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- Free Agency
While the launch of the XFL season preoccupied many football fans this past weekend, Danny Maciocia and his colleagues were hunkered down in the office planning for the start of the CFL free agency period and any subsequent steps that will need to be taken.
“I would have liked to have had the chance, but I must admit that I wasn’t able to watch a single game this weekend. We were here, working.”
Since his arrival in January, Danny has finalized a dozen agreements with players who will certainly have a direct impact on the 2020 edition of our Alouettes. And, our general manager pointed out, these agreements were finalized before he officially started his job on February 3. On the offensive side of the ball, the return of Kristian Matte, Sean Jamieson and Landon Rice provides important stability for the offensive line. Same goes for the contract extensions given to quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. and wide receiver Geno Lewis. Truth be told, the biggest question mark on the offence was at running back with Will Stanback having left the team. Who would we be able to find to replace such an important impact player? The answer was found in the form of James Wilder Jr. Case closed. A second reliable ball-carrier will still be required, but as several potential experienced candidates are available this year, Danny shouldn’t have a problem finding a high-calibre one at a reasonable price. To summarize, the pieces of the offensive puzzle appear to be coming together nicely.
Special teams coordinator Mickey Donovan, for his part, can be pleased by the return of two important members of his group: fullback Spencer Moore and return specialist Mario Alford. Nothing alarming to report concerning special teams.
“A lot of work has already been done regarding Canadian content, the quarterback position, receivers and the offensive line,” confirmed our general manager. “There’s still more to be done – we need depth – but we do have constraints. I know I’m singing the same song for the past few weeks, but we have a salary cap problem that we have to deal with.”
Over the course of the past two weeks, Danny has continued to reference the analogy that he has been using whenever he has been speaking with the media.
“It’s as though I had $100 in my pocket and I’d need it to feed my family of five for a week. It’s doable, but we’d have to make choices.”
And he also has to be creative. Starting at noon on Tuesday, February 11, it will primarily be the maneuvering on the defensive side that will merit watching. That is if there is any activity, of course. Danny’s main focus is the same as it was when he started: to find a good pass rusher. However, even if he is willing to pay more to fill this position, Danny remains a realist. As you can imagine, given the team’s financial reality, he’s not going to sell the farm in order to obtain a particular player.
“We definitely explore the free agent market, but we will also identify players south of the border, players who will earn $70,000 instead of $130,000,” Danny said. “Those responsible for scouting players in the United States are tired of hearing me say this, and I have been hammering away at this since I got here: we need to have a dominant defensive front in order to do certain things with our defensive backs.”
Even with the considerable challenges facing our general manager and his staff, moral is good. The team’s upswing last year has helped with this year’s recruiting. Danny’s hiring has greatly aided in attracting national players, especially Quebecers. Depth in terms of Canadian content is second on the priority list. If last year the team had the luxury of counting upon three Canadians starting at linebacker – Henoc Muamba, Chris Ackie and Boseko Lokombo – the situation could be different in 2020. Among the three, only Henoc is guaranteed to be returning, at least for now.
“If we change the ratio at linebacker, we will have to quickly determine what position becomes Canadian,” Danny said, “Boseko, who was recently traded to the Toronto Argonauts, played more as a safety last season. The ideal situation is to have eight starting Canadians instead of seven so that we have more flexibility in case of injuries.”
For the moment, different options exist. DJ Lalama, a multi-purpose player hailing from Winnipeg, will be given the chance to compete for a starting position beside Henoc. Safety Taylor Loffler’s possible return – which is not a given right now – could also tip the scales. Other dossiers concerning impact players, like Ciante Evans and Patrick Levels, still need to be resolved. It remains to be seen which teams or which players will have to make the most compromises in the coming days. And with the minimum salary increasing to $65,000 (from $55,000 last year) and the salary cap essentially unchanged at $5.3 million (only a $50,000 increase versus last year), you can bet that Danny won’t be the only one who’ll need to be putting his mathematical skills to good use …