On the eve of the CFL Free Agency Period, TSN.ca takes a look at each team and evaluates their needs as well as potential targets on the open market. Below, the East Division preview.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
A year removed from representing the East Division in the Grey Cup, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers fell to the bottom of league standings. The optimist could argue 2012 was just a down year, the Bombers finished the season with four wins in their last seven games, and the team isn't that far from contender-ship.
It says here, however, that just in case Winnipeg should fall short of contention, it should take this off-season as an opportunity to add talent and rejuvenate the roster.
The big question remains the quarterback position. GM Joe Mack however, stated on the eve of free agency that he has no plans of bringing in any experienced CFL QBs to compete with the current trio of Buck Pierce, Joey Elliott, and Alex Brink.
With that in mind, Winnipeg's focus could be on defence. The unit wasn't the same after their swaggerful 2011 and an infusion of new talent could go a long way moving forward.
Potential Target: LB Tyron Brackenridge: At the same time Mack stated the team won't bring in any experienced competition at QB in free agency, he also revealed LB Marcellus Bowman was lost long-term to a knee injury. Brackenridge had a very productive campaign for the Bombers' rivals in green last season and could be a nice addition to the LB corps, especially while Bowman heals.
It's hard to gauge the type of player Hamilton's new regime will target, but we can assess the team's needs based on last season's shortcomings, most of which came on defence.
The defensive line struggled for most of the year as well, but Hamilton appeared to have found some fits late in the season. The front line could use some more help but it's worth keeping in mind the Cats own the top pick in the March CFL Draft, with two D-lineman among the top draft-eligible prospects.
Free agency may be the time for Hamilton to address its secondary. With off-season pink slips given to Geoff Tisdale and Carlos Thomas – two players who saw extensive time in the Ticats' secondary last season – it's clear that moving forward the back five will have a very different look. Dee Webb, who has played under Hamilton's new defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, is likely safe and the Cats also landed former Roughrider James Patrick earlier this off-season. But after that...
Potential Target: DB Deon Beasley The market for defensive backs has dwindled thanks to off-season re-signings and moves to the NFL, but there are still a few impact players in the secondary available, all of whom could be on Hamilton's radar. Deon Beasley, who has shown flashes in Winnipeg the past three years, could be a nice fit.
It's rare that a defending champion can avoid large amounts of off-season turnover. There's something about winning it all that elevates an impending free agent's value on the open market.
Fortunately for the Toronto Argonauts, their list of potential free agents is far from extensive, but the ones they do have – in particular Chad Kackert and Ricky Foley – could take advantage of the Grey Cup rings they earned in November and cash in on the open market.
Kackert and Foley highlight Toronto's two biggest areas of need. Should the Argos have designs on repeating as Grey Cup champs, shoring up the running game and defensive line should become priorities.
Potential Target: DL Brian Bulcke Brian Bulcke's two-year stint with the Stampeders was interrupted by a tryout with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers. The versatile defensive lineman carries with him non-import status and has the talent to put it all together in the right situation. Bulcke could be a nice replacement if the Argos lose Ricky Foley to free agency.
Montreal Alouettes GM Jim Popp has made a habit of finding gems south of the border to replace any departing free agents. But this winter proved Popp may not be around forever – NFL teams are taking notice and it could be a matter of time before one offers Popp their top personnel job.
With that in the back of his mind, Popp may use this off-season to stock the team's cupboard with proven veterans who could be in Montreal longer than he is.
The team's biggest need this off-season may very well have been a backup QB, but that hole looks to have been filled with the signing of former Tiger-Cat Quinton Porter. Another area the Als could do worse to shore up is the secondary. Due to move on from Dwight Anderson, Montreal will have some vacancies to fill in its defensive backfield.
Potential Target: DB Chris McKenzie McKenzie is a reliable veteran who could off-set some of the experience the Als could lose this off-season. The four-year veteran played in all 18 regular season games for the Roughriders last year as well as the West Semi-Final. McKenzie will be 31 when the season starts, but still has some gas in the tank for any prospective team.