The ALSternative: 2020 CFL Free Agency

It’s that time of year, football fans; CFL Free Agency is upon us!

For the many football fans who like to play armchair GM, this is their Christmas Eve. They’ve made their lists and checked them twice. But instead of worrying about who’s naughty or nice, they’ve decided who they want their CFL team to pursue once the league officially opens for business tomorrow at noon Eastern time.

For other fans, it’s a bittersweet time as they learn that the player(s) that they’ve been cheering for (and possibly even bought the jersey of) will no longer be a part of their squad. Even worse, that player will be possibly playing for a rival team! Oh sure, they’ll wish them well and say, “Once a <insert team name here>, Always a <insert team name here>“. But deep down, you know there will be disappointment. That’s the nature of this business.

And don’t kid yourself, this IS a business. All nine CFL teams are in the business of building a winning team and the players are in the business of getting the best possible payday for themselves and their families. It’s rare to find that special player who spends his entire career with one team. Especially in the CFL, where churn happens yearly and the guy you were mercilessly booing the year before is now wearing your team’s colours.

Gotta love this time of year, warts and all.

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The Montreal Alouettes go into this free agency period with a new decision-maker at the helm. Barely a month into his new gig as Alouettes general manager, Danny Maciocia has no choice but to dive in feet first. He’s been down this road before, as he served as the GM for the Edmonton Eskimos from 2007-2010. So as such, this isn’t his first rodeo but the landscape has changed considerably since he last had to get professional football players to sign on the dotted line.

At his introductory presser, he stated that he felt that the Alouettes were “already behind the eight-ball” when it came to free agency and being able to identify what pieces this team needs. But Maciocia has since made moves that will surely put the minds of Alouettes fans at ease.

Even if he wasn’t a free agent until next season, Vernon Adams Jr. needed to be shown that his hard work and success matters here. So Maciocia signed the team’s MOP to a two year extension, keeping Vernon in the 514 until 2022. And every great QB needs his favourite target, so superstar receiver Eugene Lewis was also extended for another year. These were just two examples of Danny Maciocia working to keep the nucleus of this young successful team together.

Of course, that meant some tough salary cap decisions had to made as well. Names like Tommie Campbell, Antonio Pipkin and Devier Posey had to be let go from the roster as they had some roster bonuses due. That’s the unfortunate part of this business; the previous regime signed these guys to deals and the new regime (that had no ties to these players) saw fit to walk away from those deals.

There’s a lot of this happening league-wide and come noon tomorrow, lots more will take place. As they say, get your popcorn ready.

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Just like last year, we’re going to take a look at each player position here at The ALSternative and determine which who the Alouettes have signed so far, who they should look to retain and who they should be focusing their sights on for this season.

As always, these potential thoughts are by no means a guarantee and are purely speculative at best. The minute I hit Send and this goes column viral, the football landscape could change and completely throw these thoughts out the window.

But that’s part of the fun of this experiment; Without further ado, let’s see what we can come up with for the 2020 Montreal Alouettes!

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Offensive Line

Who the Alouettes have so far: Tony Washington, Kristian Matte, Tyler Johnstone, Trey Rutherford, Sean Jamieson, Landon Rice, Zach Wilkinson

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Not Applicable

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: Derek Dennis, Travis Bond

Thoughts: The O-Line has improved by leaps and bounds compared to years previous. A major factor has been the calming presence of Alouette great Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, who took his retirement in 2019 and joined the coaching staff. This unit has gelled and did a great job in protecting the quarterback last season. A good number of these hogs were signed before free agency was to get underway, but I’d say they are one solid piece away from being a true force. Adding a beast like Dennis or Bond would make a huge difference for this young, hungry offensive line.

Receiver

Who the Alouettes have so far: Eugene Lewis, Quan Bray, Jake Wieneke, B.J Cunningham, Malcolm Carter, Felix Faubert-Lussier, Chris Osei-Kusi, Kaion Julien-Grant

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Not Applicable

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: Not Applicable

Thoughts: There was a time when people doubted the receiving corps of this team. But last season saw the emergence of youngsters like Bray and Wieneke along with the leadership of Lewis. Cunningham was also on pace to do great things until an injury cut his season short. With these stars in place and some extremely talented National receivers looking to ascend to the next level, I can’t see Danny Maciocia reaching too far to add another pass-catcher to this roster.

Quarterback

Who the Alouettes have so far: Vernon Adams Jr., Matthew Shiltz, Hugo Richard.

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Not applicable

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: Not applicable

Thoughts: This is Vernon Adams’ team. Full stop. Last season proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the days of the Alouettes’ quarterback carousel are over. Adams has proven to be a bonafide winner and a leader for this football team. Shiltz has looked solid in his limited action and remains the best backup option for Montreal. Richard has played special teams in his rookie year and taken reps at safety, so he’ll likely serve as emergency QB if Adams or Shiltz were unable to go. With the new CBA stating that there will only be two quarterback positions available on game day, pursuing another QB at this venture feels pointless.

Running Back

Who the Alouettes have so far: James Wilder Jr., Shaquille Murray-Lawrence, Jeshrun Antwi, Spencer Moore

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Jeremiah Johnson

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: C.J. Gable

Thoughts: Last year, the running back position was never in doubt here, as second year sensation William Stanback became a household name with his punishing running style and blistering speed. He was able to turn in a 1000+ yard rushing season with 5 touchdowns. Stanback parlayed that success into an NFL contract with the Las Vegas Raiders, leaving a major hole in Montreal’s backfield.

Maciocia signed free agent James Wilder to help fill that void and has some young National talent that can run with the rock. But either re-signing Johnson (who himself had a resurgence here in the 514) or adding the speedy Gable to the roster would truly make Montreal’s ground game a major threat.

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Defensive Line

Who the Alouettes have so far: John Bowman, Jean-Samuel Blanc, Antonio Simmons, Nate Anderson, Michael Sanelli

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Gabriel Knapton, Woody Baron, Ryan Brown, Fabian Foote, Bo Banner

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: Dylan Wynn, Drake Nevis, Connor McGough, Chris Casher

Thoughts: When he was hired as Alouettes general manager, Danny Maciocia immediately identified the D-Line as the area that he would be focusing on when free agency hits. And with good reason, as the Alouettes are in a bit of flux when it comes to this position. With John Bowman’s career closer to the end than the beginning, the time for new blood has come.

Simmons, Sanelli and Anderson are young, powerful and will dominate in time. But a strong veteran on this line to go with Bowman is sorely needed. Wynn and Nevis can bring that, both having played in last year’s Grey Cup game. McGough could use a change of scenery and Casher will be a CFL starter for years to come.

Linebacker

Who the Alouettes have so far: Henoc Muamba, D.J. Lalama, Jean-Gabriel Poulin, Tevin Floyd, Jason Hall

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Chris Ackie, Paul Kozachuk

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: Larry Dean, Marcus Ball, Ian Wild, Justin Herdman-Reed

Thoughts: It simply doesn’t get better at this position than Muamba. He has become the leader of this Alouettes defense, bar none. He also has some talented Nationals joining him in Lalama and Poulin. Floyd and Hall also showed some flashes of brilliance in their limited time in the lineup and will get their chance to shine. But the Alouettes can always use some depth and any of these free agent playmakers listed would look great flanking Muamba in the middle.

Secondary

Who the Alouettes have so far: Greg Reid, Taylor Loffler, Najee Murray, Dominique Termansen, Ty Cranston, Jarnor Jones, Ryan Carter

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Ciante Evans, Patrick Levels

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: Don Unamba, Arjen Colquhoun

Thoughts: 2019 saw Greg Reid emerge as a star in this league, locking it down with the now-departed Tommie Campbell. The Alouettes added Loffler in free agency last February and he made an immediate impact at free safety. Had he not torn his ACL versus Calgary, Taylor likely would have added yet another All-Star nod to his resume. Evans and Levels were merciless every time they took to the field and re-upping one or both these guys would be a major coup for Maciocia. Failing that, adding former Alouette Unamba or the always powerful National star Colquhoun would provide some serious firepower to this secondary.

Special Teams

Who the Alouettes have so far: Boris Bede, Enrique Yenny, Felix Menard-Briere, Mario Alford, Mike Benson

Who the Alouettes should try to keep: Not Applicable

Who the Alouettes should try to acquire: Not Applicable

Thoughts: Last season saw Montreal finally find their kick returner as Alford came out of nowhere and posted some incredible numbers, including returning both kickoffs and punts for touchdowns! Extending this exciting player was a strong move ahead of the free agency period starting. Once again, we will see a kicking competition in training camp as Boris Bede will once again have to prove himself despite his strong production in 2019. The signing of free agent Benson indicates that Montreal is likely looking to move on from Martin Bedard, who has occupied the long snapper position since 2009.

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Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll take a detailed look at what the Alouettes end up doing when free agency is in full force. Be sure to return here to The ALSternative as we evaluate the moves made by this team and see how it all shapes up in preparation for the 2020 CFL campaign.

With this new regime in place, absolutely nothing is guaranteed. But that’s part of the fun of it all, right? Free agency promises to be quite the thrill ride, regardless of the CFL team you support.

Don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter to get up-to-date reactions on all of the Alouettes’ free agency moves as they happen. Feel free to tweet me on who YOU’D like to see wearing Alouettes blue and red. And if you’re one of those armchair GMs with a big ol’ wish list for the Alouettes, may the odds be ever in your favour.

Off-season? What off-season, amirite? As always, thanks for reading.

GO ALS GO!!!