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March 14, 2017

Help Available: Premier talent still on the market

Thomas Makacek/Argonauts.ca

TORONTO — Free agency started one month ago and some of the league’s top stars will don new colours in 2017. A few, however, have slipped through the cracks.

Cory Greenwood (Edmonton) and J’Michael Deane (Toronto) are recent free agent signings that could have a significant impact on their new teams in 2017. But who’s still out there?

While the focus shifts to the combine and the CFL Draft, we take a position by position look at which free agents are still available.

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Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

Running back Shakir Bell remains on the market in 2017 free agency (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Quarterback:

While the big names never made it to free agency, developmental pivots like Jeff Mathews, Jacory Harris and Mitchell Gale quickly found themselves new clubs. The Riders, meanwhile, went off the board by bringing in Vince Young.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

NAME AGE CAREER PASSING YARDS
Danny O’Brien 26 660
Thomas DeMarco 28 1,559
Rakeem Cato 24 3,570

 

Rakeem Cato is a big name on the market following his release last month. He’s 24 and showed some upside as a rookie in 2015. Danny O’Brien and Thomas DeMarco are the other experienced quarterbacks on the market.

At this point, however, it appears every team has its starter locked in and when it comes to further down the depth chart, expect teams to look south of the border.

Running Back:

The free agent market is not kind to proven, veteran running backs in the Canadian Football League.

Anthony Allen, Brandon Whitaker, Curtis Steele and Shakir Bell are talented ball-carriers that haven’t been able to find work. And at this point, there don’t appear to be any openings across CFL backfields.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

NAME AGE CAREER RUSHING YARDS
Brandon Whitaker 31 5,021
Da’Rel Scott 28 52
Shakir Bell 24 1,058
Anthony Allen 28 1,940

 

The Riders have filled their backfield with a Canadian duo in Kienan Lafrance and Aaron Milton while international Cameron Marshall adds a power aspect to the attack. Toronto opted not to bring Whitaker back, eventually hauling in former NFL draft pick Kendall Hunter.

Injury could lead to opportunity for those still on the market but most puzzling is Bell’s continued availability.

All four international backs on the market could be called upon either before camp or during the season if injury strikes.

Receiver:

For general managers looking to upgrade their receiving corps, this year’s free agent crop offered both high-end talent as well as depth.

The Alouettes landed free agency’s biggest name in Grey Cup hero Ernest Jackson while the REDBLACKS added a pair of former Argonauts in Kenny Shaw and Diontae Spencer. And in one of free agency’s biggest moves, Chris Williams heads west to join BC’s explosive offence.

Still, despite the early demand for proven pass-catches, some big names remain.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

NAME AGE CAREER RECEIVING YARDS
Marcus Henry 31 2,164
John Chiles 28 1,507
*Andy Fantuz 33 8,308
Tori Gurley 29 1,362
Phil Bates 27 213
Joe West 33 1,723
Greg Wilson 26 373
*Devon Bailey 25 469
*Chris Getzlaf 34 6,149
Terrell Sinkfield Jr. 26 1,537

 

Tori Gurley is one of the names that pops out on anyone’s list right now. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound pass-catcher was teetering on elite status with the Argos before his surprise release in October.

Andy Fantuz and Chris Getzlaf can offer a steady veteran hand in addition to owning a Canadian passport while Devon Bailey, also a national, is a former sixth overall pick.

Terrell Sinkfield Jr. is the most explosive receiver of the group. His speed can change an offence while at 26 he’s in his prime.

These are all names that shouldn’t be on the market much longer.

Offensive Line:

The REDBLACKS shook up the market by signing Canadian Nolan MacMillan on the eve of free agency. Still, last year’s Most Outstanding Lineman Derek Dennis did become available and found a new home with the Riders.

On top of that there was plenty of movement at that position in free agency and national big men were as popular as ever.

The result: A couple of big names but a total lack of depth still on the market.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

NAME AGE 2016 STARTS
*Jeff Perrett 32 18
*Josh Bourke 34 10
*Jeff Keeping 34 0
D’Anthony Batiste 34 18

 

Josh Bourke and Jeff Perrett weren’t pending free agents but were released by their respective teams — no one has since signed them. It’s rare to see two Canadian tackles of Bourke and Perrett’s experience without a home for this long.

Jeff Keeping’s status is unknown after missing last season due to injury.

The only international on the list, D’Anthony Batiste, can step in and start at either tackle position and should have his phone ready.

Defensive Line:

In a free agent crop overflowing with veteran interior linemen, the same can’t be said for defensive ends. Justin Hickman is the only end still available while names like Bryan Hall, Alan-Michael Cash and Cleyon Laing remain on the board.

Plenty of defensive tackles moved this off-season, including Jabar Westerman to Montreal, Drake Nevis to Winnipeg and Euclid Cummings to Edmonton. The Bombers, meanwhile, went off the board to get Tristan Okpalaugo from the NFL.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

NAME AGE CAREER SACKS
Justin Hickman 31 40
Bryan Hall 28 11
Alan-Michael Cash 29 17
Aaron Lavarias 28 11
*Cleyon Laing 26 15
Tracy Robertson 27 0
*Louie Richardson 31 2
*Gregory Alexandre 31 6
Jonathan Williams 31 7
Brandon Boudreaux 27 17

 

At the end of the day, the Eskimos, Bombers and Alouettes come out of free agency with new-look defensive fronts, but for others, the work isn’t done. Laing and Cash, specifically, could provide a boost for any interested suitor.

Linebacker:

Winston Venable, Cory Greenwood and Khalil Bass were among elite linebacker options going into free agency and all ended up with new teams.

What’s left?

Keon Raymond and Brandon Isaac are long-time veterans that can step in and play SAM while James Yurichuk is a national and a solid special teams contributor.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

NAME AGE CAREER TACKLES
Tyree Hollins 24 51
Kyler Elsworth 25 71
Brandon Isaac 32 209
*James Yurichuk 30 78
Keon Raymond 34 366
*Bryn Roy 28 0
Damaso Munoz 30 395

 

Damaso Munoz also hit the market after the start of free agency. The six-year veteran, with 395 career tackles to his name, was released after the REDBLACKS signed Khalil Bass.

Other than that, the pickings are slim for teams in search of a starting linebacker.

Defensive Back:

Ottawa’s loss was Hamilton’s gain at the defensive back position in free agency, as the REDBLACKS took some losses in that area while the Tabbies landed one of the CFL’s top halfbacks in Abdul Kanneh.

Out in the nation’s capital are Kanneh, Forrest Hightower (NFL) and Mitchell White (NFL), while GM Marcel Desjardins responded by signing A.J. Jefferson from the Argos.

While the two top defensive backs in Kanneh and Emanuel Davis were both off the market early, signing free agent deals with the Ticats, some prominent veterans remain on the market.

AVAILABLE FREE AGENTS

NAME AGE CAREER INTERCEPTIONS
Devin Smith 26 2
Pat Watkins 34 16
John Boyett 27 2
*Michael Carter 30 0
Isaiah Green 27 1
Johnny Adams 27 7
*Shane Herbert 28 0
Jermaine Robinson 27 1
Macho Harris 31 4
*Teague Sherman 28 0
*Cauchy Muamba 29 9
John Ojo 27 5
Cord Parks 30 9

 

John Ojo is the name that stands out most. Ojo had a dominant rookie season for the Eskimos at corner in 2015 before suffering a season-ending Achilles injury.

Cauchy Muamba provides value as a Canadian safety while Pat Watkins, Johnny Adams and Cord Parks are proven veterans.

There are plenty of options for teams in search of depth and experience in their defensive backfield.