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

Atlantic Division

Baltimore Vultures – Will the Vultures fly a little less high after the move to the Atlantic?

Of all the teams that we have covered so far, Baltimore were the hardest to think of a question for. I mean, what legitimate question do you ask a team that has been far and away the best over the last three seasons? The Vultures are the pinnacle right now. They have everything: a great roster, genius coaching, a knowledge of how to win. They also possess zero draft picks, so speculating about who they might take in the draft is about as useful as playing with a generic QB (oops, sorry Louisiana). After much head scratching, I decided to focus on the biggest change for the Vultures heading into Season 19 – the move from the North to the Atlantic.

Make no mistake about it, this will be a tough season for Baltimore. Every one of their division rivals will give that extra 5-10% to knock them off their perch – and interestingly enough, all of them have beaten Baltimore in the past.

Fellow former North member D.C are their biggest challenge. Since their reformation a couple of seasons ago, The Dragons have often pushed their established rivals to the brink, losing by less than a TD on numerous occasions. In the last meeting, D.C pulled off the upset victory, sending the Vultures back from the nation’s capital carrying the burden of a 17-24 defeat. Jack Wigmore’s charges will face D.C twice in Season 19 – the outcome of those clashes could well decide the division.

Welcoming Baltimore into the Atlantic Division are long-time members, Carolina and Charleston. The history, and subsequent rivalry between Baltimore and the Skyhawks is very prominent in today’s SFL, whereas Charleston will be hoping to build a healthy rivalry over time  by being a thorn in the side of the champions. As previously mentioned, both these teams have defeated Baltimore, Carolina putting them away 34-27 back in Season 16 and the Predators gaining a narrow victory, 13-16, in the midst of the SFL’s 14th season. Obviously, things have changed since then, but nobody can take away the fact that Baltimore aren’t invulnerable amongst this group.

History tells us that the ones whom adapt are the ones that survive – the Vultures need to channel their ‘inner Darwin’ by following those rules of natural selection.

Charleston Predators – Can the Predators paint over the crack left by DaVinci?

Fans of Charleston have seen a lot of names coming to and fro this off season. Ownership adjustments and changes in coaching and front office staff have grabbed the main bulk of local headlines, but the roster has also undergone a bit of a makeover too. Gone are receivers, Ken McCarro, Jay Taylor and Buchanon Simons, replaced by Davius Reid, Chris Ochoa and Seren Storm respectively. Whilst this new group aren’t like-for-like with Charleston’s previous receivers, the Preds don’t lose anything when it comes to quality. Reid has been a strong starter in L.A, Ochoa is a young player ready for a breakout season and Seren Storm has put up some very nice seasons of work in his career. Former Rookie of the Season, Kentez Johnson has plenty of safe hands to aim for. The biggest hole was left by tight end, Lyriic DaVinci, who will be suiting up in the racing green colours of Louisiana next season.

The tight end room now appears, on paper, to be significantly handicapped by DaVincii’s absence. Don’t get me wrong, Dustie Roark could take his chance without hesitation and start making an impact on that stats sheets, but drafting a second tight end would help secure the position and give the offensive coaches more to work with. There are a couple of decent big men out there in the rookie-sphere too. Both Ron Haines and Lachlan Martin of Madison and Annapolis are solid options to go with, the pair giving two-way Roark a run for his money in the stats department. Haines is a bigger-bodied player with more physical tools than Martin, but the smaller Annapolis Navigator seems to posses higher natural receiving instincts and better hands. Both could well be there for the taking when Charleston come to select. I’d definitely give it some thought if I was sat in the Predators’ war room on draft night.

DC Dragons – Will D.C double down on running the football?

Every good football team has an identity, or are at least looking to create one. When I think of the D.C Dragons, my mind immediately pictures a powerful running game, anchored behind strong blocking and the elite talents of running back, Kevin Seay. That doesn’t mean to say that the passing game is weak – far from it. It just signifies that passing the football is a tasty side to a main meal of pounding the rock. With that in mind, it is hard not to notice the Chris Britton-sized hole in the backfield this season. The fullback has seemingly retired to provide full-time support to Chris Britton III, his family member in Indianapolis. Luckily for D.C, the SFLm marketplace is awash with full backs this season. On first glance it looks to be one of the deepest position classes in the draft. Scott Powell’s name stands out as one to look at, coming into the draft on a bronze contract and showing out as a large part of a pretty good rushing attack in Lexington. Powell’s carrying could be improved, but with Kevin Seay at half back, the chance of Powell getting a significant numbers of carries is slim. John Harleman, who had the pleasure of blocking for two-way Randy Squarebush in Annapolis would be a cheaper option, but potentially more suited to D.C due to a larger frame for creating running lanes.

The Dragons could easily show full commitment to the run by also drafting an O-Line player. D.C didn’t carry one on their roster last season and Seay was still able to be extremely effective, especially at the beginning of the schedule, so a contracted player on the line could push him one step further to record numbers.

The loss of star receiver Jeff Banfield could sow the seeds for a less effective passing game coming out of D.C. Winning the battle on the ground may well be the key to making the playoffs, and, in an ideal world, challenging Baltimore for top dog in the Atlantic.

Carolina Skyhawks – Does limited cap space force skill positions to be off-limits?

Season 18 was an unmitigated disappointment for everybody involved with the Carolina Skyhawks. A losing record stared at them come the end of the season and like many other teams, Carolina were left watching the playoffs on TV. However, as is usually the case with this franchise, they have navigated the off-season well. Retention has been good, I have seen reports of a slight re-brand and the players brought in through free agency know how to win – it seems Lone Star were raided a fair amount after Sudo Nakai signed on the dotted line. The roster is looking pretty good. Now, if cap space wasn’t an issue (which would make a much less entertaining league if you ask me) I’d be asking the Skyhawks front office which young receiver they were looking at and who, from the running back class, do they want partnering Nakai in the backfield. Alas, cap space remains a reality for GM’s around the league, and the Skyhawks only have about 105 points of it left. Of course, I know contracts can be restructured and played with so the roster fits together like a jigsaw puzzle, but in the case of Carolina, I’m not sure such jiggery-pokery would suffice.

So, where should they go? This Brit thinks a young tight end and adding depth to the secondary may fit the bill. Finding good young characters at either position would be of long-term importance, the current roster has plenty of solid vets to learn from, plus both positions carry undeveloped contracts in the 50-point value range. Whilst the numbers may not work perfectly, the Skyhawks GM will be able to re-jig contracts fairly easily to ensure that they do. If the Skyhawks can secure a player like San Jose’s Bryant James on a cheap contract whilst also adding a back-up offensive piece, they can consider their draft a success.

Tomorrow, the South Division stands under center. I’ll see you then.