CFL off-season: Which team made the best moves?


It's been a busy winter for the nine CFL teams, with trades, free-agent signings and new management on a number of fronts.

So who got better? Here's a look:

Toronto Argonauts

The Argonauts have begun to carve out a new identity under new head coach Marc Trestman and general manager Jim Popp after a disappointing 5-13 season in 2016. 

With two Grey Cup championships under their belt with the Montreal Alouettes in 2009 and 2010, Trestman and Popp will look to bring the same high-powered offensive attack to Toronto.

Among the new Argonauts being added to the mix for this season are running backs Kendall Hunter and Cam McDaniel. Both grew up playing high school football in Texas before enjoying productive NCAA careers. 

Hunter rushed for more than 4,000 yards at Oklahoma State while being voted a first-team All-American in 2008 and 2010. McDaniel served a reliable role as a member of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish from 2011 to 2013, racking up more than1,600 all-purpose yards while scoring eight touchdowns as a runner, receiver and returner. 

One major pickup expected to have an immediate impact is S.J. Green, who was acquired in a trade with the Alouettes. Green was on those two Trestman-Popp Grey Cup teams and was named a CFL all-star five seasons in a row.

Since 2007, Green has 42 touchdowns along with more than 6,000 yards receiving should be a major weapon on the outside for quarterback Ricky Ray.

Toronto has also made big pickups on the defensive side by adding cornerback Brandon Harris and linebacker Winston Venable.

 A second-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, Harris appeared in 42 NFL games and was viewed as a top prospect coming out of the University of Miami. Venable had 191 tackles and 12 sacks over the last two seasons as a member of the Alouettes and was ranked as one of the top free agents available this off-season. 

Montreal Alouettes

Coming off a 7-11 season, the Montreal Alouettes are adding some important pieces to help turn things around in 2017, the biggest being the trade with Saskatchewan for quarterback Darian Durant.

The 12-year veteran is seen as more of a short-term solution, allowing Jacory Harris to establish his potential as the quarterback of the Alouettes' future.

The addition of receiver Ernest Jackson should inject life into the Alouettes' offence, with the 2016 Grey Cup Champion coming off a massively productive campaign with the Redblacks. 

Jackson reeled in 88 catches for 1,225 yards and 10 touchdowns in the Redblacks' potent passing attack last season. With Duron Carter no longer in the picture and veteran slotback Nik Lewis turning 34 in June, the Alouettes will benefit from the presence of a productive receiver like Jackson on the outside to serve as the top target for Durant. 

The Alouettes are bringing in players who know how to win. Along with Ernest Jackson, who caught the game-winning touchdown for Ottawa in last year's Grey Cup, the team has added two players from the 2015 Grey Cup-winning Eskimos by signing defensive lineman Don Oramasionwu and offensive lineman Brian Simmons.

The search for Montreal's quarterback of the future might become clearer with the addition of Harris. General manager Kavis Reed knows Harris from their time together in Edmonton when the American passer was on the Eskimos' practice roster.

Ottawa Redblacks

The defending Grey Cup champions have added some game-changers on both sides of the ball. 

The signing of defensive back A.J. Jefferson will bring some added skill to Ottawa's defence and help deal with the departure of Abdul Kanneh. The former NFL product has turned into a reliable defender in the CFL, registering six interceptions along with 91 tackles during his two seasons with the Toronto Argonauts.

The departure of receivers Ernest Jackson and Chris Williams will be partially negated by the addition of last season's leading Argonaut receiver, Kenny Shaw and fellow Argonaut speedster Diontae Spencer.

Shaw is coming off a campaign that saw him put up 1,004 yards and five touchdowns on 77 catches with Toronto. Spencer is built much like Williams and will look to serve a similar role with his game-breaking speed in the passing game.

Versatile linebacker Khalil Bass has also been added to the defensive mix in Ottawa. Bass can affect a game at every level, having racked up 82 tackles along with four sacks and two interceptions last season for Winnipeg. 

Hamilton Tiger-Cats

The Tiger-Cats have been quiet so far this off-season, but they made a major signing by adding one of the top free-agent defenders.

Defensive back Abdul Kanneh is joining the team after two all-star seasons with Ottawa.

Kanneh was a big part of the Redblacks' championship run last season, posting 52 tackles and three interceptions. Kanneh displayed elite ball skills with the Redblacks, reeling in an impressive 12 interceptions during his three seasons in Ottawa.

Another new face is defensive back Ethan Davis, who had 41 tackles as a rookie with the Alouettes last year. 

Saskatchewan Roughriders

Roughriders GM Chris Jones has made some big moves by adding some noteworthy names to the mix in Saskatchewan.

While the headline signing is former NFL quarterback Vince Young, there are several names that are more likely to contribute immediately for the green and white this season.

Chad Owens will be joining the Roughriders this season after spending a year in Hamilton. Chris Jones was a member of the Argonauts coaching staff during Owens' peak years with Toronto.

Owens is coming off a campaign with the Tiger-Cats that saw him put up 808 yards and five touchdowns before a broken foot derailed his season 12 games in. Though he's recently turned 35, Owens appears to still have gas left in the tank and will look to bring his play-making ability as a return specialist and receiver to Rider Nation.

Derek Dennis, the recipient of last season's most outstanding lineman award, is a top signing for the Roughriders. A powerful impact blocker at offensive tackle, Dennis was instrumental in helping Stampeders running back Jerome Messam rush for a league-leading 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

Edmonton Eskimos

With new general manager Brock Sunderland now in charge of evaluating talent and adding to the roster in Edmonton, the Eskimos are expected to add a few more pieces as the off-season goes down the final stretch. 

There were a couple additions already made this off-season by previous GM Ed Hervey, however. Two members of the 2016 Grey Cup-winning Redblacks will look to further develop their skills in Edmonton this season. 

The Eskimos have added running back Travon Van, an explosive player who racked up 422 rushing yards on only 81 attempts for Ottawa last season while averaging 5.2 yards per carry. A former NCAA talent, Van also caught 19 passes for 137 yards and returned four kickoffs for 83 yards last season. Van will look to establish a larger role with the Eskimos as a versatile back. 

Defensive lineman Aston Whiteside piled up 10 sacks the past two seasons with the Redblacks and will bring some pass-rushing athleticism to the Eskimos.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers

The addition of free agent Drake Nevis will add some physicality to the defensive tackle position in Winnipeg, who were 11-7 last season. The former college star at LSU had an impact with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in his first season as an CFL starter, registering five sacks and 29 tackles.

General manager Kyle Walters has also added depth at quarterback with the signing of former Argo Dan LeFevour.

LeFevour threw for 779 yards and six touchdowns with Toronto last season, also adding 155 yards rushing in three games as a starter. The former NCAA star will bring solid depth behind starting quarterback Matt Nichols.

B.C. Lions

The Lions are coming off a 12-6 season and have added a fast weapon to their already dangerous receiving corps with the signing of Chris Williams.

The former Redblacks speedster has 4,822 receiving yards and 32 touchdowns during his four year CFL career.

Williams was enjoying another stellar season with Ottawa last year before a torn ACL knocked him out of action. Williams will join Bryan Burnham and Emmanuel Arceneaux to form one of the best receiver trios in the league.

The Lions' offensive line is getting a major boost with the addition of David Foucault. The Montreal native spent the last two years as a member of the Carolina Panthers after being a top pick in the 2014 CFL draft. 

Defensively, the Lions will be improved by the addition of pass-rusher Frank Alexander. Alexander was named the Big 12's co-defensive player of the year as an Oklahoma Sooner before being drafted in the fourth round by the Panthers.

Calgary Stampeders

The Stampeders have been quiet this off-season, coming off a narrow Grey Cup defeat to the Redblacks and looking to make another run this year.

One notable addition is defensive lineman Bryan Hall. Hall was a member of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2012 and has been a productive CFL player since joining the league in 2014. Hall has 11 sacks in three seasons with Hamilton and Toronto.

On offence, Calgary is bringing in QB Nick Arbuckle from their practice roster. Arbuckle set the Sun Belt record for passing yards and total offensive yards during his senior year at Georgia State in 2015 and will have a chance to work his way up the depth chart and provide insurance for starter Bo Levi Mitchell.  

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