Marcel Desjardins is one of the most polarizing figures with the Redblacks organization. Either you think he’s a good GM or you hate him and want him out. There doesn’t seem to be much in between. The question that now needs to be asked is if he has done enough to redeem himself for the disastrous 2019 offseason.
Let’s first take a look back at the 2018 season. The Redblacks go 11-7 and lock up the number one spot in the East. They dominated the Cats en route to a 46-27 win in a game that Trevor Harris threw for 6 touchdowns. The team was on the way to the Grey Cup game.
That Grey Cup game didn’t go as planned, but the season was still an overwhelming success. This was the best Redblacks team since 2015 where Henry Burris led the team to a 12-6 record. That season also ended in a Grey Cup loss, but that was different. There was still something to build off of.
The 2019 offseason was different for the Redblacks. Instead of looking to add, they shed many of the key pieces to the roster. Names such as Greg Ellingson, Sir Vincent Rodgers, Rico Murray and of course Trevor Harris. Other names such as Diontea Spencer left for the NFL and William Powell left for greener pastures with the Riders.
It seemed like the Redblacks were trying to shed as much money as possible for the 2019 season, and that theory only became more popular as the offseason rolled on. While other teams signed the big names, Desjardins and the Redblacks settled with Caleb Holley and Jonathan Jennings. Despite numerous quotes from Redblacks and OSEG CEO Mark Goudie, fans continued to think the team was cutting costs.
Despite my short-lived optimism in the newly formed and young squad, the season went about as badly as the naysayers said it would. Despite the 2-0 start, the Redblacks would drop 15 of their final 16 games and played their worst football ever, despite earning one more win than the 2014 team who went 2-16.
At the end of the season, I wrote an article about Rick Campbell leaving and Marcel Desjardins staying, and at the time, I thought keeping Desjardins would be a mistake. He must have understood how quickly he would be axed if the Redblacks struggled in the 2020 season because he was on his game for the 2020 offseason.
Things started quickly when the Redblacks hired Paul LaPolice, the hottest coaching commodity on the market. The Redblacks lacked that offensive guidance in 2019 with both Winston October and Joe PaoPao getting chances to call the plays. Now, with LaPolice as both the head coach and the offensive coordinator, the Redblacks have the base of a very successful offence. It was time to find the players to fill those roles now.
Soon after, the Redblacks made a trade with the Stampeders to pick up quarterback, Nick Arbuckle. Again, the Redblacks made a big move to pick up exclusive negotiating rights with the up and coming quarterback of the offseason. A quarterback who showed incredible promise with the Stamps in the 2019 season. They would eventually get a deal done to make Arbuckle the Redblacks QB for the 2020 season and beyond. It is now up to Nick to make things work.
The signings continued as free agency opened up. The headlining move of the free agency period was Cleyon Laing. Some of the signings later would include names like Jalen Saunders. Keeping players like Brad Sinopoli, Brendan Gillanders and Avery Williams around certainly helps out the roster and keeps the fan base happy.
The draft also went well for the Redblacks. Straying from their normal plan of drafting an offensive lineman in the first round, the club picked Adam Auclair, the first time picking a player that was not an offensive lineman since Antoine Pruneau in 2014. The club also scooped up some quality players in the closing rounds with Reshaan Davis and Ketel Asse.
The Redblacks are in an infinitely better spot right now than they were this time last year, but a lot will still have to happen for them to show it on the field should there be a 2020 season. Nothing is guaranteed in the CFL. The good news, for now, is that it appears that the Redblacks have taken massive steps forward into being a contender once again.
As of right now, it looks like Marcel Desjardins has redeemed himself. It is going to be interesting to see if the club keeps him around if there is no season. On paper at least, the team looks to be much better than their 2019 counterpart.