The off-season in the Canadian Football League is always long.
It’s been six months since the Calgary Stampeders hoisted the Grey Cup on the Brick Field at Commonwealth Stadium and a lot has happened since then.
A new collective bargaining agreement was probably the biggest story of this off-season. The new tentative deal between the league and the players was reached Wednesday and that sets the stage for the players to hit the field this weekend.
Watch below: On Wednesday, news broke that the CFL and CFLPA had reached a tentative deal, making it appear promising the season will start on time. Kevin Karius has more.
Change is the best way to describe much of what went on in the off-season. No other position bears that out more than quarterback.
We lost two greats to retirement. Ricky Ray leaves the CFL after a Hall of Fame career with the Edmonton Eskimos and the Toronto Argonauts.
Former most outstanding player and Grey Cup champion Travis Lulay also retires with the B.C. Lions.
While two retired, others moved.
Mike Reilly goes from the Eskimos back to B.C., setting up a chain reaction.
Watch below: Some Global News videos about the CFL.
To replace Reilly, the Eskimos signed Trevor Harris from the Ottawa Redblacks. To replace Harris, the Redblacks go west and get Jonathon Jennings from the Lions. Zach Collaros re-signs in Saskatchewan, so Brandon Bridge leaves for Toronto and a chance to start with the Argos, where he will have to beat out James Franklin for that job.
Bo Levi Mitchell tested the NFL waters and then got buckets of money offered to him in the CFL. In the end, he chose to stay in Calgary. Matt Nichols returns in Winnipeg and Jeremiah Masoli is back in Hamilton.
Oh yeah, Johnny Manziel is gone. Vernon Adams is now the favourite to take the reins in Montreal.
Watch below: Some videos from Global News’ coverage of the CFL.
If change is the word of the off-season, the Eskimos are the poster boys.
The 2019 Eskimos could have as many as 20 new starters after the team’s vice-president of football and general manager Brock Sunderland responded to losing Reilly with an avalanche of signings to rework his team on both sides of the ball.
With Sunderland’s work done, it’s now time for the new group of Eskimos players to take the next step on the field this weekend.
For receiver Kenny Stafford, there is more to it all than just collecting good players.
“On paper, it looks really, really good, but I’ve been in this league long enough that just seeing it on paper [is not enough], you have to come together as a team.”
Going into his seventh CFL season and his fourth with the Eskimos, Stafford sees a lot of good things for this new-look roster
“We have a veteran at almost every position,” he said. “Someone that has played in the league, someone that has knowledge. It’s not like we are rebuilding a team with a bunch of rookies.”
The holdover Eskimos have been joined by key players from Ottawa, Calgary, B.C., Winnipeg and Hamilton. Creating a team with so many players from other organizations will be the first challenge, Stafford said.
“We have to bond as a family. Chemistry is everything in a team sport.”
After Calvin McCarty, defensive tackle Almondo Sewell is the longest-serving Eskimos player and knows gelling as a team will be important this year — especially early on.
“Training camp is really important for us this year,” said Sewell, who is going into his ninth season in green and gold.
“We got a lot of big name guys here now. Once we get on the field and get running, we will find out real quick just how well guys can play together.”
Sewell is smart enough to know that a slow start can put you in the chase position all season, and in the tough CFL West, that is not an envious spot to be in.
“It’s always like that in the west,” he said. “You can’t lose six games in the west and might miss the playoffs. We have got to come together as fast as we can.”
It all begins Sunday morning, when the Eskimos hit the field for Day 1 of training camp.
Last minute roster moves
As players get set to report for medicals and physical testing Saturday, the Eskimos made some roster moves on Friday.
Among the eight players signed was receiver Diego Jair Viamontes Cotera, who was taken with the first overall pick in the Mexican draft.
Also signed was four-year veteran Canadian defensive lineman Jesse Joseph, who had four sacks with Montreal last year.
Canadian offensive lineman Mason Woods was released. He spent last year on the Eskimos practice roster after being acquired as part of the James Franklin trade with Toronto.
Global wide receiver Diego Jair Viamontes Cotera
National defensive lineman Lucky Daniels
National kicker Gregory Hutchins
International defensive back Josh Johnson
National defensive lineman Jesse Joseph
Global linebacker Daniel Carrete Landeros
Global defensive back Genaro (Jose) Alfonsin Romero
Global linebacker Maxime Rouyer
International offensive lineman Tyler Howell
National offensive lineman Mason Woods