How Alouettes changed their defensive line in free agency

The Montreal Alouettes are bringing back 19 of their 24 starters from 2023, but that didn’t prevent them from making big changes on the defensive line.

Gone are defensive end Lwal Uguak (signed with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and defensive tackle Almondo Sewell (released prior to the start of free agency). But Shawn Lemon, Avery Ellis, and Mustafa Johnson all inked new deals with the team this winter, but the team had some room to maneuver at those positions on defence.

General manager Danny Maciocia identified multiple targets in free agency this winter, and he was able to land three defensive linemen after the market opened at 12 p.m. ET on Tuesday afternoon. A pair of former Calgary Stampeders, Isaac Adeyemi-Berglund and Derek Wiggan, were signed a few hours into free agency, while all-star defensive tackle Dylan Wynn joined the squad on Wednesday.

Adeyemi-Berglund and Wiggan are both Canadian, which gives the team more depth and it allows them to have some flexibility with the ratio on defence. Adeyemi-Berglund will likely be a direct replacement for Uguak.

“I’m ultra physical and I’m a high-motor guy,” the third overall pick in the 2020 CFL Draft said when he was asked to describe his style of play. “There isn’t a full sample size of me on the field in a full-time role. When you look at the success of certain guys around the league, I’m not the exact same. I have a lot of things in my game that are unique. I’m super high motor, so when you’re watching, I’m always going to be around the ball. I don’t give up on the play, and I have a lot of moves at my disposal.”

As a rotational player in Calgary, Adeyemi-Berglund managed to post eight and five-sack seasons in 2022 and 2023. And bonus, the 27-year-old is familiar with the province of Quebec, as he played two years of CEGEP football at Lennoxville before attending Southeastern Louisiana.

Wiggan gives the Als another big boy in the middle of the line. The 31-year-old was drafted by the Stamps in the fourth round of the 2014 CFL Draft, and he became a fixture in the Calgary defence for seven seasons. The former Queen’s star has Grey Cup experience, as he won the championship back in 2018.

When Wiggan steps onto the field, the Als will be able to remove a Canadian player elsewhere on defence to add another American. For example, if Wiggan comes onto the field for Wynn, that could allow Ellis to jump on for Adeyemi-Berglund (teams must have seven Canadian starters combined on offence and defence).

“He’s the ultimate team guy,” Adeyemi-Berglund, who spent three years with Wiggan in Calgary, said. “He’s been in the league for almost a decade. He’s going to bring that championship culture to a team that already has it. I think that’s important when you look at what you need to do to repeat. You add a vocal leader and a leader on the field who is a force.”

The addition of Wynn arguably gives the Alouettes the best one-two punch at defensive tackle in the game. The former Tiger-Cat will be joining Johnson in the trenches in 2024.

Wynn is coming off a season in which he played just seven games, but when healthy, he’s one of the most disruptive players at his position in the CFL.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I feel like I bring some good ability to the knowledge game as well when it comes down to breaking down opposing offences,” Wynn said from Alouettes headquarters at Olympic Stadium. “On the field, I feel like I can push the pocket when teams pass, and nobody’s running the ball on me. I just want to build walls and hit quarterbacks.”

The 30-year-old is a three-time East Division All-Star, and he was named a CFL All-Star in 2019. He also won a Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts back in 2017.