TORONTO -- It’s hard to remember a more highly-anticipated free agent crop than this coming off-season’s, with many of 2012’s biggest stars set to go up for grabs in February.
The key word in all of that though is February, which remains two months away.
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Still without a contract is last year’s top defensive player; top offensive lineman; both the most valuable player and most valuable Canadian of the Grey Cup; and, for good measure, the league’s most prolific passer of all-time.
Any of these players could potentially be an off-season game-changer, but the question remains, will any actually be available?
Here are the top-five big-name free agents unlikely to suit up for a new team next season.
5. Tyron Brackenridge
He’s one of the most underrated free agents, but after a big rookie season in 2012, it’s likely that virtually every team is looking at Tyron Brackenridge as a linebacker that can make a big impact.
But after finishing with a team-high 77 tackles and earning a reputation for making the big play, the 28-year-old is likely to be one of the Roughriders’ top priorities heading into this off-season.
The Roughriders have a young defence with a number of big-play guys, and with Shomari Williams and Odell Willis also set to hit the open market, it’s unlikely Brackenridge escapes Riderville.
4. Jovan Olafioye
Two things are key to the BC Lions’ offensive success: Travis Lulay, and protection for Travis Lulay.
The biggest part of keeping Lulay on his feet happens to be the biggest prize on the free agency list, too, in six-foot-six, 325-pound Jovan Olafioye.
While he doesn’t have coveted non-import status, he’s the type of offensive lineman you can build a team around, and at 24 years old he’s one of the most promising young tackles the league has seen in a long time, already with a Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman under his belt.
After being tied with Montreal for a league-best 30 sacks allowed last season, the Lions’ offensive line was among the CFL’s best. Olafioye played a key role in that, and you can be sure the Lions aren’t about to let him walk.
3. Chad Kackert
One of this year’s biggest breakout stars, Chad Kackert couldn’t have picked a better time to become a free agent. Last training camp he was battling Gerald Riggs Jr. for a job backing up Cory Boyd; now, he’s the Grey Cup MVP.
But with so many young running backs in the league and no shortage of competition elsewhere, the Argos appear to have most of the leverage here. Not only are they the team that gave Kackert his shot to succeed in the CFL, but Scott Milanovich’s offence is such a good fit for his skill-set.
The 26-year-old California native had a league-best 6.4 yards per carry and 850 yards from scrimmage in a little over half a season of action, and perhaps more importantly proved capable of protecting prized quarterback Ricky Ray.
With few opportunities elsewhere and a chance to build on last year’s breakout season in Toronto, it only makes sense for Kackert to remain in Argoland.
2. JC Sherritt
Half of Edmonton’s 2012 starting defence is set to hit free agency, but if there’s one you can expect to return next training camp, it’s JC Sherritt.
He’s a proven tackling machine and at 24 years old, his work ethic is second to none. While his record-breaking season of 130 tackles despite missing a game to injury speaks for itself, but it’s his competitiveness that should turn heads the most.
Sherritt was the heart and soul of an Esks defence that started last season as one the league’s best before being hampered by injuries, and he’s the kind of player that can instantly take a defence from the bottom ranks of the league to the top.
There are a lot of big-time positives in Edmonton despite a disappointing finish to last season, and Sherritt is likely the biggest. Letting him get away would be a mistake, and for that reason, it’s unlikely another team gets a chance to sign him.
1. Anthony Calvillo
This one doesn’t even need an explanation. Anthony Calvillo is that guy that when you look at the list and try to imagine him playing somewhere else, you quickly give your head a shake and think, ‘nah, that’s not happening’.
Yet here we are, two months before free agency and the most prolific passer the CFL has ever seen is free to play for whichever team in the league he pleases.
The bigger question this season won’t be which team Calvillo plays for, but whether he returns to play at all. Retirement winds are swirling and there’s talk of the veteran pivot trading in his helmet for a headset.
Either way, you can be sure that the Alouettes are a prominent part of Calvillo’s future.