Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by JR Lawless

The Calm Before the Storm

An off-season in the SFL is a like a journey through modern history. We have the Wild Wild West which is SFL Free Agency, the short period of peace that descends as front offices plan their next move, then the final pieces to each puzzle added during the SFL Draft – teams acting like armies carefully assembling before the Great War that is the SFL Regular Season. Currently, we have entered that quiet time – the seconds between the flash of lightning and the upcoming clap of thunder. Now is the time when content creators, community members and GM’s themselves are asking questions about their own team and the plans of others. For some, the remainder of the off-season is simple. For others, it has barely begun.

In this series, we are going to ask some important questions that could be addressed over the coming weeks, and some that may not see an answer until well into the season. Every franchise is in a period of uncertainty – even the Baltimore Vultures, so it is intriguing to see what, if anything, needs to be discussed before the fast-approaching draft. To make things easier for the reader (believe me, I know most of you will skip the bulk of these articles and head straight for your team) we’ll go through a division at a time, in this order:

  • Pacific Division
  • North Division
  • Atlantic Division
  • South Division
  • East Division
  • Central Division
  • West Division

Pacific Division

Vancouver Legion – Will the Legion draft another weapon for their new quarterback to utilise?

The appointment of Christian Brown as Vancouver’s new quarterback was one of the marquee signings of the Free Agency period. Brown is an up and comer in the SFL, and I think it is fair to say that many believe he will thrive in the highly-powered offense run by the Legion. Unfortunately for Brown, he may not have quite the same arsenal of weapons as his predecessor, Kendra Hall and David Gehres both leaving for pastures new. Hall, a name that needs no introduction, will most certainly be a huge miss. Moving back to the Legion’s roster, the experienced hands of Brett Killian and Christ Curtis remain, joined by second-year player, Justice Blackwell, whom seems to be set to line up in the slot. Whilst I have no doubt Vancouver’s passing attack will sit near the top of the table during the regular season (tight end Walters and running back Redford both provide excellent options too) I can’t help but wonder if they will return to a 4-WR system. A bevvy of young receivers would jump at the chance to enter the Vancouver locker room, and the Legion could use a young project to work on for the coming seasons. Tee Da’Queen jumps out as a premier player in this season’s draft after a successful season in Tacoma, but due to an unfavourable draft position, Vancouver may decide to look elsewhere. The San Jose Flight pairing of Jay Viper and Terrell Cooper look intriguing, especially if Andy Hamilton fancies a larger body up the middle.

Los Angeles Lycans – Is Logan Jack the key to unlocking Vancouver’s hold on the Pacific?

Despite a down Season 18, I still tip the Lycans to be a competitive element of the Pacific Division, possibly even the team best placed to topple Vancouver’s monopoly over it. With San Diego shipping off to the West – to be replaced by the expansion Seattle Nemesis – and Portland hoping for a dramatic turnaround, the Lycans conducted their business quietly and seemingly without drama, sneakily filling out their roster of 23 without the need to draft a rookie. The largest adjustment for L.A fans will be the change in running back (bruising rusher Robert Johnson was replaced by running back/receiver, Logan Jack) and how it will affect the look and feel of the offense. Both are bona fide Top 10 running backs in this league, and have been for some time, but their play styles couldn’t be further apart. Put simply, Johnson is a truck. He pulled off some of the greatest individual runs I’ve ever seen the SFL – but he was/is streaky. Jack is smoother in his running and seemingly much more adept at catching the ball out of the backfield. The former Carolina Skyhawk was 2nd in the SFL in catches for a running back last season, catching 6 TD’s at a decent rate of 5.1 YPC. It will be interesting to see whether L.A adapt to Jack, or expect Jack to adapt to them. Either way, giving the Vancouver defense something new to contend with could be the key to winning the division.

Portland Fleet – Is drafting a QB high more important than the hole in the defensive line?

Unlike the Lycans, the Fleet do need to draw on the draft for this season’s talent; they have six selections to find the team’s next stars, if my calculations are correct. Where they go first however, is almost more important than the rest of the picks combined. Those of you that have been around the SFL for some time will know that traditional positional values don’t always follow suit in the SFL. Often, the value of a position in the draft is down to the abundance and quality of the stock available. For instance, if a team needs a quarterback and a kicker, you’d better believe they will go with the kicker first if the pool of QBs is lengthy and full of quality. Some teams have mastered this strategy in past drafts, although it has not always been a move received fondly (I know this from first hand experience after I drafted a kicker #10 in the S15 draft for Las Vegas). So, how does this apply to Portland? Well, as we all know, OJ Bruin has moved on (some might argue that this is a blessing in disguise for the Fleet) and there is a QB sized hole in the roster – but wait – the Fleet also have no contracted players anchoring the defensive line after losing Vernard Patterson (a legit big loss) and Gary Birney to free agency. With talent depth at the DT position lacking compared to QB in this season’s draft, will Portland use their early pick on a big man, maybe by the name of Robert Vale? Vale has been a true run stuffer for the Ottawa Cavalry, and could help the Fleet improve their less than ideal rush defence from last season. QB is the obvious need to fill – DT might be the smartest.

Seattle Nemesis – Can Seattle toe the line between building for the future and being competitive in the now?

The formation of the expansion Seattle Nemesis is proof that perseverance pays off, Ethan Kye finally getting a team to call his own. Now, the hard work starts. The Nemesis’ free agency was less fruitful than the rest of the expansion teams, leaving a roster with a multitude of holes to fill. The result – a lot of picks pooled later in the draft.

Can Seattle work this to their advantage? Absolutely.

Will it be the hardest off-season in franchise history? Hell yes.

This initial draft is about establishing an identity. It is more than likely that wins will be hard to come by for Seattle this season, and wins, more often than not, correlate with a high player retention, thus keeping that cycle of success. How does a team combat this phenomenon? Building a strong team culture, and that means…yep, drafting the right players. On field value is, of course, important – Seattle will still want to win some games – but intangibles and SFL acumen away from the turf is what can be the biggest factor in long term success. For what it’s worth, I like the work in free agency, especially securing the tandem of David and KT. Horrell, couple with a pair of potential young stars at receiver. The next step is to build a young roster that will eventually be able to fight fire with Vancouver. Easy, right?…

Up next, we quiz the teams in the North about their plans for the draft…