The CFL’s 2016 free agency period is just about two weeks old. LOTS of moves have been made so far and every team is hoping that the moves they made will be the secret formula to winning the 104th Grey Cup.
Change is inevitable and with a league this small, it’s within the realm of possibility that the guy you were mercilessly booing the year previous is now a member of YOUR favourite team! And by that same token, a long-time hero of yours is possibly donning new colours and now going to be collecting a paycheque in another city. This is why I often say that you have to cheer for the name on the front of the jersey and not necessarily the name on the back.
That being said, the Montreal Alouettes were not immune to the trials and tribulations of free agency. This team gained a few, lost a few and to the relief of Alouettes Nation, managed to retain the services of some beloved players. Let’s take a look at how the Alouettes have fared so far in free agency for 2016.
As predicted, long-time fan favourite Josh Bourke decided to chase the money and has left the nest. When this National tackle takes the field in 2016, it will be as a member of the Toronto Argonauts. It’s always tough to see one of your players sign with a division rival and Toronto has never shied away from adding former Alouettes to their lineup. Names such as Etienne Boulay, Shea Emry and Brandon Whitaker immediately spring to mind.
Bourke will now be responsible for helping keep pass rushers away from Argos QB Ricky Ray, as well as helping usher in a new era of Argos football as the team plays its first season at BMO Field. Josh will also be a little closer to home, as the Windsor native will now play full-time in his home province for the first time in his pro career.
It’s a shame that Bourke couldn’t finish his career with the Alouettes, but this opens up an opportunity for one of the other Canadian lineman to step in. Last year’s first round draft pick Jacob Ruby will be given every opportunity to make Bourke’s spot on the O-Line his own. Jake Piotrowski also re-upped with Montreal and will compete as well for a full-time gig. There’s no shortage of capable young Canadians who can help fill this void.
One name I wasn’t really expecting to hear called by another team was that of Corvey Irwin. But as Chris Jones is looking to rebuild the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ identity in his own image, it made sense for him to add this former Georgia Bulldog to patrol the defensive line. Along with Shawn Lemon and Justin Capicciotti, Irwin is going to be part of a very dangerous attack in the prairies to opposing quarterbacks.
Corvey was a bright spot for the Alouettes last year, as he was a key member of Montreal’s defense. It should be a seamless transition for him to go from Noel Thorpe‘s coaching style to Chris Jones’. Irwin has a lot of good football left in him to play and I have no doubt that he’ll quickly be a fan favourite in Riderville.
A move that has a lot of people scratching their heads was Jim Popp‘s decision to release Henoc Muamba after free agency got under way. After signing the highly-sought free agent last season to a lucrative contract, everyone figured that he’d be an integral part of Montreal’s linebacking corps for years to come. After all, talented National players of Muamba’s stature don’t exactly grow on trees! But with a stacked roster as it were and the salary cap spilling over, Popp had little recourse but to cut Henoc and absolve the Alouettes of paying out some hefty bonus money.
The move also rubbed fans the wrong way, as on the surface it seemed like Popp was the one who signed Muamba to this deal and should have honoured it, even though it meant having to cough up a lot of money. But with Bear Woods, Kyler Elsworth and Nick Shortill already under contract and at a fraction of what Muamba was signed for, it’s best to just think of Henoc as a hired mercenary; he filled a void at the time of his signing and his services were not required any longer.
Don’t worry about Henoc; he already has some NFL workouts scheduled and the former Indianapolis Colt will likely get another shot at making someone’s roster down south. And if not, this talented superstar WILL find work in the CFL once the free agency dust has settled.
So who’s staying put? The following players have decided that the grass may not be greener on the other side and re-upped with the Alouettes:
I figured that either one of Mitchell White and Dominique Ellis were going to test the free agency waters and sign elsewhere. But instead, they will BOTH return to platoon the Alouettes’ secondary! Being able to keep both of these players is a tremendous coup for Jim Popp, as they proved last season that they are ready to lead. Both play very hard and fast and are not afraid to mix it up with opposing receivers.
Both have gotten looks from NFL teams and are still young enough to pursue those dreams when their contracts are up. But for the time being, the future has arrived for Montreal’s last line of defense and the fans can expect a lot of INTs in the near future!
I can’t say I’m surprised that Samuel Giguere has re-signed with the Alouettes. I don’t think the former Vert et Or receiver was used properly in Turk Schonert‘s high school level offensive schemes. Expecting him to catch balls like S.J. Green and B.J. Cunningham did was asking a lot of Giguere. Instead, where Sam proved his worth was when the Alouettes employed their much-loved use of the fly sweep; his speed on the ground was more than enough to catch defenders off-guard.
With the retirement of Eric Deslauriers, Sam will now slot into the National spot for receiver and have to split time with young Alex Charette. Montreal is stacked at the receiver position and Giguere will prove to be a cost-effective option for Anthony Calvillo‘s offense.
But there’s little doubt as to who was the most valuable free agent that had to be locked up for Montreal. When you have an S.J. Green openly campaigning on social media for management to re-sign you, it’s kinda hard not to feel appreciated. And so Winston Venable apparently didn’t even bother listening to any other team’s offers and focused solely on returning to the Montreal Alouettes.
His re-signing ultimately was the catalyst for the release of Henoc Muamba, but the numbers that Venable put up last year speak for themself. The idea of Winston wearing any other team’s colours is just too unpleasant to even imagine. But now this city’s fans won’t have to even consider that notion, because this home run hitter is staying put! Now the big question: How many steak dinners does Venable owe S.J. for all that online PR work on his behalf?
And now for the most fun part of free agency; the new faces that will be joining the Montreal Alouettes!
In a delightful bit of irony, the first new face for the Alouettes is actually an old face! In an attempt to right a tremendous wrong, Jim Popp signed Kenny Stafford for a second tour of duty with the Birds of Prey. It was just over a year ago when Popp sent Stafford to the Edmonton Eskimos in exchange for Fred Stamps. Hindsight is always 20/20, but the Alouettes got fleeced in this deal.
Stamps struggled to find his form in Montreal while Stafford was an integral part of the Eskimos’ Grey Cup victory. But now Kenny is back in red/blue/silver and will be lining up alongside of S.J. Green, his cousin Duron Carter and good friend B.J. Cunningham. Both Alouettes QB Kevin Glenn and OC Anthony Calvillo have to be salivating at the thought of having so many dangerous weapons at their disposal.
I fully expected the Alouettes to target a member of the Ottawa RedBlacks’ vaunted “D-Block” in free agency and sure enough, Jim Popp secured the services of their leader in one Jovon Johnson. A skilled veteran with some tremendous wheels, Johnson will be the perfect compliment to the re-signing of both Mitchell White and Dominique Ellis as well as providing valuable on-field leadership to guys like Daryl Townsend, Andrew Lue and Anthony Coady. Extremely popular with fans wherever he plays, Jovon will be a breath of fresh air in Montreal’s secondary.
If the name Vaughn Martin sounds familiar to Alouettes Nation, there’s good reason. He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 CFL draft by Montreal despite him already being drafted in 2009 by the San Diego Chargers. Much like Philip Blake before him, Popp was thinking long-term in taking Martin when he did. He knew that Martin was going to exhaust all NFL possibilities before coming to play for the Alouettes. And now, both of Popp’s futures picks from that 2011 draft will be at training camp this coming June. So if history does indeed repeat itself, we can expect to see current Carolina Panther David Foucault in Lennoxville come June 2019.
There’s always a risk in signing a player whose spent considerable time in the NFL, as the physical and mental demands of that league are like nothing else. But Vaughn is looking to resurrect his career closer to home and pairing him up with Alan-Michael Cash and Michael Klassen could be just what this young National veteran needs to reinvent himself.
And because it seems that you can never have enough former Universite de Sherbrooke players in the lineup, the Alouettes also inked Kevin Régimbald to a deal. He does bring championship experience to Montreal, having helped the Roughriders win the Grey Cup in 2013. He will be expected to contribute on special teams and will compete alongside of fellow Vert et Or Nicolas Boulay.
Another former Grey Cup champion was added when Dequin Evans signed with Montreal this past week. Seeing time with the Calgary Stampeders the past two seasons, Evans will look to help further shore up Montreal’s D-Line. Getting playing time on this line is a daunting task for sure but Evans grew up in Compton, where fighting for your life was a daily occurrence. I expect him to attack this latest challenge and I expect that he’ll win.
So is this football team’s architect finished making moves? Part of me wants to say yes, but last year Popp continued to make more moves well past the start of free agency, adding other players to a stacked lineup. According to the folks at LoonieCap, the Alouettes are currently over their cap limit even with releasing Henoc Muamba.
As it stands right now, I’m not seeing a whole lot of holes that still need to be filled. And there’s still the CFL Draft coming up in May, where an additional seven players will be added to the roster. In theory, the salary cap doesn’t matter until the season starts and your roster is finalized. But with all the talent that is already on board, you can’t help but wonder if anything else is cooking behind the scenes.
One thing is for certain; there’s no shortage of quality football players that will be at training camp this June for the Birds of Prey. It’s exciting to think that despite the winter conditions outside right now, football is only a few short months away. That excitement was elevated with the 2016 schedule being released this week.
I’ll delve more into the schedule itself closer to the end of the off-season, but already fans are making plans to hit the road to see their team in action. Alouettes Nation will be able to lay claim to kicking off the 2016 edition of TSN’s Friday Night Football when Montreal travels to Winnipeg to face off against the Blue Bombers. That team has also made some big strides in free agency as well as some much-needed coaching hires. After that, Montreal will welcome the Ottawa RedBlacks at Percival Molson Stadium for the home opener on the eve of Canada Day. I can’t think of a better way to kick off a long weekend than with some hard-hitting football action!
This concludes our look at the Alouettes’ free agency frenzy so far. Adding all these weapons to the lineup are great, but they won’t be worth a hill of beans if this team’s coaching staff can’t execute a winning game plan. Jim Popp the general manager has given Jim Popp the head coach and his staff plenty of excellent tools to work with; now it’s time for the Alouettes’ coaches to grab their hard hats & lunch pails.
In the meantime, be sure to check out the Alouettes’ warehouse sale this coming weekend if you’re in the Montreal area. With savings up to 70% off of official Als gear, there’s no better chance to stock up for the upcoming season. Several players will be on hand during this two day event to meet and greet you fans as well.
As always, be sure to follow along on Twitter for more news and thoughts as this off-season chugs along. No folks, it’s not June yet….but June will be here before you know it.
GO ALS GO!!!
About the Author
Written by Clifford Pine
Montreal born & bred, lover of sports. Passionate about the Montreal Alouettes. Also a great cook & not too bad a dancer.