Who Will Stay, Who Will Go: Free Agency Preview for Redblacks Defense

Photo credit: Justin Tang (Canadian Press)

With the sting of their loss in the 106th Grey Cup now in the rearview mirror, the Ottawa Redblacks are planning how to improve for the upcoming season.

The list of free agents for most CFL teams this year is pretty staggering, Redblacks included. It appeared to be a monumental task for general manager Marcel Desjardins to maintain the roster that won the East last season, but he has already taken significant strides towards keeping that group together.

15 of the Redblacks’ 24 starters in November’s Grey Cup were all set to hit free agency. That includes eight divisional all-stars and their starting quarterback. It is impossible to predict which new players the Redblacks will land until we know for sure which stars will be going out the door. Many have already re-upped and will be in Ottawa next season.

CFL free agency is just mere days away but the most important deal (between the CFL and CFL Players Association) has yet to be agreed upon.

There is increasing concern from teams, players and fans because the CFL and the CFLPA have still not come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. The 2019 season cannot be played without it. But with or without a new CBA, free agency is still set to begin next Tuesday at 12:00 p.m. EST and teams are looking to retain or upgrade their current rosters.

You can find the free agency preview for the Redblacks offense here.

(+) = Re-signed

(-) = Will not be re-signed

Defensive Line:

  • Michael Klassen (+)
  • A.C. Leonard (-)
  • Avery Ellis (+)
  • Danny Mason (+)
  • Jonathan Newsome (+)
  • Michael Wakefield (+)
  • Ettore Lattanzio (+)
  • Nigel Romick (+)

Defensive coordinator Noel Thorpe was clearly satisfied with what he got out of this unit last season, as six of their eight free agents have already been re-signed. A.C. Leonard however, will apparently not be getting a new deal from the Redblacks.

Though he was selected to the East Division All-Star team, Leonard only recorded one sack in his last eight regular season games and was left off the active roster for the playoffs. Thorpe expressed how impressed he was with Leonard’s play at the beginning of last season but clearly something changed down the stretch. It will be interesting to see if the Redblacks stay in-house with who will replace Leonard or will look to the free agent pool from other teams to acquire a top pass rusher.

However, many other pieces, starters and those who are in the rotation off the bench, have been kept in place. Having a deep stable of talented defensive linemen allows the Redblacks to be flexible for rush or pass situations and gives them the ability to cycle through talented linemen throughout games. Playing D-line is a tiring job and having depth can keep the defensive front fresh into the late stages of any game.


  • Chris Ackie
  • Kyries Herbert (-)

It is believed that free agent Kyries Herbert is done in Ottawa as well after just one year with the Redblacks. The veteran linebacker, when healthy, was often in the starting lineup last season but depth and youth at the position seems to have made the Redblacks comfortable with moving on from the ‘Angry Bird’.

Ottawa already has Kevin Brown, Anthony Cioffi and Avery Williams as linebackers under contract for next season. Not to mention, the Redblacks have a 26-year-old Canadian to re-sign. The incredibly versatile Chris Ackie was acquired at the deadline in-season from the Alouettes but was only used sparingly down the stretch of the season and into the playoffs.

It appears that Ottawa had a long-term commitment in mind when they traded for Ackie, considering the fact that he was in the last year of his deal. It would not make much sense for the Redblacks to trade a draft pick for a rental that seldom played. But as of now, a deal has yet to be completed.

Defensive Backfield:

  • Rico Murray
  • Jonathan Rose (+)
  • Corey Tindal (+)
  • Sherrod Baltimore (+)

Like their defensive line, it appears the Redblacks want to keep last year’s secondary unit intact. All four of their primary corners (by season’s end) were set to hit the free agent market but now only one remains unsigned. Ottawa already retained one of their two East Division All-Star corners (Jonathan Rose), leaving the other all-star (Rico Murray) as their lone defensive back needing a new deal.

Against Hamilton, their primary competition in the East Division, the Redblacks will need to counterbalance against the Ti-Cats’ explosive passing game with skilled defenders in the secondary. They were able to own that matchup last season, leading to a 4-0 record against Hamilton, and it looks like they are willing to run it back with the same group.

Stay tuned on Ottawa Life for more free agent CFL coverage in the coming weeks as new deals are announced and the Redblacks look to bring in new weapons for the 2019 season.