Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Morning 'Rider Blogging - Free Agent Options

With the hiring of Brendan Taman as general manager, the 'Riders now need to turn their attention to keeping up the steady stream of incoming player talent that's served the team so well under the previous two GMs. For the most part, that talent will figure to come through the draft or through new imports of talent from the U.S. - but with the CFL's free agent list having been released recently, let's follow up on my previous post on the 'Riders' free agents with a look at a few players who might be worth picking up from other CFL teams.

I'll note that the usual problem with acquiring free-agent talent in other sports leagues is only amplified by the CFL's restrictive salary cap. It takes a certain amount of presumptuousness for any team to figure it can more accurately value a player for a particular role than the team which actually employed him the previous season. And any time teams get into a bidding war for a player, it's only the one with the most optimistic view of the player which will win out - making it very likely that high-profile free-agent signings will prove to be a lousy value.

With that in mind, the list below isn't intended to reflect the best talent available on the free-agent market. Obviously if the 'Riders got to pick whoever they wanted off the list at a fixed salary, the likes of Ricky Foley or Kerry Watkins would rank well above most of the players below - but operating on the assumption that it'll cost a mint to try to lure them off their current teams, the 'Riders are best off looking elsewhere. And some others who may be great values on the right team might be less so if Saskatchewan already has lots of talent at their positions - e.g. any team in need of non-import talent at receiver would want to take a look at the Als' Eric Deslauriers, but in Saskatchewan he'd struggle to get into the mix with the likes of Fantuz, Bagg, Getzlaf, Nicolson and McKoy ahead of him on the depth chart.

So my focus is on players who seem to have a reasonable chance to play above their perceived current value for the 'Riders - meaning players who are blocked or underused, or who may be available cheaply based on their falling out of favour with their current team.

1. Jermaine McElveen - DE/DT (Montreal)

McElveen may be the ideal case study in a player who can be a high-value free-agent signing. He has all the athleticism one could ask for in a defensive lineman and has seemingly played well when given the opportunity, but he's trapped behind two All-Star defensive ends in Montreal. So an offer of a standard starter's job and salary might well be enough to win him over to the Green and White - and could make McElveen the most important pickup of the offseason for a team which is looking at major losses at the position.

2. Charleston Hughes - DE/LB (Calgary)

After spending much of 2009 in the Philadelphia Eagles' camp, Hughes returned to the Stamps and was effective after returning. There's every reason to think Calgary will want him back, but Hughes is apparently looking south again for now, meaning that he figures to hit free agency in February. And if he's going to end up back in the CFL, he may be interested in taking over the spotlight that helped John Chick earn his NFL contract rather than going back to a team which has plenty of other defensive line talent around him.

3. Reggie McNeal - WR/QB (Toronto)

McNeal bounced from one role to another throughout his Argo career - at first resisting requests to play receiver due to his preference to play quarterback, then losing that job as well when dominant performances which made him the Argos' top receiving threat for a couple of games at a time were followed by drop-filled debacles. It's doubtful that McNeal would want to return to Toronto or go through another roller-coaster experience, so if he wants to give the CFL another try, he's probably best off looking for a job as a #4 or 5 receiver who can make use of his athleticism on long strikes downfield and trick plays without being counted on as a primary possession receiver. Needless to say, the 'Riders would make for a perfect fit - and McNeal's upside as an emergency (or more?) quarterback would be an added bonus.

4. Jonathan Brown - DE (Toronto)

At 34 years old, Brown certainly isn't a long-term solution on the defensive line - which is exactly why the rebuilding Argos might not want to keep him around. But for the 'Riders, he could be a useful stopgap for a year or two if the prime-age options don't pan out and Saskatchewan's youngsters aren't yet ready.

5. James Johnson - CB (Winnipeg)

I still find it surprising that Johnson hasn't been given another shot at a starting cornerback job since he was benched by the 'Riders in 2008. Granted, he gave up a couple of brutal touchdown receptions - but before that, he'd played as well at the corner for half a season as anybody I can remember seeing in green and white. But even if he's never going to play corner again, there may be another way to make use of Johnson's skill set defensively: if teams don't want to count on him alone in space, then why not make use of his athleticism and ball-hawking skills as a safety while making sure there's more coverage around in case of a breakdown?

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