exciting enough, how about a former Grey Cup MVP responsible for the longest play in Grey Cup history?
Yup, THAT Devier Posey is now a member of the Montreal Alouettes!
Coming back to Canada after a stint in the NFL, Posey joined the BC Lions in 2018 and posted some respectable numbers out on the Left Coast. But the Alouettes are looking at what the former Buckeye did in his time wearing Double Blue and are hoping that whomever the Alouettes’ starting QB will be will be able to make that same kind of magic happen with Devier.
Another BC Lion will join Montreal as Jeremiah Johnson will come in and give Montreal’s rookie running backs some competition. Johnson will be leaned on to help further develop both William Stanback and Ryder Stone into full-time players for Montreal’s backfield. At 31, most running backs start to decline. But Johnson has been able to stay healthy for most of his career and will be a good insurance policy for the Alouettes’ running game.
Rounding out the offensive free agents is former Laval Rouge et Or star Felix Faubert-Lussier. A winner of three Vanier Cups in Laval, Felix joins a strong young contingent of National receivers such as Adekolu, Malcolm Carter, Richmond Nketiah and Alex Morrison. The former Tiger-Cat will be expected to compete right away as well as play on special teams.
There is a lot to like with these moves. Say what you will about a team that was only able to notch 5 wins last season (two of those essentially in garbage time against unmotivated opponents), but Montreal is certainly doing all it can to erase the last few years of mediocrity.
They’ve identified the key elements of who they feel will be positive leaders in the locker room and kept them on board, as well as adding players who are proven winners. While the coaching staff as it sits is still a major question mark for me, there’s no denying the talent on this roster and its potential to do great things on the field.
On paper, this is a formidable squad and given the current state of the CFL’s Eastern division, anything is certainly possible. No one expects the Alouettes to be a threat and quite frankly, maybe that will work best for this team in 2019. Let everyone assume that you will be trash and then prove them wrong.
For Kavis Reed and company, that is the best case scenario as the Alouettes go into this 2019 football season. There’s a lot of potential change happening behind the scenes with ownership and the expectations for this current administration are going to be sky-high. I’d almost go so far as to say that it’s pretty much playoffs or bust for this staff.
Hopefully both the CFL and CFLPA will ratify a new collective bargaining agreement in plenty of time so that we can see all these free agent moves in person. I know I am looking forward to seeing these new names wearing the Alouettes’ new uniforms.
So now we wait for the CFL Draft on May 2nd. We’ll be back on The ALSternative to preview the draft as well as evaluate who the Montreal Alouettes do select to join their ranks. Winter is finally over and before you know it, football will be back in our lives full-time.
I, for one, cannot wait. Thanks for reading.