Alouettes reel in prized freeagent receiver Ernest Jackson

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Give Kavis Reed props for this — in slightly more than two months on the job as the Alouettes’ general manager, he’s attempting to change the landscape and is giving the appearance of trying to improve a team that has missed the playoffs two consecutive seasons and hasn’t reached the Grey Cup since 2010.

The latest addition is receiver Ernest Jackson, signed to a two-year contract as a free agent on Thursday. Jackson has produced consecutive 1,000-yard seasons, was the East Division’s most outstanding player in 2016 and caught the winning touchdown in overtime in Ottawa’s improbable victory against Calgary.

Reed has been busy. Jackson joins veteran quarterback Darian Durant, acquired in a trade from Saskatchewan last month, and defensive-tackle Keith Shologan, signed one day after his release by Winnipeg. And since the start of free agency on Tuesday, the GM has signed safety Ryan Phillips, quarterback Jacory Harris, defensive-lineman Jabar Westerman and defensive-tackle Don Oramasionwu from Edmonton. They also re-signed Canadian DT Michael Klassen. Klassen and Oramasionwu signed one-year deals.

Will it all come together and work? The story will begin to unfold in June. But at least Reed has been active.

“At least by doing that you’re showing everybody that you have a plan,” said B.C. Lions GM Wally Buono, also the Canadian Football League’s career leader in head coaching victories. “Whether people like the plan or agree with the plan, that’s not the issue. You have to have a plan and you have to try and put order in your organization.

“You see him making moves, getting Durant. Whether it works out or not, it’s the right move.”

There’s no denying Jackson, 30, is a big-time receiver. He’s the kind of player the Als have been missing since S.J. Green suffered a season-ending knee injury on June 30 and since the release of Duron Carter in October. But Reed also said no player, other than Durant, will make more than $200,000, adding it was the job of a team’s scouts to find skilled players.

Numerous sources have said Jackson will earn more than $200,000 next season, while another said his deal is for $160,000. Reed stated one report of Jackson earning $220,000 is “absolutely, beyond a doubt, inaccurate by more than $50,000.

“We arguably got one of the best receivers within that ($150,000) cap number. We knew we needed one more prolific receiver,” Reed added. “We’re happy to have, arguably, one of the best receivers for a very good salary. The scouts’ ability to find talented players isn’t going to be mitigated by this.”

Ottawa Redblacks' Ernest Jackson celebrates after catching a pass during practice, in Toronto on Saturday, November 26, 2016. The Montreal Alouettes landed one of the top names on the CFL free-agent market Thursday by agreeing to terms with all-star receiver Jackson on a two-year deal.

Ottawa Redblacks’ Ernest Jackson celebrates after catching a pass during practice, in Toronto on Saturday, November 26, 2016. The Montreal Alouettes landed one of the top names on the CFL free-agent market Thursday by agreeing to terms with all-star receiver Jackson on a two-year deal.

Teams will operate under a $5.15-million salary cap in 2017. The math, generally, is simple — add a lucrative salary and another player must be jettisoned.

The Als have lost linebacker Winston Venable ($200,000), safety Marc-Olivier Brouillette ($140,000) and offensive-tackle Jeff Perrett ($245,000), so they have some wiggle room. Quarterback Rakeem Cato, recently released, had a rock-bottom contract with few incentives, while cornerback Jovon Johnson ($90,000) and defensive-tackle Alan-Michael Cash ($85,000), both free agents, won’t be returning.

Reed has been busy the last two months restructuring contracts, which has become standard each winter. It’s an exercise conducted by many CFL teams and one that Reed’s predecessor, Jim Popp, did with great impunity.

Still, many throughout the CFL are waiting for the other shoe to drop. “They’re trying different methods, but what’s it going to cost? Something’s got to give somewhere,” said one executive. Added another: “Lots of cash flow floating around.”

Durant will make a reported $400,000 this season, including a $225,000 signing bonus. Green, who underwent knee surgery and is still rehabilitating, was due a $50,000 bonus on Thursday, according to a source, and is scheduled to earn well north of $200,000 once he’s medically cleared. Strong-side linebacker Chip Cox, who’s earning close to $200,000, was due a $10,000 bonus this week.

“S.J. has received, and will receive, off-season money. That’s a part of his contract,” said Reed, refusing to confirm the amount.

Cox hasn’t been asked to restructure, yet, while Green’s in limbo until being medically cleared. If he starts the season on the six-game injured list, his contract won’t count against the cap. If he’s healthy, he’ll probably be asked to take less, although more than one source has wondered whether the Als can afford Jackson and Green.

“Based on the numbers of S.J.’s contract and the numbers of Jackson’s, we’re able to afford both — if we so choose to go that route,” said Reed, choosing his words carefully. “I don’t know if tomorrow will be sunny and clear or snowy. The landscape changes as it needs to.

“I know the speculation has to happen when you sign another name.”

Still, the Als seemingly have yet to address their biggest issue — the offensive line — where they expect to start two import tackles. Derek Dennis signed with Saskatchewan, although Thaddeus Coleman and D’Anthony Batiste remain available. Reed said Montreal has signed four import tackles. 

“People get infatuated with the names,” Reed said. “I challenge people to recall an article on Derek Dennis last year. They were few and far between. Very little was said about him and now, all of a sudden, he’s a household name. Maybe we already have that guy?”

Durant, for one, probably hopes so.

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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