Written by Matthew Slinn
Images by JR Lawless
(The opening paragraph will be replicated in every article in this series. If you read the previous article(s), then feel free to skim over that section).
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 piece, 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 this article 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
London Knights – Will the Knights try to strengthen their run game?
Now, I know what you’re thinking…’Slinn, London already has a highly paid running back in Robert Merrill’…and those of you thinking that would be exactly correct. With that being said, the Knights had one of the least effective rush attacks in Season 18, something which has been a trend in recent seasons. It’s not that Merrill is a bad player – far from it – his style just seems to suit a hybrid back. His skills blur the lines between a half back and a wide receiver (unsurprisingly, Merrill has played as a successful receiver in seasons past). This also leads into a London Knights offense that almost exclusively relies on the arm of Jonny Pichler and the hands of his receivers. My contestation is that the Knights’ recent successes could be developed further by giving opposing defences something different to worry about through a strong rushing offense – that and the departure of premier receiver, Mike St. Green is why it may be smart to draft a second running back. Historically, the Knights have a good tradition of blooding quality backs (I might mention Reggie Streeter, for one) and I think it’s time they discovered their next gem. Louisiana showed in Season 18 that you can make a success out of a tandem running back system and I think at least a couple of teams will try to make it a trend in Season 19. London, I believe, could be one of those teams. If I had to guess, new GM Jonny Pichler will want to pick up a complimentary piece to Merrill. A player whose style differs from the receiving back. My best bet would be on powerful running back Christian Pierce. The 230lb Lexington Miner has shown what he can do in the SFLm. He could be the perfect thunder to Robert Merrill’s lightning.
Motor City V8s – Isn’t it about time Motor City (prev. St. Louis) found their true franchise QB?
A new season. A new city. A new roster.
The Motor City V8s, formerly the St. Louis Gladiators, were gutted, top to bottom after the end of Season 18. Much of the front office left and a large chunk of the roster have either retired or changed climates over the past few weeks too. Granted, the V8s have managed to renew the contracts of some excellent pieces (the TE pairing of Kos and Clawson and the safeties, Leathers and Warner, can stand up to most in the SFL) but I’d be lying if I didn’t think that Season 19 will be nothing short of a total rebuild. For me, the hottest topic of the off-season will be finding the right player to replace Christian Brown after Vancouver secured his services for Season 19. Motor City shouldn’t be looking to replicate Brown, or try to find a comparable starter – Motor City should be trying to better him. The franchise has struggled with the quarterback position for far too long. Whether it has been bad luck or just selecting the wrong player, the ownership group has never quite found a QB good enough or with the team long enough to be considered a ‘franchise star’. Jonny Pichler looked like he could be the one after his rookie campaign, but he followed his coach over to the then expansion Louisiana Revolution. Christian Brown had promise and had three seasons to fulfil the expectations that follow high potential – he just never quite put a consistent run of form together to take Motor City deep into playoff territory. The St. Louis phase of this team’s history had the objective of making to the post-season – the next phase in Motor City should have the end goal of winning it. It won’t happen this season, but the Season 19 class could be THE defining class leading towards a bright future. A future that starts with a franchise quarterback.
Queen City Corsairs – Trenches or Tacklers?
Yes, yes…I know that QCC are in transition and are trotting out behind a new face at QB since what seems like the dawn of time, and of course, that is a big story, but I can’t just talk about quarterbacks throughout this article. I’m sure they won’t mind. QBs tend to be somewhat humble individuals. The story would be different if we were referring to the divas that catch their passes. Digression aside, Queen City lost a lot of value in two area this off-season – offensive line and linebacker. Odette Boudreaux and Butch Mennor closed the door on their way to Canton and Houston respectively, and the trio of BJ Loveless, Nathaniel Diggs and Jared Crowe all moved on, mercifully to teams outside of the North Division (I’m looking at you, Odette).
It’s not all bad news, as Robert Krohn has kept his sizeable frame in at guard and Kappa Jones has joined the Corsairs as a linebacker, moving from safety to act as a lightweight, quick, coverage ‘backer in the middle. To be honest, putting myself in the GM’s shoes, I’m finding it tough to decide what to prioritise. The value of this linebacking class doesn’t appear to be particularly strong once you get past the top two or three players, but QCC will also want good protection for OJ Bruin, and offensive line is a premium position when it comes to SFL draft time. Thankfully, this decision doesn’t fall to me, but to the people in QCC’s front office. Much like Motor City, the Corsairs are in a bit of a rebuilding period (albeit not as severe) so longevity should be the key contributing factor. On balance, I’d want to give my QB the best chance to succeed – by drafting a 1st round offensive line player.
Canton Classics – How much will Canton prioritise character over numeric value?
The Classics have done a fantastic job in free agency. Through charisma, passion and an intriguing marketing campaign, the expansion team have managed to attract a solid number of veteran players, to the point that the defense is a piece or two away from being at least middle of the league in quality. The defensive line, linebacking corps and secondary are almost set, as is the receiving group, which looks more dangerous every time I peruse the roster. Canton’s successful free agency causes two simultaneous effects. Firstly, it gives the front office wiggle room when it comes to selecting priorities – immediate contract value isn’t as important when you’re selecting players who aren’t likely to be starters (except the QB, but the class is pretty deep). The second effect – one that could arguably be positive or negative – is the pressure to draft high character players. Obviously, every SFL franchise is looking for team mates with excellent personalities, hence why we have such intelligent GM’s, but in Canton, due to the heavy presence of veterans, the stakes are slightly higher. Those senior players will only have one draft from which to judge the abilities of the front office – this draft. We all know, active players lead to a higher chance at good team morale…positive morale leads to higher retention…higher retention leads to eventual on the field success.
It is crucial for Canton, possibly more than any other team – save Minnesota – to draft rookies that make an impact (to quote the mantra of the SFL), not just on the field, but off it. The current lull we are in as we head toward the draft may be the most important part of Canton’s season.
The next piece in this series goes oceanside as we cover the Atlantic division. Old faces in new places makes this division an interesting one to call. Join me next time as we swim a little deeper into Atlantic waters.