November 17, 2008
Top 10 points to ponderHard decisions will have to be made during what's sure to be a busy off-season
By JONATHAN HUNTINGTON, SUN MEDIA
Facing nearly six months before rookie training camp starts for the 2009 Edmonton Eskimos' season, here are the 10 most intriguing questions to ponder during the off-season.
1. What role(s) will Danny Maciocia have next year?
The head coach and director of football operations isn't commenting on when a decision will come on his status for next year, but discussions with president and CEO Rick LeLacheur are on tap.
"I will be sitting down with Rick, probably within the next two weeks, I would say," said Maciocia. "And we will talk through a few things. Clearly, I'll go home and I will be talking to my family, which is critical I have their support. And then we will do what is best for the organization.
"Last year, it was left to me to pick and choose what I wanted to do and it was extremely important for me to be back and to get this thing going.
"And I think we were able to do so. So, there is a sense of satisfaction. Yet as I stand here before you, I am clearly disappointed with the game we played (in the East final).
"But having said that, we will sit down and talk through a few details."
PREDICTION: After losing the East final in Montreal on Saturday to end this year's campaign, Maciocia will come back in the same capacity next season.
2. Does Jason Tucker receive medical clearance to play?
Tucker has a doctor's appointment on Wednesday, but doesn't expect to learn at that point if he can play next season.
There is speculation he could become the Esks' receivers coach if/when Mike Kelly becomes Winnipeg's head coach.
Tucker is now admitting he has thought about being a coach and believes this crew of Edmonton receivers would listen to him.
"I've got to keep all my options open. I don't know my situation. Hopefully if one (door) closes, another opens," he remarked.
PREDICTION: Impossible, because of unknown medical data to come after breaking his neck in July. But there are people around the Eskimos' compound who believe Tucker will play again.
3. Will LB Shannon Garrett retire after 14 CFL seasons?
The body language suggests Garrett is leaning toward walking away and starting a new chapter in his life.
PREDICTION: Garrett says goodbye at age 36.
Could safety Siddeeq Shabazz be his replacement at strongside linebacker?
4. Will Edmonton sign free agent RB Jesse Lumsden?
It's clear that AJ Harris isn't the answer at running back.
With Calvin McCarty possessing the best hands on the team -- giving the Esks a great pass receiving option out of the backfield -- Lumsden can be the hard-running ball carrier in a one-two punch.
Both being non-imports gives the team some critical breathing room in the ratio department.
PREDICTION: Lumsden signs a bonus-laden deal (tied to games played) with Edmonton, opting for wins in here compared to more frustrating losses in Hamilton.
5. Does Kelly Campbell escape to the NFL?
Edmonton's most dangerous receiver, Campbell can bolt to the American league in the off-season through the option-year escape clause in his CFL contract.
PREDICTION: Campbell doesn't stick on an NFL roster next fall. He might get a training camp invite, but age (he'll be 29 next summer) and salary ($595,000 US minimum salary for his classification) will hurt his stock.
6. Does Ronnie Vinklarek stay in Edmonton or join close friend Mike Kelly on Winnipeg's coaching staff?
Edmonton has had three offensive line coaches -- Bill Macdermott, Carl Brennan and Vinklarek -- in three years.
The last thing the O-line needs is another new coach.
"I (talked) to Danny two months ago about me coming back here," Vinklarek said yesterday during locker-room clean-out day.
PREDICTION: Vinklarek stays in Edmonton. In 28 years of coaching, he's only had seven cracks at being in the playoffs. The Esks are prime playoff contenders in 2009.
7. How many pieces of the O-line disappear in the off-season?
Three members -- John Comiskey, Tim Bakker and Joe McGrath -- are set to be free agents this winter. Patrick Kabongo is going into his option year.
PREDICTION: McGrath is going to command significant dollars on the open market. In the salary cap world, Calvin Armstrong is a cheaper, better option. McGrath likely signs elsewhere, but Comiskey returns.
8. Will QB Stefan LeFors return or be traded?
Ricky Ray will be the undisputed starting pivot for years to come. Jason Maas can be the backup.
LeFors is starting material in this league, with two years remaining on his contract with the Eskimos.
Will the Saskatchewan Roughriders come calling for the second straight off-season?
The Riders need an upgrade at quarterback and LeFors has learned the ropes from the best in the CFL for two years.
PREDICTION: LeFors stays because Maciocia wants depth.
9. Does DE Brandon Guillory return?
A free agent this winter, he's attracting interest from at least three NFL teams.
PREDICTION: Guillory has played his last game in Edmonton.
If he doesn't play in the NFL, he resurfaces with another CFL team.
Given the amount of time he has spent in Maciocia's doghouse this season, why would he want to return?
10. Will the Eskimos get a break with the 2009 schedule?
The Green and Gold were dealt a bad hand by the CFL head office this year with three Thursday night home games at 8 p.m. to start the regular season. As if that weren't enough, the club had to play at Commonwealth Stadium on Halloween night.
PREDICTION: The league schedule-maker goes out of his way to make sure the Esks get a much more favourable schedule next year.