The ALSternative: An in-depth look at CFLFA 2020 for the Montreal Alouettes

Once again, I’m terribly late with this particular column. Free agency has been ongoing for two months now. We’ll just chalk this up to a pandemic-fueled delay, as I hope all of you are staying safe during these difficult times we are living in.

This was the first free agency period overseen by Danny Maciocia at the helm of the Montreal Alouettes. Not his first rodeo, as he was GM for the Edmonton Eskimos many moons ago. But the CFL landscape has changed significantly in the decade plus since he was last in a GM’s chair. And the needs of the team he inherited are far different from those years gone by.

Would Maciocia be able to maintain the dressing room that came together and shocked the CFL world by not being a complete disaster on the field that so many expected/hoped for? How would he be able to add his signature to this team and ensure that it would continue to be a success whenever it does takes the field in 2020?

Just like we did last year and in no particular order, let’s take a look at who’s staying, who’s gone and who’s now on board for the Montreal Alouettes.

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Who’s Back in the Nest

The late addition of Ciante Evans was a masterstroke by former GM Kavis Reed. Fresh off a stint in the defunct Alliance of American Football, Evans had that championship mentality after winning the Grey Cup with the Stampeders still fresh in mind. In 2019, Evans gave the Alouettes’ defense that swagger needed to establish themselves on the field. Re-upping this perennial superstar gives this unit some much-needed stability and playmaking talent.

During his introductory presser, Maciocia stressed that the defensive line would be the major area of concern when free agency got underway. By keeping names like Bo Banner, Woody Baron and Lord Hyeamang in the Alouettes fold, this team boasts talented youngsters that know this defense well and are on the cusp of breaking out. We still don’t know if John Bowman has played his last game in Montreal or not. In case he does decide to ride off into the sunset, it will be expected that one of these young men assume more of a leadership role in his wake.

These next two names are very familiar to Alouettes Nation: Both Tyrell Sutton and Philippe Gagnon have seen this team at its lowest points and are now ready to contribute to its continued success. Sutton is fresh off a Grey Cup appearance with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and having established roots in Montreal, this is a very welcome homecoming for the punishing runner. Gagnon went to Ottawa in 2019 and played as well as one could expect from a 3-15 football team. We’ll see if new OL coach Marcel Bellefeuille is able to unearth the talent that was expected from Gagnon when he was taken 2nd overall by Montreal in the 2016 CFL Draft.

Martin Bedard is one of the very few people left from the Grey Cup winning teams of 2009 & 2010. There was a thought that with the signing of Mike Benson from the Ottawa RedBlacks, perhaps the Als were loking to move on from their long-time long snapper. But the competitive fire still burns inside of Bedard and last year’s Jake Gaudaur Veteran’s Award winner is not ready to call it a career just yet.

Who’s Flown the Coop

The writing was pretty much on the wall for Antonio Pipkin as he was given his walking papers before free agency started. He’s now taken his talents to the Edmonton Eskimos in hopes of backing up Trevor Harris and re-igniting the spark he had playing football in 2018. Joining him in Alberta’s capital is Shakeir Ryan, who became expendable with the emergence of Mario Alford as Montreal’s premier kick returner.

The BC Lions have completely revamped their defensive line and one of those crown jewels will be Ryan Brown, who shone brightly when he was here in Montreal. Brown played outstanding football alongside John Bowman and Woody Baron. The hope from new Lions head coach Rick Campbell is that Brown will replicate that success with players like Micah Johnson and Chris Casher at his side.

Despite not having ex-Alouette GM Jim Popp at the helm, the Toronto Argonauts are still banking on former Alouettes players to find success in Double Blue. Having added names like Tommie Campbell and Bo Lokombo from Montreal via trade, the exodus to the 416 was underway. It continued with the additions of Fabion Foote, Chris Ackie and Paul Kozachuk to the Boatmen ranks.

In a case of the rich getting richer, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats took their Grey Cup loss energy and threw it into getting even better. They re-signed a lot of their core players and added a wealth of talent to that nucleus. Devier Posey and Patrick Levels were pivotal parts of the Alouettes’ resurgence in 2019 and now will look to continue their winning play in the Steel City. Replacing these two playmakers will not be an easy task.

Who’s New in Blue (and Red)

When free agency got underway at noon on February 12th, the Alouettes’ first addition was a familiar face in Tyquwan Glass. Last season with the Eskimos, he led the team in interceptions and was a tackling machine. He spent 2018 in Montreal and played well in his nine games here. I expect to see Glass team up with Greg Reid and make this Alouettes secondary a major threat for years to come.

On day two of free agency, Danny Mac decided to bring in some homegrown talent, signing FOUR Quebec-born players to contracts. David Menard, Junior Luke and Frédéric Chagnon are all are coming into Montreal from the BC Lions. Interestingly, all three are former members of the Universite de Montreal Carabins and coached by Maciocia during their time there. Luke and Chagnon even won a Vanier Cup championship with Maciocia in 2014 at Percival Molson Stadium, so these men will be looking to replicate that level of success on the professional level for their hometown team.

Alexandre Gagné is the other Quebecer joining the squad, but he played his university football in Sherbrooke. He will be a welcome addition on special teams, having posted 19 ST tackles for the Saskatchewan Roughriders last season. He’ll also fit right into the National linebacking corps alongside Henoc Muamba and D.J. Lalama.

These moves are naturally being given a bit of side-eye by some critics due to these players’ birth province and the Maciocia connection. But anyone who expected this team’s GM to not sign players that he was familiar with was only fooling themselves.

And of the twenty-six professional football players that Maciocia signed since February 11th, only six of them are Quebec-born. So maybe these critics ought to take a chill pill on this alleged narrative that Maciocia wants to field a “Quebecois-only” football team.

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There was also the free agent signing of Adrian Tracy, who is a physical presence on the defensive line and will look to serve a leadership role. Even if John Bowman does return in 2020, Tracy will look to lead by example with his veteran experience. Despite only playing eight games in 2019, the 31-year-old made 11 defensive tackles, three sacks and forced two fumbles while helping the Tiger-Cats get to the big dance this past November.

In the attempt to further bolster this Alouettes secondary, the Alouettes also put pen to paper with one Monshadrik “Money” Hunter and Kevin Fogg. Fogg will bring a veteran presence to this defense and Hunter has been an exciting player to watch in his short time in the league. Hunter was 3rd on the Eskimos in defensive tackles last season and secured a pair of interceptions with five knockdowns. In addition to his defensive prowess, Fogg has a knack for kick/punts returns when called upon. He’ll surely be given the chance alongside of Mario Alford to get some return work in this coming season.

While not technically a free agent move, we also have a trade that will see a pair of kickers trade colours for the 2020 season: The Alouettes sent kicker Boris Bede to the Toronto Argonauts for kicker Tyler Crapigna. This was a bit of a surprising move, as Bede has been a mainstay in La Belle Province since 2015. Crapigna was on the Alouettes’ practice roster before the Argos swooped in and signed him to their active roster.

Many were shocked that Maciocia was getting rid of who they thought was a Quebec-born player that was a star with the Universite de Laval Rouge et Or. But Bede is actually a native of France and in a more puzzling situation, is considered an American player (The designation of global player further muddies these waters but trust me, Bede is not considered a National player).

For the first time in a long time, there will be a true competition at the kicker position for the Montreal Alouettes. In addition to National kickers Crapigna and Felix Menard-Briere plus global kicker Enrique Yenny, the Alouettes also signed American punter Ryan Santoso in free agency.

Perhaps the biggest name signed by the Alouettes was for a position that I didn’t feel was a need when I last wrote on here. But when you have a young receiver that might not be able to play in 2020, the signing of one Naaman Roosevelt suddenly looks like a pretty great idea.

Roosevelt has been a steady presence for the Roughriders’ receiving corps for a number of years. Despite slowing down a bit in 2019, this sure-handed receiver still hauled in close to 1000 yards and has the potential to be a great weapon at Vernon Adams‘ disposal. The last time the Alouettes signed a Riders legend, it didn’t work out so well. But here’s hoping that Roosevelt will enjoy a resurgence in red and blue.

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This time last year, I was a big fan of the moves that were made in free agency. They ended up paying off as Montreal improved drastically despite the odds being stacked against them. These Alouettes made it to the Grey Cup playoffs and despite the early exit, a lot of doubts were silenced.

This year, the pieces are firmly in place and despite the loss of some good players, the potential is there for this team to come together again and be a force in the East. The Alouettes’ coaching staff is intact and these players have bought in. All they have to do is build upon the foundation that was laid last year. Every CFL team has made roster moves to improve and the Alouettes cannot afford a step backwards.

The big question now is whether or not we will get to see these moves in person or not. As we are currently in the throes of a global pandemic that has basically put the sporting world on a timeout, all we can do is wait and wonder if we will actually get a 2020 football season or not.

The league is currently exploring all the possibilities to salvage this season but with each day that passes, it’s looking less and less likely that a complete 18 game season will come to fruition. I certainly try to be as positive as possible when it comes to situations like this, but reality has to set in as well.

There is a LOT that has to happen for us to have our CFL football later this year. So much is beyond our control, but if we all do our part and take the precautionary measures like we have been instructed to, we just may still be able to see our favourite players take the field at some point this year.

At least I hope so.

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So now we wait for the CFL Draft on April 30th. 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. Without a CFL combine, it will be tough for prospects to sell themselves to potential teams and tough for teams to properly evaluate what is available to them.

As always, I love to see whether my thoughts are on par with what the Alouettes’ scouting staff have in mind. We’ll know the answer later this month, so stay tuned to The ALSternative to get a glimpse of the future for this football team.

Be sure to also check out the Alouettes Flightdeck podcast, as Tim Capper and myself will continue to bring you all kinds of Montreal Alouettes talk, opinions and so much more! You can find the podcast online at the link above or search for it over at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music, Stitcher and Spotify.

As always, go ahead and follow me on Twitter for all the latest news, thoughts and more. I’m glad to have finally gotten all this down on paper, so to speak. It does give me a sense of normalcy to still be able to share my thoughts with you all.

Once again, thanks for reading.

GO ALS GO!!!