We’ve got a full 18 game schedule for the first time in three years.
It’s been another off-season full of player movement and roster turnover. And now training camp is around the corner.
Here’s everything you need to know.
Biggest off-season storyline: The quest for three
Winnipeg is already the first team to win back-to-back Grey Cups since the Alouettes did it in 2009 and 2010. Now they look to become the first team since Edmonton under Hugh Campbell (1978-1982) to win three or more consecutive titles. With the core group of players the Bombers have retained, a three-peat is very much in the cards.
Reigning Most Outstanding Player Zach Collaros returns at quarterback. Adam Bighill and Stanley Bryant are also back to defend their crowns as Most Outstanding Defensive Player and Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman, respectively. Willie Jefferson, Jackson Jeffcoat, Jermarcus Hardrick, Nic Demski, Winston Rose, and Rasheed Bailey, among others, round out the impressive list of high-end talent retained by Winnipeg.
New face to watch: Greg Ellingson, receiver
With the departures of 2021 leading receiver Kenny Lawler (Edmonton) and the long-serving Darvin Adams (Ottawa) in free agency, the Bombers had a void. They filled it by adding Ellingson and his five 1,000-yard seasons. Even in a “down” year by his standards, Ellingson led Edmonton with 687 yards in 2021, which was good for eighth overall despite missing four games. With Collaros under centre, a sixth season over 1,000 is a good bet for Ellingson.
Flying under the radar: Johnny Augustine, running back
Winnipeg product Brady Oliveira is understandably getting lots of attention as a replacement for the departed Andrew Harris (Toronto). But don’t sleep on fellow Canadian Augustine, who was very productive in spot duty last season. Augustine truly showed what he’s all about in Week 16 when he racked up 148 yards on 23 carries against Calgary.
Biggest off-season storyline: It’s Dane’s time
The Tiger-Cats used a quarterback tandem in two straight trips to the Grey Cup in 2019 and 2021. As they try to get back there for a third consecutive year, and ultimately achieve the desired result, that successful tandem is no more. Jeremiah Masoli is in Ottawa now and the reigns are firmly in the hands of Dane Evans. Based on everything we’ve seen, he’s ready.
Evans has bided his time like a pro the despite shining when handed the ball. It’s Evans’s time now, though, and his performance in 14 starts over the last two seasons should give Hamilton nothing but confidence he’s ready to get the job done. With a talented group of playmakers around him, I can’t wait to see what 18 games under Evans looks like for the Ticats.
New face to watch: Alden Darby defensive back
Head coach Orlondo Steinauer and defensive coordinator Mark Washington love a secondary full of versatility. Hamilton’s signing of Darby in free agency fits that bill perfectly. Darby can play multiple positions on the field and was named a West Division All-Star at SAM linebacker with Winnipeg in 2021.
Flying under the radar: Don Jackson, running back
In a year where continuity at the position was hard to find, Jackson solidified the backfield for the Tiger-Cats down the stretch. In his four starts to finish the regular season, Jackson totalled 280 rushing yards, 109 through the air, and three total touchdowns, and was also productive for Hamilton in a pair of playoff games. Jackson made a strong case to be a larger part of the game plan to start 2022.
Biggest off-season storyline: Getting over the hump
Since zeroing in on Cody Fajardo as starting quarterback early in 2019, the Riders have made two deserving trips to the Western Final. In both those contests, however, they lost in tight and agonizing fashion to archrival Winnipeg. For fans in Saskatchewan, 2022 represents an opportunity to take the next step.
This will be Fajardo’s third season on top of the depth chart and all his favourite targets are back for another year. General manager Jeremy O’Day spent most of the winter free agent period bringing back his own players, which means the Roughriders will have a very similar look once again. A playoff berth should be a lock, so the real question will be if Saskatchewan can get themselves one step further in 2022.
New face(s) to watch: Darnell Sankey, linebacker
This was Saskatchewan’s biggest splash in free agency. Sankey led the CFL with 97 defensive tackles in 2021 to go along with one sack, one forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries. Sankey should do nothing but help a defence that was one of the league’s best last season.
Flying under the radar: Jamal Morrow, running back
With William Powell’s return to Ottawa in free agency, the Riders have a big question mark at running back. Entering his second season in the league, Morrow is the most interesting name to potentially provide an answer. While he didn’t get a ton of reps at tailback in 2021, Morrow showed plenty of promise in racking up over 900 yards as a returner.
Biggest off-season storyline: What does VA say?
2019 was the arrival of Vernon Adams Jr. as a CFL starting quarterback. His second year in 2021 was a little more challenging. Between the whistles, Adams had his ups and downs and saw his completion rate drop below 60%. And then there was his Week 10 injury against Ottawa that ultimately ended his season.
Despite a slightly bumpier second year, Adams still had plenty of Big Play VA moments and is firmly entrenched as Montreal’s guy. In saying that, the Alouettes opted to retain Trevor Harris, which admittedly caught Adams by surprise. I’m excited to see the results when you mix in how much Adams wants to win with a little internal competition.
One new face to watch: Tyrell Richards, linebacker
Montreal swung a trade with Edmonton to move up and select Richards first overall at the CFL Draft earlier this month. And, while we don’t always see high draft picks make immediate impacts on defence, I’m fascinated to see how the Als use Richards in 2022. Physically, the 23-year-old Syracuse product seems ready for the professional game. And, after not being able to play in 2021, you know for sure Richards will be fired up to get going.
Flying under the radar: Chris Ackie, linebacker
Ackie had a heck of a 2021 season that was somewhat overshadowed by some of the numbers posted by others at his position. But with 48 tackles, six sacks, and two interceptions, Ackie deserves some love heading into camp. If he performs like that over 18 games this year, the conversations about Ackie will get a whole lot louder.
Biggest off-season storyline: Redemption
The Stamps don’t like early playoff exits. But, with Western Semi-Final losses to Winnipeg and Saskatchewan, that’s exactly how the last two seasons have ended in Calgary. Head coach Dave Dickenson has set a standard of excellence since taking over in 2016 and that’s the standard he’ll hold the team to this year.
On an individual level, you can bet two-time Most Outstanding Player Bo Levi Mitchell will be entering training camp with something to prove, too. After a turbulent 2021, Mitchell agreed to restructure his contract so the team could retain upstart Jake Maier. Knowing how last season went, and with Maier knocking on the door, you can expect a motivated Mitchell right from the start of camp.
One new face to watch: Jordan Williams-Lambert, receiver
True to form, general manager John Hufnagel and the Stampeders weren’t overly busy in free agency. Calgary’s signing of Williams-Lambert, however, has the chance to pay huge dividends. The talented receiver burst onto the scene with 764 yards and four touchdowns in 2018 before joining the Chicago Bears. While Williams-Lambert hasn’t been as productive since returning from the NFL, a change of scenery has the chance to be huge.
Flying under the radar: Jameer Thurman, linebacker
I’m not sure anyone is talking enough about Thurman’s 2021. As such, they’re probably not talking enough about what could be coming. Perhaps the CFL’s most talented and rangy linebacker, Thurman had 62 tackles, three sacks, and three forced fumbles last year at the WILL position. If Calgary opts to move him to the middle, this guy’s measurable stats could absolutely explode.
Biggest off-season storyline: The next step
The Argos aggressively reshaped heading into 2021. Upon taking over as general manager, Pinball Clemons was active in a pair of free agency sessions prior to last year and completed a blockbuster trade with Calgary. All that work paid off, too, as Toronto earned top seed in the East Division before bowing out to Hamilton in the Eastern Final. Now it’s time for the follow-up.
Clemons and the Argonauts were busy again in free agency and landed huge names like Brandon Banks and Andrew Harris. Toronto also acquired Canadian defensive back Royce Metchie in another trade with the Stampeders and retained a good chunk of impact makers from last season. The foundation has been laid by the Argos and they should earn at least the chance to advance a little further in this year’s post-season.
One new face to watch: Ja’Gared Davis, defensive line
Of all Toronto’s new additions, Davis has the chance to make the most devastating impact. With 19 sacks in two seasons with the Tiger-Cats, Davis solidified himself as one of the league’s elite pass rushers. By lining Davis up in the same front four as Shawn Oakman, the Argos are going to cause a lot of headaches this year.
Flying under the radar: Henoc Muamba, linebacker
Muamba’s first season in Toronto wasn’t spectacular, but he still finished with 49 tackles, two sacks, and an interception in ten games. Not far removed from two stellar seasons with Montreal, Muamba can still be a big-time impact maker, who also happens to be Canadian.
Biggest off-season storyline: The man, the myth, the legend
After a nightmare 2021, Edmonton had to make changes. And that they did. Those changes were sweeping, and they culminated in the hiring of Chris Jones as head coach and general manager. It’s a homecoming for Jones, who coached the Elks in 2014 and 2015 and helmed them to the 103rd Grey Cup before leaving for Saskatchewan.
Jones returns to Edmonton with a tried-and-true resume. When he arrives with a new team, he gets results in short order. It was immediate in his first stint with the Elks, while it took about a season upon joining the Riders. After how things went last season, hiring a proven winner like Jones is a great start in Edmonton’s hopeful return to prominence.
One new face to watch: Kenny Lawler, receiver
By leading the CFL with 1,014 receiving yards last season, Lawler had leverage entering free agency. He used it to sign a big money deal the Elks hope will give their offence far more punch than it had in 2021. That shouldn’t be too hard for Lawler to do because there’s not really anything he doesn’t bring to the table at the position.
Flying under the radar: Nick Arbuckle, quarterback
Things haven’t gone according to plan for Arbuckle since he burst onto the scene in 2019 with the Stampeders. That’s why a quarterback ends up in this slot for Edmonton, despite the fact they have him pegged as their starter for 2022. Now on his third team since leaving Calgary, no one quite knows what to expect from Arbuckle. After all, he didn’t see a snap upon being acquired by the Elks late last season.
Biggest off-season storyline: The road back
In the midst of a second straight two-win campaign, Ottawa made a big change late last season when they fired general manager Marcel Desjardins. In moving away from the only GM the team had ever known, it signalled a massive shift for the REDBLACKS. Shawn Burke is running football operations now and wasted no time putting his stamp on the organization.
Ottawa took an aggressive approach to free agency, bringing in some of the biggest names available. In the process, the REDBLACKS acquired a new starting quarterback, brought back a familiar face at tailback, completely revamped their offensive line, and added numerous intriguing faces on defence. After making the Grey Cup in three of four seasons, it’s clear the last two years haven’t been acceptable in Ottawa and their off-season proves it.
One new face to watch: Jeremiah Masoli, quarterback
It doesn’t get easier than this. Masoli was the crown jewel of Burke’s off-season plan as the REDBLACKS got the starting quarterback they’ve been searching for since Trevor Harris left after the 2018 season. Hamilton made the tough but pragmatic decision to let Masoli walk in free agency, and Ottawa couldn’t be happier.
Flying under the radar: Avery Williams, linebacker
Williams was one of the big bright spots in an otherwise frustrating 2021 for the REDBLACKS. He led the team with 89 tackles in 13 games, which also placed him third overall, to go along with two sacks, one forced fumble, and one interception. We’ve seen a lot of change in Ottawa, but Williams is one of the truly important holdovers.
Biggest off-season storyline: A new era begins
While I don’t think it caught the Lions completely off guard, Michael Reilly’s January retirement accelerated the team’s future quarterback plans. Luckily, that plan goes by the name of Nathan Rourke and he has a great shot of being a star in this league. The fact Rourke has a chance of being the first full-time Canadian starting quarterback in decades is a cool little subplot.
BC and head coach Rick Campbell have made it clear Rourke is who they’re going with in 2022. That was further enforced when the Lions opted not to chase names like Jeremiah Masoli or Trevor Harris in free agency. There might growing pains for Rourke as he transitions to a pro starter for the first time, but with his potential, BC will have no problem being patient.
One new face to watch: David Ménard, defensive line
Ménard is a new addition in BC, but he’s also a familiar face. A 2014 pick of the Lions, Ménard spent his first six CFL seasons on the west coast before returning to his old stomping grounds in Montreal for 2021. After a breakout campaign with eight sacks and two forced fumbles, Ménard is back in BC with the opportunity to solidify their front four.
Flying under the radar: Delvin Breaux, defensive back
Who’s this guy? Oh, that’s right, it’s the two-time CFL All-Star and former unofficial titleholder as the league’s best shutdown defender. After retiring and sitting out the 2021 season, I can’t wait to see what Breaux still has left in the tank after signing with the Lions in free agency. It’ll be our first look at him in game action since 2019.