MONTREAL — Somehow, general manager Kavis Reed managed to convince some impressive free agents to join the last-place Montreal Alouettes.
Top defensive backs Tommie Campbell, Joe Burnett, Dominique Ellis and Mitchell White signed on this week, but Reed’s prize catch was Canadian pass rushing ace Jamaal Westerman, who joins his brother Jabar on the defensive line.
With other moves to strengthen the team’s Canadian content and boost the special teams, Reed feels he has addressed most of the pressing needs of a woeful squad that went 3-15 and gave up a league-worst 580 points last season. But he still doesn’t know who the starting quarterback will be.
“The good thing about football off-season is you get an opportunity to reset and, in a nine-team league, if you’re smart and you’re strategic about it, things can happen,” Reed said Friday. “We’re looking forward to continuing to build this thing.
“We’re not going to put projections on how many wins we’re going have or be in the playoffs, we want to focus on making sure we have a very solid foundation and be a very competitive team and hopefully fortune goes our way.”
It is already a much-changed roster from last season, which was Reed’s first after succeeding Jim Popp as GM. Reed also took over as interim coach when Jacques Chapdelaine and defensive co-ordinator Noel Thorpe were fired in September.
The new coach is former Green Bay Packers boss Mike Sherman. Former Calgary defensive backs coach Khalil Carter, who may have had a hand in convincing former Stampeders Campbell and Burnett to sign, is the new defensive co-ordinator, aided by veteran defence guru Rich Stubler as his “special adviser.”
Management plus the coaching and scouting staff spent two weeks together plotting their strategy ahead of the opening of CFL free agency on Tuesday. Reed said they landed many of their targets and are still shopping for more.
It was surprising to see coveted free agents like Westerman sign with a team that looked to be in disarray at the end of last season. But Reed denied reports that he had to pay well over market value for some free agents.
“We did not overpay for any of our players,” he said. “Our players all have market value.
“The contracts will bear that out when people start to get them. The reasons that those comments may have been made — obviously there was some miscommunication. But we aren’t in the business of overpaying and we won’t do that and we haven’t done that.”
Reed said he has also brought the average age of the club down by a full year to 27.5 years despite signing veterans. Burnett is 31, Campbell is 30. Before free agency, he dealt fullback J. C. Beaulieu to Ottawa for 30-year-old Patrick Lavoie. Defensive lineman Gabriel Knapton went to British Columbia for 30-year-old receiver Chris Williams. And he brought back sacks leader John Bowman, 35.
It didn’t go so well for popular linebacker Kyries Hebert, 37, the 2017 eastern nominee for the outstanding defensive player award. He was scheduled to take part in a team school visit to encourage kids to finish their education on Thursday but never showed.
A day later, Reed explained why: Hebert asked to be released because he was slated for an unspecified different role under Carter and Stubler. He was immediately snapped up by Ottawa.
Decisions are pending on whether linebacker Chip Cox, 34, or slotback Nik Lewis, 37, will return.
“We’ll very soon start to have discussions with these guys as the roster moves forward,” said Reed.
As has been the case since Anthony Calvillo retired after the 2013 campaign, quarterback is the biggest question mark.
Darian Durant is gone, but last year’s backups Drew Willy, Matt Shiltz and Antonio Pipkin remain. They also signed former NFL pivot Josh Freeman. Reed said the starting job is wide open heading into training camp.
“For all players on the roster, there are no starters right now, literally and figuratively,” he said. ”We realize with a new coaching staff, everyone is auditioning for a job.”
He confirmed that former CFL lineman Miles Gorrell has joined the club as director of national personnel.