Alouettes end season with another win and some hope: where do they go from here?

Andrew Bucholtz
Tiquan Underwood (88), B.J. Cunningham and the Alouettes had a lot to celebrate Saturday, finishing the season with a win over Hamilton. (Peter Power/The Canadian Press.)

The Montreal Alouettes' season had two very different parts. They went 3-9 to start the year, then made the call to replace Jim Popp as head coach with interim head coach Jacques Chapdelaine (Popp stayed on as general manager), and then finished the year 4-2 under Chapdelaine, including a 32-25 road win over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the regular-season finale Saturday. Granted, some of those games (including this one) were against teams with nothing to play for, but the Alouettes still looked much better than they did earlier in the year. They also went 3-0 in their last three games, which featured Vernon Adams Jr. starting at quarterback, and that's a very good sign for a franchise that's had no shortage of trouble developing quarterbacks since Anthony Calvillo's 2013 injury and eventual retirement after that season.

While it was a disastrous start for Montreal, the strong finish may signify some progress for them. They finished with the same 7-11 record as the playoff-bound Tiger-Cats, but lost out to them in tiebreakers thanks to losing their two previous games against Hamilton. It's been a roller-coaster season for the Alouettes, and there have been some questionable moves recently (including the late release of two exceptionally-talented players, Duron Carter and Kenny Stafford), but they do seem to be in a better place than they were earlier this year. The question is where they go from here, though.

The biggest part of that question is about who's going to be Montreal's head coach next season, and it isn't necessarily an easy answer. Chapdelaine is certainly a strong candidate with the way the team played under him, but there are also another couple of interesting internal candidates in defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe (whose unit has been the strongest point for this team all season, allowing just 415 points, the second-lowest in the league) and special teams coordinator Kavis Reed (who's been a head coach before), and there might be some notable external ones as well (including the recently-unemployed Marc Trestman; who knows if Trestman would want to return to the CFL at this point, but he has said that he loves Montreal, and making him an offer might well be worth it). Chapdelaine might be the odds-on favourite right now, but that could mean losing Thorpe (who tried to jump to Edmonton this offseason before the league nixed that move), so there's an interesting balancing act to be had.

Another big part of the question is about the general manager, and about the salary cap. Do the Alouettes want to retain Popp? He has an impressive overall record, but his last few seasons haven't been good, and this year definitely didn't work well with him having both the head coach and general manager roles. Perhaps he can find success again as just a GM, but that will require him being on the same page as the eventual head coach. Popp's cap management is also highly in question: the Alouettes were reportedly $300,000 over the cap quite late in the year, and if they exceed the cap by over $100,000, that leads to the loss of a draft pick as well as . Exceeding the cap by less than $100,000 can be justifiable, as the only penalties are financial, but exceeding it by more than $100,000 is a major problem, and one that hurts a team for the future. Popp clearly didn't spend that money well, either, with how this season worked out for Montreal. Maybe he deserves another chance, but it's not a sure thing at this point.

The last key element of the question for the Alouettes is if Adams is the answer at quarterback going forward. Yes, the team finished 3-0 under him, and yes, he seemed to provide more hope than anyone else they tried this year (neither Kevin Glenn nor Rakeem Cato worked out very well), but his stats aren't exactly overwhelming. Even on Saturday, while he threw for 257 yards and three touchdowns, he only completed 57.1 per cent of his passes. Perhaps Adams can be like B.C.'s Jon Jennings, a young quarterback who previously showed flashes of potential and then converted that into consistent stardom and accuracy this year, or perhaps he'll turn out more like Cato or Troy Smith, previous Montreal starters who were promising at times but never quite made the leap.

Adams' performance down the stretch is a good sign for the Alouettes, but like many of the elements discussed above, it's not necessarily complete proof that everything's rosy going forward. However, this was a strong finish to the season for both him and his team, and it should provide Montreal fans with some hope heading into the offseason. There's still a lot of work to do to make the Alouettes great again, and a lot of questions about what exactly that will entail, but at least they can take some positives from how these last few weeks played out.