It was a third straight storybook season in the Canadian Football League in 2013.
The odds of the league one-upping itself following the Toronto Argonauts winning the 100th Grey Cup in front their home fans last year were slim, but it happened when the Saskatchewan Roughriders hoisted the Cup at Mosaic Stadium.
Over the last three years, CFL fans have become accustomed to seeing the host team win the championship on home turf, and while the odds are stacked against the B.C. Lions doing it in 2014, like they did in 2011, fans of three-down football have a lot to look forward to next year.
There will be a different landscape next season as a ninth franchise returns to the league in the form of the Ottawa RedBlacks. Their expansion draft goes down on Dec. 16 and it will help shape not only their future, but the future of the other eight teams as well.
Even though the dust has barely settled on the 2013 campaign–we can only assume Riders fans are still partying on Albert Street in Regina–here’s a look at what each team faces heading into the off-season.
Darian Durant quelled any doubts that he could win when it counts most, as he was a monster in the playoffs–he’ll never have to pick up a bar tab in the province again. If the Riders can avoid a Grey Cup hangover, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be favoured to win a second straight Cup.
Though they have several key pieces they need to lock up with new contracts, the core of this team should remain intact.
Offensive coordinator George Cortez is highly sought after, so if he gets a great offer from a team, he may be on his way out.
Notable potential free agents: Kory Sheets, Weston Dressler, Craig Butler, Drew Willy, Alex Hall, Taj Smith
This team will be shaped by who their starting quarterback is next season. Henry Burris is in all likelihood a future Hall of Famer, but he simply didn’t get it done in the Grey Cup. The 38-year-old is a free agent, but says he wants to remain with the club. It will be interesting to see if they bring him back and employ a two-QB system like they often did with Dan LeFevour, or just give him the reins.
The defence showed marked signs of improvement under Orlondo Steinauer, but looked green for long stretches throughout the season.
Notable potential free agents: Henry Burris, Jamall Johnson, Simoni Lawrence
Chris Jones was named head coach of the Eskimos, so the Boatmen will need a new defensive coordinator—the Winnipeg Sun is reporting former Bombers coach Tim Burke is a leading candidate for the job. Special teams coach Mike O’Shea was named the Blue Bombers new head coach so there’s another major hole the Argos must fill.
The Argos’ 2013 season was a tale of two teams. At times, when Ricky Ray was healthy, they were the most dynamic, efficient offence in the league. But every once in a while they would come out flat, like in the second half of the East Final against the Ticats.
With Ray and a stable of excellent receivers, the Argos have a lot to build around, but they’ll need to establish a steady run game. Chad Kackert is terrific but prone to injury. Jerious Norwood was solid in relief of Kackert and with a full training camp he could emerge as a real threat in the backfield.
Notable potential free agents: Dontrelle Inman, Patrick Watkins, Robert McCune, Wayne Smith, Swayze Waters, Zach Collaros
The Stamps were the best team in the league during the regular season and have arguably the best offensive talent in Jon Cornish, but the big question in Calgary is what to do at QB? They’ve got three pivots good enough to start—Kevin Glenn, Drew Tate and Bo Levi Mitchell—though chances are one of them ends up in Ottawa.
They’ll still be able to rely heavily on Cornish, but getting Nik Lewis back next year should be a huge boost.
More importantly, several integral pieces on defence must be re-signed or replaced or things could look dicey next year.
Notable potential free agents: Juwan Simpson, Maurice Price, Demonte’ Bolden, Derrius Brooks, Cordarro Law, Jabari Arthur
Troy Smith showed signs that he can be a solid CFL quarterback, so even though the future of Anthony Calvillo is up in the air, the team has a solid Plan B to fall back on.
The coaching situation is also still to be determined. Jim Popp may stay on the sidelines, or they’ll bring in a new face. Regardless, they need stability on that front and a calming presence in the locker room.
Duron Carter showed signs that he can be a superstar, but while the Als are solid at receiver, there is much work to do in most other areas if they want to get back to the top of the East.
Notable potential free agents: Shea Emry, Kyries Hebert, Josh Bourke, Luc Brodeur-Jourdain, Billy Parker, Marc-Olivier Brouillette
The Lions’ offence could look quite different next season after Jacques Chapdelain was let go. A healthy Travis Lulay is paramount, but the running back tandem of Andrew Harris and Stefan Logan was great late in the season. A full season with those two in the backfield could give opposing defences headaches.
Mike Benevides needs to seek a new offensive coordinator and according to News 1130 Sports in Vancouver, Riders OC George Cortez is high on their wish list.
There will be lots of pressure on this team next season considering the Grey Cup will once again be held at B.C. Place Stadium.
Notable potential free agents: Keron Williams, Joshua Bell, Nick Moore
New general manager Kyle Walters hired Danny McManus and Ted Goveia as assistant GMs and that trio will certainly be busy this winter. In fact, the 2014 Blue Bombers could end up as the team that looks most different compared to 2013.
They hired Mike O’Shea as the new coach and the former Argos special teams coach will give the Bombers a new identity.
Unfortunately for Bombers fans, it looks like Henoc Muamba could be headed to the NFL and if he does it will have a major impact on their defence. On offence, their QB situation is in dire straits, so acquiring a starter is on the To Do list.
Notable potential free agents: Henoc Muamba, Will Ford, Jovon Johnson, Chris Matthews, Chad Simpson, Alex Suber, Steven Morley
General manager Ed Hervy is certainly not afraid to pull the trigger. Kavis Reed is gone and former Argos defensive coordinator Chris Jones takes over as head coach.
Despite a terrible 2013 campaign, Eskimos fans should be encouraged with what their team could be next year.
They just re-signed Adarius Bowman, which is huge. He and Mike Reilly developed some great chemistry late in the season. Speaking of Reilly, his progress this year was impressive and the 28-year-old certainly has the ability to be a quality starter to build an offence around for the next several years.
The results in 2013 stunk and mental lapses cost them many points on the scoreboard and in the standings. The effort was always there, though, and the great thing about the CFL is you can turn things around in short order.
Notable potential free agents: Hugh Charles, Joe Burnett, Damaso Munoz, Cary Koch
When the Ottawa Renegades entered the league in 2002, they had players like running back Josh Ranek, defensive studs Donnavan Carter and Gerald Vaughn, plus kicking phenom Lawrence Tynes to build around. In their first year, the Renegades had Dan Crowley at QB; the RedBlacks should be in a better situation as the CFL is chalk full of quality backup pivots, so they’ll take one in the expansion draft.
If they can muster up a solid core of skill players, they might even have an outside shot at making the playoffs in their inaugural season.
GM Marcel Desjardins will be as busy as anyone in the league this off-season. He’s already signed a few players, but the real work begins Dec. 16.