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Edmonton Eskimos Free Agent Gamble

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Edmonton Eskimos Free Agent Gamble


Nobody has ever accused Ed Hervey of being conventional or boring. The Edmonton Eskimos general manager has his methods in managing personnel and the associated risks. Mostly those methods have led to positive results. However, Hervey hasn’t always been successful and the big question in 2017 is, has he risked too much?

Going into free agency Esk fans largely believed that the defensive secondary would be the area of focus for Hervey. There was also a need for a kick returner, defensive tackle, defensive end, improved special teams, and a national receiver, but all paled in comparison to the need in the secondary. The secondary struggled early on last season, but improved as veteran Brandyn Thompson was signed in August.

Hervey addressed the national receiver need just prior to free agency by signing Shamawd Chambers, but also stunned by re-signing often-injured defensive end Marcus Howard. The Howard signing should not have been overly shocking as Hervey has been consistently loyal to players while fulfilling the credo, “Once an Eskimo, always an Eskimo.”

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Value Pick-ups

The pre-free-agent-frenzy signing of Chambers could deliver big results, but it was the reacquisition of Kendial Lawrence that received the biggest fanfare. Hervey filled a need to improve the return game by signing Lawrence, but it was also his versatility that was coveted by the Esks. Lawrence is an above average running back with a 5.4/YPC average and a solid slot back with 927 yards in four seasons giving the Esks depth on the active 46-man-roster. The Esks also signed a Lawrence clone in Travon Van, who has similar talents as a returner, rusher, and receiver. What this means is that head coach Jason Maas has options on offense and specifically with Brandon Zylstra. The big receiver now can be spotted in at either wide receiver or inside rover slot back.

What the Lawrence and Van signings also mean is that the Esks are controlling their player count and by extension their spending. This is critical going forward as it means the Eskimos will not have to purge their core for a few more seasons. It has also allowed the Esks to improve depth in key areas such as defensive end and special teams with the value signings of Phillip Hunt, Aston Whiteside, Andrew Lue, and Alexandre Dupuis. Whiteside is the most intriguing addition as he could platoon with Odell Willis to give the Esks a fierce pass rush alongside the powerful Almondo Sewell. A strong pass rush would take the pressure off the secondary and that too is necessary to mitigate any roster decision risks.

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The Gamble

The first move in secondary was made by the Esks last season in developing Garry Peters on the boundary corner to replace Pat Watkins who will not be back in 2017. Prior to free agency opening both Marcell Young and Brandyn Thompson were re-signed, but neither corners Cord Parks nor John Ojo have new contracts with the Esks. Although Hervey will try to re-sign Parks it seems Ojo is still looking to workout for NFL teams. As it stands currently the Esks secondary going into camp is Peters-Young-Neil King-Demetrius Wright-Thompson, with the risk being second year player Wright at the wide side half back position. Tyler Thornton could have challenge Wright in camp, but he wasn’t the answer last year after Aaron Grymes left for he NFL and Thornton has quietly slipped off the roster. It has led to speculation 2016 draft pick Arjen Colquhoun is close to signing, but that has not been confirmed.

What this all signifies is there are three high risk personnel moves that Hervey has bet on in 2017. The first bet is on Sean Whyte doing all three kicking duties. A reasonable decision, but only if Whyte stays healthy. The second, also a reasonable risk, is the drafting of a backup Canadian defensive tackle. The third, and biggest gamble of all, is that Wright can adjust to the CFL game more like Ojo or Grymes did and less like Deion Belue did last year.

Educated CFL fans understand that the toughest defensive position to learn coming directly from U.S. college ball is the wide side defensive back position. Mostly due to running start advantage the opposition’s best inside receiver will have on a wide field. It takes football IQ, high effort, and repetition to adapt to how much cushion to give and the required timing when breaking on the football. The big question is how long will it take Wright to adjust to CFL rules and wide field?

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