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This is a joint article written by Frankie and Shane. Enjoy!
Ottawa REDBLACKS Free Agency – Day One Recap
Day one of free agency around the CFL was a hectic one as per usual, but with the REDBLACKS expected to do more than normal, it was especially exciting for football fans in Ottawa.
Kevin Brown II & Randall Evans
The REDBLACKS kicked off the day by bringing back both Kevin Brown and Randall Evans with one-year extensions. Kevin Brown has been a reliable special teams player for the REDBLACKS since joining the team in 2017 and has seen some playing time as a starter at linebacker. Randall Evans was also reliable for the REDBLACKS when called upon last season racking up 56 tackles in 17 games.
Talking to Kevin Brown II, he is excited to get started. When asked about the expectations that he has for himself heading into the 2020 season, he said “proving I can be a top linebacker in this league, getting back to winning and competing for a grey cup.” Brown II reiterated through the conversation that the goal was to compete internally and push each other and getting back to the Grey Cup.
When asked about Training Camp, he said “training camp is going to be intense and very competitive, if you look at 2018, we had a very competitive training camp”
For the second time in his career, Cleyon Laing is an Ottawa REDBLACK. Last season, Laing finished with seven sacks, only one shy of his career-high in only 15 games. It’s a three-year-contact for Laing with the monetary value unknown. When Laing was last with Ottawa, the REDBLACKS managed to win the Grey Cup before he went back to Toronto. Ottawa needed a pass rush who could consistently put pressure on the opposing quarterback, and with Laing now under control for the next three seasons, the REDBLACKS will now have one of the best interior defensive linemen on their roster for the foreseeable future.
In addition to all of this, Laing is Canadian. Having good Canadians is the key to success in the CFL, and Laing is a dynamic playmaker the REDBLACKS so desperately needed. The fact that he is Canadian makes this move even better for Marcel Desjardins. He knocked this one out of the park.
Adding Don Unamba to a linebacking core that includes Jerrod Fernandez, Avery Williams, and Kevin Brown gives Ottawa potentially one of the best linebacking units in the entire CFL. In just 12 games in Edmonton last year, Unamba recorded 43 tackles, six sacks, one interception, and forced two fumbles. Unamba is an under-rated signing for Marcel Desjardins, and after coming off of a breakout season, Unamba will be looking to repeat that success in the red and black.
What we should expect is a solid player who can play for sacks, but can also play in coverage when required. Unamba is an all-round good player who should fit right into an already good linebackers room.
Kanneh is heading back to the Nation’s Capital after spending the last three seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2017 and the Toronto Argonauts in 2018 & 2019. Kanneh, who is etched in REDBLACKS history in helping the team win its first Grey Cup in 2016 with a shoestring tackle on Andrew Buckley near the end of the 4th Quarter to bring the game to Overtime.
Over the last three seasons, Kanneh has played 31 out of the possible 54 regular-season games coming up with 112 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles. Coming off his healthiest season since leaving Ottawa, he registered 70 defensive tackles in 16 games for the Boatman has the starting short side defensive back.
Kanneh will most likely slot in has the starting boundary side defensive back at the start of training camp. In three seasons in Ottawa, he registered 12 interceptions in 43 games between 2014-2016.
Ratio breaking signings seem to be the theme of Day One of the CFL Free Agency period for General Manager Marcel Desjardin. Coombs, one of three Canadian players signed on Day One was the only offensive player signed by Desjardin.
If you saw the REDBLACKS shopping list article, you would have seen that Coombs was on that list. Coombs brings a level of versatility to an offense that was boring and predictable in 2019, with his ability to be a running back and at wide receiver.
Coombs joins an offense already loaded with Canadian playmaking talent in Receiver Brad Sinopoli and Runningback Brendan Gillanders. With John Crockett expected to be the starter, Coombs would likely see first-team reps as the field side slot receiver.
Christophe Mulumba-Tshimanga spent last season as a special teams player for the Edmonton Eskimos. In the two seasons before last, however, Mulumba-Tshimanga got some reps on the defence. In 43 career games, the 27-year-old Mulumba-Tshimanaga has amassed 53 defensive tackles, 34 special teams tackles, five sacks, and four forced fumbles. This signing probably won’t work out to be anything significant for the REDBLACKS, but at the very least, he will become a special teamer for Ottawa and help on the coverage unit. If Mulumba-Tshimanga can exceed expectations and get some reps on the defence this year, even better. This is a low-risk high-reward signing for Marcel Desjardins.
Day two will present Marcel Desjardins with some interesting questions. There is still plenty of talent available, but just how much money is left, and where should they spend it?
According to Tim Bains, Ottawa will not be looking to spend on the big-ticket items remaining in free agency. This means there will be no top-flight receiver coming to Ottawa after all. This doesn’t mean that Ottawa will not sign anyone the rest of the way, however. Keeping this in mind, here are some possible targets to fill the needs for the still vacant holes.
DeVier Posey isn’t one of the better receivers out there right now, but he certainly wouldn’t be cheap. Posey is a player that would fit in with the REDBLACKS and would give Nick Arbuckle some help. The question with him becomes his price tag. Ottawa would have to get the perfect deal in order to sign Posey, but the positives far outweigh the negatives with this player.
There are other, cheaper options out there, but Posey can produce at a high level without the premium price tag associated with Naaman Roosevelt or Derrell Walker. Last year, Posey caught 50 passes for 780 yards and three touchdowns, doing so in only 12 games.
Dominique Rhymes was the only receiver on the REDBLACKS to hit 1,000 yards last year and has yet to be signed by anyone. Rhymes is a solid back-up plan that would come on the cheaper side of things. If Rhymes is back in Ottawa, it would likely be a depth receiver who can make the occasional play. If this is the case, that means that Ottawa likely thinks that DeVonte Dedmon can become more than just a return man and establish himself as the deep threat receiver that the REDBLACKS didn’t have last year.
Behar saw limited snaps with the REDBLACKS last year, but having depth at the Canadian receiver is never a bad thing. Behar caught only 16 passes for 169 yards last year but showed promise for stretches. At only 25 years of age, Behar’s best football is still ahead of him. Putting more weapons around Behar, including a quarterback who can accurately throw the ball could see him have a breakout season and finally reach his potential. It’s unfair to judge him too harshly on last season, after all, the receiver can only catch a ball that is close to him.
This one is a long shot, but Derek Dennis is one of the best offensive linemen in the CFL. He has yet to be signed, and undoubtedly has a premium price tag, but that will have to drop for any team to bite. With the minimum salary going up, and the cap only going up to $50,000, teams have less money to spend on players. If the asking price doesn’t come down, Dennis could be left out in the cold looking for a deal in the XFL. If his asking price becomes reasonable and the REDBLACKS have the money to make something happen, I would encourage Marcel Desjardins to do it.
Day two could make or break the REDBLACKS season. With a good foundation already built, the opportunity to return to the success had before the terrible season last year. Adding to the offence should be the number one priority of Marcel Dejardins, but that was the expectation going into day one. More is to come, and it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. Make sure to follow @frankievideo and @shane_ryan97 on Twitter for all your Redblacks Free Agency News!