Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by Hubba Kimbrel
Free Agent Frenzy – A Feast of Activity
Louisiana Start Their Season 17 Revolution
No team has made heads turn more in Free Agency than the Louisiana Revolution. General Manager Ross Napoli has used his connections wisely and secured the contracts of high class veterans across the board, some who will definitely help on and off the field. Last season was a huge disappointment for Louisiana, a team that never lived up to the expectations set after an excellent debut season in Season 15. Adjustments over the off-season seemed like a necessity, and it looks like the front office in Louisiana agree with me. On day one of Free Agency, Napoli arguably made the biggest splash of the off-season so far, signing a trio of former Lone Star Glory stars – fullback Cameron Collier and the ‘Bash Brothers’ (Doug Day and Brian Craven) have all made the trip East to Louisiana. Now, we all knew that these three would come as a package, but I don’t think anybody really knew where they would drop. Let’s face it, a team has to be in a fairly open position to accept three huge stars on the roster. The positions have to be in place. Luckily for Louisiana, they were. Collier gets to work in the backfield with Reggie Streeter, arguably creating the best 1-2 punch in the SFL and the signing of Day fills the spot left by the retiring Jeff Melinyshyn. Day should be a great replacement for Melinyshyn – I’m sure Jeff would be humble enough to state that they have actually found an upgrade. Potentially, the most impactful catch of this trio is Brian ‘Coach’ Craven, who has successfully helped take Lone Star to consecutive playoff appearances and who has also blooded young coaches in San Jose at the SFLm level. Craven’s off-the-field credentials are his real draw, that being said, the former All-Star isn’t a bad replacement for the departing Blake Craize.
If that wasn’t enough, Louisiana then took the following day by storm, signing proven kicker, Otis Boudreaux, from Las Vegas, before capping things off by ending the ‘Mike Ryan Free Agency’ saga. Once again, the front office over in LOU showed their ability to value a strong balance between on-field ability and off-the-field character. Both Boudreaux and Ryan (Tyler Falk) are well-liked and active members of the community and both, I’m sure, will elevate the Revolution in multiple ways. On the field of play, that defense just gets better and better. The safety combination of Doug Day, Mike Ryan and the returning Tank Bennett looks like one of the scariest in the SFL, combining a consistent All-Star in Bennett, a player starting to shine in his new position in Day and a second season player who was drafted #1 overall. You can’t really ask for more than that. Replacing kicker Matt Fenech with Boudreaux is also a strong move, the latter showing a consistency from beyond 50 metres – a player that will get better with each passing season.
The Louisiana Revolution have killed Free Agency so far. But do they have any more tricks up their sleeve? I’m betting that the QB situation will be resolved in the draft, but you never know. Ross Napoli isn’t someone who is afraid of springing the odd surprise.
Kings Aim to Rebuild Through Star Signing
This off-season has brought with it what seems like a record number of retirements. Now, while that may not necessarily be the case, it is the nature of these retirements that make them stand out more. Big players have retired from successful teams and, in some cases, in very important positions. The Jacksonville Kings are a perfect example of this. The Kings lost their franchise quarterback, their franchise wide receiver and a franchise safety. Add this to the departure of Mike St. Green, one of the brightest young talents in the SFL, and you have a full rebuild on your hands. General Manager Mike Ahl has had to earn his mane this off-season.
The first and most obvious position to get right is the quarterback – the steerer of the ship – the talisman. There are many great options in the draft, I grant you, but Ahl seems to have wanted to replace experience with experience. So, what did he go and do? He went out and captured the signature of a future legend – a returning SFL championship winner with Atlanta. The one and only, Marcus Dunhill. This is quite possibly my favourite move of the off-season so far, in terms of the impact one player may have on an entire franchise. The logic behind this move is unflinching. The Jacksonville Kings are a storied franchise. A squad that is pretty much nailed on to make the playoffs every season. What do they lack? The SFL Championship. It has eluded them so many times. Going out and getting a quarterback who knows how to win a championship, a quarterback who knows the feeling of lifting that trophy, is very shrewd indeed. I already knew Dunhill would return, and in truth, I thought Portland would be the destination. Now he has chosen Jacksonville, I couldn’t be more convinced he has found his perfect match. A team he can try to take to the next level. He does have a slight knock on his value due to a couple years away from the field, but the master of progression should come good, with the quality coaching on offer in Jacksonville.
So, who makes up the supporting cast? Well, the Kings have gone for a blend of experience and youth, giving opportunities to a journeyman receiver and a catcher wanting to upgrade their depth chart position. Shea Carroll has made the trip across the country from a struggling San Diego squad, likely enticed by the pedigree of the Kings. It’s easy to see why Jacksonville were interested in signing Carroll, his experience key as a #2 player behind Greyson Willis. Carroll made the most catches for San Diego last season and will only want to improve his numbers with a QB like Dunhill throwing balls to him. Carroll is joined in the WR room by Kingston Ellington, the young talent from DC. Ellington didn’t get the opportunity to see much action after being drafted out of Salt Lake City, sitting 4th on the depth chart for the Dragons. It looks like the Kings are boosting Ellington to #3 on the depth chart. You have to believe the young star will be chomping at the bit to prove himself on a bigger stage. As we saw during Season 16, slot receivers can prove key to victory, especially when moving the chains. As a member of the Salt Lake City Rustlers myself, I have a good feeling about this move.
A slightly more understated move by the Kings, and one that will end this segment, is the capture of Conner Darian from Atlanta. Once again, this seems to be a case of giving a talented young player an opportunity with more responsibility. Darian sat as the nickel corner for the Swarm, and while his run defense was pretty good, including a forced fumble, his pass defense wasn’t what you would call ‘impactful’ Now, Darian will have the chance to put that right. This signing is one that may be looked on as either a hit or miss a couple of seasons from now. It is all part of the lottery that is a team rebuild.
Nightwings Begin to Replace Their Retired Heroes
Let’s face it. The reigning champions lost a good amount of clout this off-season. The ‘Old Guard’ in Denver completed what they set out to achieve, meaning many have taken their winners medal and rode off into the sunset as heroes. As a fellow SFL veteran, I couldn’t be happier for them. Josh Miller, Jarrod McChesney, Jockamo Jones and Kramer Jackman (I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple others as well) all earned their place in SFL folklore. What remains though? Well, on the face of it – a team without the lumbar region of it’s spine. What remains is a squad that needs to be built intelligently to mitigate the inescapable loss of such elite players, McChesney and Jackman especially. So, what have Denver done to help fill the holes?
Well, I’m going to begin with my own personal favourite move that the Nightwings front office have pulled off – the signing of linebacker, Jose Fuentes, from West Division rivals Sioux Falls. The Sparrows have long had a great core of linebackers at their disposal. Parker, Fargo and Fuentes were a formidable trio. I like that the Denver front office recognised this, saw the chance to weaken a close opponent whilst also strengthening themselves, and pounced. As did most of the players in Sioux Falls, Fuentes had a bit of a ‘down season’ in S16, but still managed to record over 80 tackles, 10 TFLs, 2 sacks and 2 INTs. That’s how good he is. If the big outside linebacker can recapture his best, that combination with Adam Wiseman could be one of the league’s best. A move that may have sipped under some radar’s, which also boosts potential defensive output, is the capture of Hugo Reynosa from Lone Star. Reynosa never really got the opportunities to thrive in Texas and his hunger to succeed in a more prominent role could mean that this is one of the most underrated pick-ups of the off-season.
Now comes the business of replacing the best kicker the league has ever seen – Kramer Jackman (did I really need to say his name?). I’m sure the Denver staff pored over who was best placed to try and replace him, and in the end, they settled on a veteran. Specifically, Mat Fenech, formerly of Louisiana. Fenech isn’t the biggest kicker in the league, nor is he the most accurate from deep. He is as composed as they come though. No doubt Denver will want to work on that range and accuracy, but where better to do it? This was a smart move for both player and franchise. Finally, we see the return of an old face. Faced with the #1 receiving spot open, left by Jockamo Jones, the Nightwings once again call on the services of Logan Keel. Keel will take up that #1 mantle ahead of Bryce Battle and Riley Quintero, although the three are fairly well balanced. There may be more emphasis on the passing game without McChesney crashing the ball up, so Keel will need to forget he has been on the beach for a season and hit the ground running.
There is still work to do in the draft – but Denver are boxing smartly. They won’t be giving up that division and SFL title without a fight.
Fort Worth Look Like a Championship Contender
Speaking of titles, I believe we are staring at an early contender right here. Fort Worth are a franchise we should all aspire to be like, right? Starting out with a solid but losing season, they quickly progressed, through smart decisions and coaching, to a strong playoff team that lives behind an exceptional defense. Once again, the Toros are doing clever things. The South division should sit up and take notice.
Now, some of you may be wondering what all the fuss is about. The Toros have only made two free agent signings – it’s hardly a big splash? Well, when you possess a league leading defence and you improve it still further? I’d call that a splash! The one place where the Toros struggled last season was penetration and pressure from their defensive ends. Gary Marx and Joey Schwindt had 4.5 sacks between them after 12 games – nothing to write home about. Granted, the slack was picked up by the interior but imagine if the entire line could work in unison to pressure SFL QBs. Up steps Jeff Duffy, a player who is a marked upgrade on Joey Schwindt, who has moved inside to
cover the loss of Katherine Horrell. On his day, Duffy is arguably the best defensive end in the league – a player who suffered a downturn in form last season but should thrive as part of a great defense. The same can be said for savvy veteran, Marquis Reid. Reid, who has spent a decent couple of seasons in London, is consistently good for about 4 INTs per season, but looking at his historical numbers, pass deflections really educate us to his prowess against the pass. Reid had over 20 PDs in St. Louis a few seasons ago. If he can reach even close to that ceiling, the Toros will have a secondary to fear. He’s a low hype, low risk signing, but right now, that’s exactly what the Toros need.
They do probably need to bolster their offense with some exciting young talent in the draft, but given the intelligence the front office have shown this off-season, I can’t doubt them. I know this is far too early, but Fort Worth have gone past the moniker of ‘Dark Horse’ into ‘Favourites’ to win the SFL Championship.
Thank you for reading our first edition of the ‘Free Agent Frenzy’, a place to come to truly find out what a signing might mean for a team. Check back next time as we analyse more of the exciting action in the lead up to the SFL draft.