While Saskatchewan and Winnipeg made it rain for two days, Edmonton Eskimos general manager Ed Hervey kept his powder mostly dry.
It’s almost standard operating procedure for a defending champ.
It was certainly Hervey’s stated plan going into Canadian Football League free agency, and it didn’t change a whit even as Regina solidified its new designation as Edmonton East, and Winnipeg raided several rosters.
And Hervey said he isn’t angry that Saskatchewan Roughriders GM/head coach Chris Jones poached four Edmonton free agents, to add to the eight assistant coaches he lured one province over.
“I would have done the same thing, I’m sure,” Hervey said Wednesday. “I would have probably went to a team, gutted the roster and created a war chest for free agency as well. That’s what you do to turn your team around. Did you expect him to play with that same roster?”
The one that went 3-15? Dead last in sacks and interceptions? Most points surrendered? Most rushing and passing yards yielded? That roster? Seems unlikely.
Fact is, Hervey and the rest of the CFL saw this airlift coming, probably even before Jones jettisoned Weston Dressler and John Chick — go-to-guys, but not his guys — to free up salary cap room. Players talk to players and their agents, who talk to general managers, and the off-season game of musical chairs is largely decided before it starts. Sure, there are exceptions, as Hamilton proved with much-coveted defensive lineman Ted Laurent, but it cost them big coin to hang onto him.
At the same time, Winnipeg GM Kyle Walters had made it well-known that he was operating with a fat wallet. He went shopping all over the league, sampling from the rosters of Toronto, Ottawa, B.C., Hamilton and even Saskatchewan.
It was pretty natural that Jones would largely target free agents who helped him win a 2015 Grey Cup with Edmonton, though he, too, grabbed from Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton and even Winnipeg.
And it was even more natural that those Eskimos free agents would be looking for a payday. They are newly minted champs, after all, and feel they deserve some consideration.
Some got their due from Edmonton. A source said defensive lineman Almondo Sewell got $178,000 to stay. That’s not Laurent money — rumour has it the Ticat’s new deal averages $250,000 — but it’s the kind of coin that sits atop Hervey’s defensive depth chart and forces every one of his free agents to fall in line or look elsewhere.
“As far as losing guys, everyone is going to go cash in,” said Hervey. “We would not be able to meet those demands of every player that left. There was a lot of money being spent out there.”
Hervey set his priorities, let his players know what was what, and had a firm grip on who he could reasonably afford, and who was headed out the door. He even knew for sure that some of Otha Foster, Shamawd Chambers, Andrew Jones and Kendial Lawrence were heading to Regina. Kenny Stafford’s signing with Montreal might have been a small surprise, given that he had expressed some NFL aspirations, but he’s a former Alouette and that, too, plays a part.
Hervey said he didn’t even bother to make contract offers to the majority of those players because he didn’t see the point.
“Why get in the process of a bidding war when you don’t need to?” he said.
“I don’t feel like we lost anyone that we didn’t expect to go. My objective wasn’t to go out there and spend the most money and make that kind of news. It was to redefine our core players, go after those guys. We’ve got a lot of guys on our team making minimum salaries. We can’t make everyone the highest paid at their position.
“I’m confident about what we do here and excited about moving forward with the players we have, the players that will have the opportunity to step into the positions that were vacated.”
He wasn’t completely shut out, as he re-signed running back John White on Tuesday, added linebacker J. C. Sherritt on Wednesday and will wait on defensive back Aaron Grymes, who has worked out for a couple of NFL teams and is hoping for an offer. It’s one of the reasons Hervey isn’t shelling out money today.
Grymes’ agent Cameron Foster said Wednesday that his client will wait until “early May” to make a decision. If the NFL doesn’t come calling, Foster said “there is a good chance” Grymes would return to Edmonton, and Hervey sounded confident it will happen.
Are the Eskimos a better team today for all the comings and goings? Certainly not. But it’s February, the draft awaits, and Hervey might yet sign a free agent.
“Time will tell on that. We’re in conversations, but the days go by and the demands go down. … There are some very good players out there. If there is some value for our ball club, we will definitely look into it.”