Montreal Alouettes GM Maciocia dips into free-agent waters to shore up club's defence

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Danny Maciocia held true to his word Tuesday.

Last week, the Montreal Alouettes GM said he expected to look for defensive help in CFL free agency. Maciocia did just that Tuesday, signing six defensive players hours after the free-agent period began.

Almondo Sewell, a six-time CFL all-star with Edmonton, was among four American defensive linemen Maciocia signed. The others included Nick Usher (Edmonton), Michael Wakefield (Ottawa) and Woody Baron, who played his first two seasons with Montreal (2018-19).

Linebackers Patrick Levels and Chris Ackie, of Cambridge, Ont., both returned to Montreal after signing with Hamilton and Toronto, respectively, last year. The CFL didn't hold a 2020 campaign due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We were trying to identify some people who can rush the passer, that can create some havoc behind the line of scrimmage, who can create turnovers and shorten the field for our offence," Maciocia said during a video conference. "It's all about getting the quarterback, in my opinion, off his midline and I think the names we mentioned are going to sustain that type of pressure.

"It doesn't always have to translate into sacks. It has to translate into pressure, it has to translate into quarterback hits, it has to translate into hurries, to getting the quarterback to throw the ball when he's not ready to throw the ball. That's when I think we can be at our best."

Macoicia said Sewell and Ackie signed two-year deals. The other four were one-year contracts.

Maciocia also had an agreement in place with American defensive back Ciante Evans but said the player contacted him Tuesday and had a change of heart.

"I think he might've had another offer out there and has decided to go elsewhere," Maciocia said.

Evans did, signing later Tuesday with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Linebacker Henoc Muamba, the CFL's top Canadian in 2019 with Montreal, hit the open market Tuesday. Maciocia didn't sound optimistic that Muamba would return for a third season with the Alouettes.

"I think the door is closed but not necessarily shut," he said. "Obviously he's talking to some other teams (and) I don't know if anything is going to come to fruition.

"But I think we're at a stage right now based on the so-called resources we have and the moves we've made that it's almost a forgone conclusion we're moving on. Having said that, I respect the process, I respect what he's going through. I'm sure it's not easy . . . I'm sure he'll find himself a home somewhere and I'm sure he'll be able to produce as he's capable of producing and I wish him nothing but the best."

In the six-foot-four, 288-pound Sewell, Montreal gets a six-time CFL all-star who has registered 282 tackles and 60 sacks in 139 career games with Edmonton. Sewell also helped the Alberta franchise win a Grey Cup title in 2015.

Veteran American defensive lineman Micah Johnson signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. The six-foot-two, 277-pound Johnson spent the '19 season with the Riders, registering 26 tackles and four sacks before signing with the B.C. Lions.

The Toronto Argonauts shored up their offence by signing running back John White, 29, who ran for 1,004 yards and seven TDs in 2019 with B.C. White added 46 receptions for 341 yards and a touchdown.

The five-foot-eight, 195-pound tailback spent his first four CFL seasons in Edmonton (2013-2014, 2016-2017) where he was named a CFL all-star in 2014 after rushing for 852 yards, two touchdowns and registering 17 catches for 182 yards and a TD.

B.C. signed American running back Shaquille Cooper, who suited up for seven games over the last two seasons with Edmonton, racking up 496 yards and two touchdowns on 90 carries.

In other moves Tuesday:

— Ottawa re-signed American linebacker Don Unamba, who joined the club last year as a free agent after spending 2019 with Edmonton. The Redblacks also signed defensive lineman Stefan Charles of Oshawa, Ont, who joined Edmonton late in the '19 season. He has also spent time in the NFL with Tennessee, Buffalo, Detroit, Jacksonville, Kansas City and Atlanta.

— Calgary signed quarterback Canadian quarterback Michael O'Connor, an Ottawa native who dressed for nine games as a rookie with Toronto in 2019.

— B.C. also signed American receiver Lucky Whitehead, who spent the '19 season with the Grey Cup-champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers, registering 52 catches for 522 yards and two TDs. Whitehead also saw action returning kicks and punts.

— Saskatchewan signed offensive lineman Evan Johnson, a Regina native who played collegiately at the University of Saskatchewan. Johnson spent three seasons with Ottawa. The club also signed twins Jordan and Justin Herdman-Reed, Winnipeg-born linebackers who played together at Simon Fraser. Justin Herdman-Reed signed with Hamilton last year while Jordan Herdman-Reed spent three seasons with B.C. And finally, the Riders signed American defensive back Lorenzo Jerome and Canadian defensive back Godfrey Onyeka.

— American running back James Wilder Jr. came out of retirement to sign with Edmonton. Wilder spent three seasons with Toronto (2017-19). He was the CFL's top rookie in 2017 and capped his season helping the Argos win a Grey Cup. He signed with Montreal last year but retired due to uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

— Toronto also agreed to terms with American quarterback Antonio Pipkin, a former starter with Montreal who signed last year with Edmonton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press