Landry: Five early free agency takeaways

Hello, Jon Ryan. Glad to see that the co-owner of the Portland Pickles minor league baseball team has signed on for another season in green.

Suitable on a number of levels. I would give anything to see you — just once — trot out for Roughrider pre-game warm-ups while wearing the Dillon the Pickle mascot suit, for promotional purposes. Can’t say I’ve ever seen a giant pickle hoof bombs on a football field before, I don’t think.

And now, five free agency takeaways.

2021 FREE AGENCY
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YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LOSE YOUR MIND IN FREE AGENCY

Kyle Walters was able to take care of the bulk of his free agent and salary cap work prior to the opening of free agency. That included restructuring DE Willie Jefferson’s deal (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

If you’ve spent a few weeks locking up the guys you already had and those are good, quality guys, you get to chill a bit during free agency.

The frenzy wasn’t quite so hectic in places like Hamilton and Winnipeg.

Those two had methodically re-signed key personnel as the old year ended and the new one took flight. Already built into contenders, the Bombers and Ticats successfully went about the job (not ever an easy one) of keeping their bands together.

The Blue Bombers even bragged about their situation in a tweet where general manager Kyle Walters’ smiling face was photoshopped onto a GIF where he’s lounging on a couch with a bowl of popcorn in his hands.

They could’ve photoshopped Walters’ head on Bernie Sanders’ body too, if they’d liked; Just sittin’ there, wearin’ his mitts because he didn’t need to dial anyone.

Kyle Walters is the kind of guy who can’t wait to tell you, in September, that “I’ve finished all my Christmas shopping!” He’s also the kind of guy who doesn’t mind dashing out on the 24th to get that one last special gift that will make it the best Christmas ever. Looking at you, Bryant Mitchell.

OR… YOU CAN GO THE OTHER WAY

The time: The opening of the free agency window, through Day 1 of free agency.

The setting: The offices of the Toronto Argonauts. Interior, the general manager’s office.

Aaand… action.

“Hi, this is Pinball Clemons speaking. Nick Arbuckle! How you doin’, baby? Oh, can you hang on? My call waiting’s goin’ off.” *taps phone* “Hi, Mike Clemons here. Start talkin’. Charleston, my man! Let’s get this thing final – just a sec, my call waiting’s goin’ off.” *taps phone* “Hello, this is Michael Clemons. Eric! Good to talk to ya! I’ve got an offer here…just a sec, my call waiting’s goin’ off.” *taps phone* “Hi, it’s Pinball. Sorry, new phone, who’s this? Cordarro! I got Eric Rogers on the other line, buddy! I’ll see if I can loop you in. Hold up, my call waiting’s goin’ off.” *covers phone, yells towards doorway* “Murph!
Murph! Is your phone on? Make sure your phone’s on.” *taps phone* “Hello, Pinball Clemons here. John White! Okay, here’s my offer. Oh, hang on….”

*Fade out to end scene, roll credits as Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time” plays.*

The Argos were 4-14 in 2019, so it’s no surprise that Clemons and VP of player personnel John Murphy did the football equivalent of rushing down a grocery aisle while straight-arming everything on the shelves into the cart.

Photoshopping either of their heads onto that GIF of The Weeknd winding his way through a golden maze of mirrors would have been chef’s kiss.

BONUS TAKEAWAY: Charleston Hughes could’ve done better with his new Twitter handle, in my opinion. He settled on 6ixGodGetSacks. Got lots of suggestions like The 6ax, SixSax (or 6ix6ax), and The Toronto Sack Exchange. That last one wouldn’t fit in the profile name box, apparently. Maybe that’s why he didn’t even consider my personal choice, The Sack-King of Kensington. The Sacknd would’ve been good, too. DeSackyJuniorHigh is mint.

O’CONNOR-DA, OUR HOME AND NATIVE PLAN

When I saw the announcement that the Calgary Stampeders had signed quarterback Michael O’Connor, I immediately thought: “That seems right.”

We’ve been waiting, hoping and wanting a Canadian quarterback star since the incredible Russ Jackson tied his cleats together, slung ‘em over his shoulder and headed for the hall of fame.

That was a long time ago. A drought of Leafian proportions, if you get my puck-parallel drift. I’m sure you do.

Can O’Connor be the one to burst through? Size, toughness, smarts, arm. Got it all, we’re led to believe. He won’t be getting meaningful reps in 2021, unless Bo Levi Mitchell has to spend a stretch on the injured list. But O’Connor will be getting sensational prep in an atmosphere and program that has proven to be at the top of the list when it comes to QB tutoring.

Could he? Might he? Fingers crossed. He’s in as good a spot as he could be in order to make it happen.

BONUS TAKEAWAY: If, at some point, John Hufnagel and Dave Dickenson come to you and ask “how are you at catching footballs?” that can end up being a good thing too, Michael.

Patrick Levels (picctured) and Chris Ackie are back in Montreal like they never left, rejoining the Als after signing elesewhere for the pandemic-hit 2020 season (MontrealAlouettes.com)

SOMETIMES IT CAN BE LIKE IT NEVER HAPPENED AT ALL

Was it all a dream? Did it really happen? The Montreal Alouettes ended up NOT improving two big elements in their linebacking corps over 2019 and they couldn’t be happier, really. That’s because the status quo — which they’d lost but now have found — was terrific.

When free agency rolled around in 2020, the Als said so long to a couple of bona fide, game-changing defensive players in Chris Ackie and Patrick Levels. Ouch.

But without either of them playing a single down for the teams with which they’d signed (Ackie in Toronto, Levels in Hamilton), the two of them are back in Montreal, signing contracts that give the Alouettes some unexpected continuity, from two players who had been key defenders
during the last season we’ve gotten to witness.

Levels found a home at the SAM linebacker spot, where he looked in charge of the entire defence sometimes, both in play and in vocal leadership. Ackie had continued to emerge, brilliantly, at the WILL
linebacker spot after being in and out of the line-up as a defensive back earlier in his career.

Now, if the Alouettes can get monster middle linebacker Henoc Muamba’s name on a new deal (Bonus takeaway: A reminder that Henoc Muamba NEVER EVER rushes his decisions on contracts) it will be like nothing changed.

Except that Montreal, you know, kinda upgraded the guys in front of ‘em.

A backup that was slated to start in Edmonton in 2020, Shaq Cooper will have plenty of opportunity to be that guy in BC in 2021 (Photo: Edmonton Football Team)

BURNERS ARE SET TO ‘HIGH’ IN B.C.

The B.C. Lions have certainly upped their offensive octane levels with the signings of Lucky Whitehead and Shaq Cooper, a couple of speedsters who can shake and bake you before leaving you far behind once they hit an opening.

With Whitehead and Chris Rainey on board to handle kick return duties, I guess I probably won’t get my wish of seeing Cooper lugging back punts and kick-offs. When Cooper was stuck down the depth chart in Edmonton, I’d always hoped they’d try him in a returner’s role, even if he wasn’t going to get more reps in the backfield. Just to get him on the field.

While Cooper might not have gotten a big body of work in Edmonton, he always showed off his game-breaking abilities when he got the chance and it will be interesting to see how the much-bigger workload plays out for him in Vancouver. My bet is that things go very well, with Cooper emerging as the league’s newest dual-threat back. And one of its more dangerous ones.

AND FINALLY…

Even if the Saskatchewan Roughriders don’t start twins Jordan and Justin Herdman-Reed at linebacker, they ought to put them out there together once in awhile just to get a psychological edge. They can stand beside each other, staring at the opposition quarterback, repeating “come play with us” in unison, over and over.

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