Let’s break down a team by team free agent primer for the off-season.
Some teams like Edmonton have an extremely difficult job ahead of them with 37 potential free agents, while others like Hamilton are sitting okay with 17 free agents.
When I look at the toughest of tasks, I look at the team with the most national free agents, as keeping a core base of Canadian talent is paramount to success in the Canadian Football League. If you’re scrambling to fill national spots on a week to week basis, you’re going to be in big trouble.
In looking at both divisions, I’ll begin with the West.
22 total free agents, 10 national free agents
|ARCENEAUX, Emmanuel||I||WR||Alcorn State|
|FENNER, Chandler||I||DB||Holy Cross|
|JOHNSON, Antonio||I||OL||North Texas|
|JOHNSON, Shaquille||N||WR||Western University|
|LEE, TJ||I||DB||Eastern Washington|
|LULAY, Travis||I||QB||Montana State|
|TURNER, Bryant||I||DL||Alabama Birmingham|
|YELL, Ronnie||I||DB||San Jose State|
Offensively, the BC Lions have to solidify their offensive line. They allowed the most sacks and most pressures this season and when you take away the pending free agents, they have only two national offensive linemen left on the roster. Cody Husband, Kirby Fabien, Hunter Steward, Andrew Jones and Jaskaran Dhillon are all pending FAs. With their play not up to par there will be some new faces, but for the sake of depth, new general manager Ed Hervey has some work to do.
At quarterback, Jonathon Jennings is still the number one and Travis Lulay is a pending free agent. As he recovers from a knee injury, Lulay will again weigh retirement this off-season but he showed he’s still got some game left in him. Do the Lions look elsewhere with some younger depth behind Jennings is the big question. With 11 quarterbacks pending free agency, the Lions have some options.
Now we get to the biggest name on the Lions’ free agent list, Emmanuel Arceneaux. His third straight 1,000-yard season and second straight 100-catch campaign puts Arceneaux in elite receiver status as the team would need to keep its No. 1 target. With Nick Moore also a pending FA, the team has Bryan Burnham and Chris Williams still under contract. One of these veterans is likely gone. The other receiver who I think is a must to re-sign is Shaquille Johnson. The young Canadian showed value and it grows more with Marco Iannuzzi’s retirement.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lions have some pure playmakers that would be hard to let go with Alex Bazzie, Craig Roh, Loucheiz Purifoy and Chandler Fenner all pending FAs. However, with the Lions’ pass rush not being up there among league-leaders, were Roh and Bazzie good enough to invest in? I’m sure Hervey and Buono are looking for upgrades or putting faith in their scouts to bring in the next elite pass rusher in Vancouver.
Purifoy and Fenner could be defensive staples for this team, although I also think they may be good enough to get NFL looks as well. A list of DB free agents with Ronnie Yell (26), T.J. Lee (26) and Anthony Jackson (27) will see the Lions likely have to make hard decisions on three players who are at the right age to hit their prime in the CFL.
37 total free agents, 17 national free agents
|ADAMS, Johnny||I||DB||Michigan State|
|CUMMINGS, Euclid||I||DT||Georgia Tech|
|HIGHTOWER, Forrest||I||DB||San Jose State|
|HOFFMAN-ELLIS, Alex||I||LB||Washington State|
|KELLY, Colin||I||OL||Oregon State|
|KING, Neil||N||DB||Saint Mary’s|
|MUAMBA, Cauchy||N||DB||St. Francis Xavier|
|PARRISH, Doug||N||LB||Western Oregon|
|SHERRITT, J.C.||I||LB||Eastern Washington|
|SMITH, Jamill||I||WR||Ball State|
|WALKER, Derel||I||WR||Texas A&M|
|WATERS, Swayze||I||K||Alabama Birmingham|
|WHYTE, Sean||N||K||South Fraser Rams Jrs.|
|ZYLSTRA, Brandon||I||WR||Concordia College|
Let me start off by saying best of luck to Brock Sunderland in his first full off-season in Edmonton as the general manager. Hired in April, just a few weeks before the CFL Draft, Sunderland was behind the eight ball right away inheriting Ed Hervey’s team.
Now he’s left trying to clean some things up, though the reason for so many free agents is also due to the one-year deals he signed during the season to help fill holes due to injuries.
On offence, there is no question Brandon Zylstra, Derel Walker, Vidal Hazelton, Jamill Smith and national Cory Watson are keeping him busy. Adarius Bowman, Bryant Mitchell and Kenny Stafford are the only international receivers under contract for next season, so Sunderland needs to keep at least one of those players in the mix to complement the veteran. Zylstra’s season puts him in NFL conversation and will Walker get another look or will he sign an extension to commit to the CFL after failing to land in Tampa Bay last year? I think Mitchell has shown enough to be a strong third option.
The other big one for Edmonton is James Franklin. You know they’d love to work out an extension for a quarterback who has ‘future’ written all over him, but the fact he refused to sign an extension and wants to test free agency likely means it’s Reilly or Franklin and with Edmonton hosting the Grey Cup, don’t expect anything crazy from Sunderland.
The injuries at running back leave Sunderland with six running backs, four of which are pending free agents (C.J. Gable, Travon Van, John White, Kendial Lawrence). LaDarius Perkins showed well and is under contract. White’s injury history leaves him vulnerable and C.J. Gable’s play down the stretch may be too hard to pass on. He does everything well, but he’s hit the 30-year old running back threshold that keeps GMs thinking twice.
Along the offensive line, I know the team has a few free agents there but they also have a lot of depth picked up through the season to fill holes. Sunderland should be happy there with a few players to extend but nothing as urgent as BC. Joel Figueroa figures to be the top priority after a solid season at tackle.
Defensively, the big big questions are at linebacker with Adam Konar, J.C. Sherritt, Korey Jones, Alex Hoffman-Ellis and Kenny Ladler all pending FAs. Add in Garry Peters, Johnny Adams and Euclid Cummings and you have seven of the team’s top 10 defensive players that are pending FAs. I think there is depth to survive in the secondary but Aaron Grymes has to be a high-priority FA to bring back.
At linebacker, Sunderland has some hard decisions and not a lot of money to go around.
Oh and finally, Sean Whyte is a pending free agent. Sign him! How many games did they lose on missed kicks when Whyte was out? Yeesh.
27 total free agents, 12 national free agents
|BURNETT, Joe||I||DB||Central Florida|
|CAMPBELL, Tommie||I||DB||California U. of PA|
|COTE, Rob||N||RB||Calgary Colts|
|DANIELS, DaVaris||I||WR||Notre Dame|
|DAVIS, Ja’Gared||I||LB||Southern Methodist|
|DURANT, Lemar||N||WR||Simon Fraser|
|ERDOS, Bradley||N||OL||Simon Fraser|
|FRASER, Kashawn||I||DL||Central Michigan|
|HARRIS, Maleki||I||LB||South Alabama|
|JORDEN, Kamar||I||WR||Bowling Green State|
|MAYO, Deron||I||LB||Old Dominion|
|RICHARDS, Randy||I||OL||Missouri State|
|SMITH, Brandon||I||DB||Sacramento State|
|WALL, Jamar||I||CB||Texas Tech|
I’m just going to start with the secondary. MY GOODNESS! Josh Bell, Joe Burnett, Tommie Campbell, Shaq Richardson, Brandon Smith, Ciante Evans and Jamar Wall. That is their entire starting secondary from the Grey Cup and starting SAM linebacker, who is more or less a DB. I’m thinking John Hufnagel will be unable to afford re-signing all these players but how can you question Huf’s ability to find the ‘next man up’? He does it time and time again.
Elsewhere around the defence, you see an emerging pass rusher like Ja’Gared Davis, who you think the Stamps would want to keep with Charleston Hughes getting closer and closer to retirement. Deron Mayo carries a good reputation but you wonder if there is room for him in Calgary anymore. Overall, in the front seven, the Stamps appear to be set.
Offensively, they have their quarterback and running back solidified, though Roy Finch has to be up there on the priority list. A game-changer in the return game and starting to come on with a role in the offence as well.
Kamar Jorden, DaVaris Daniels, Lemar Durant and Anthony Parker offer some intrigue. The latter two would be highly sought after in the open market with their national status and ability to make a solid contribution on offence. For Jorden and Daniels, we’ve seen the Stamps move on from receiver and just bring in the next one so if they’re looking at a pay raise they better be looking at a modest one to stay in Calgary.
The biggest reason to like the Stampeders’ situation going into free agency is they only have three offensive linemen who are pending: Canadians Brad Erdos and Cameron Thorn and international Randy Richards. Yes, two of them started in the Grey Cup, but Pierre Lavertu comes back in 2018 so it’s still going to be a solid group even if they lose all three.
22 total free agents, 10 national free agents
|BAILEY, Devon||N||WR||St. Francis Xavier|
|BELL, Shakir||I||RB||Indiana State|
|BRIDGE, Brandon||N||QB||South Alabama|
|CARTER, Duron||I||WR||Florida Atlantic|
|CLARK, Dan||N||OL||Regina Jrs.|
|COLEMAN, Thaddeus||I||OL||Mississippi Valley State|
|FOSTER, Otha||I||DB||West Alabama|
|JEFFERSON, Willie||I||DL||Stephen F. Austin State|
|KNOX JR., Jeff||I||LB||California U. of PA|
|LEONARD, AC||I||DL||Tennessee State|
|MINTER, Zach||I||DL||Montana State|
|MORRIS, Greg||N||RB||New Mexico Military Institute|
|MRABURE, Ese||N||DL||Wilfrid Laurier|
|ONTKO, Cameron||I||LB||Cal Poly|
|VAN GYLSWYK, Quinn||N||K||UBC|
The Roughriders hinted after the season they have a few things coming when it comes to extensions for pending free agents. The most important of which is defensive end Willie Jefferson. In my opinion, he was the best defensive player on the Riders last season and is one of those ‘must sign’ players.
Overall, the biggest position with some depth questions is offensive line. Brendon LaBatte and Peter Dyakowski are signed up but three starters from the playoffs are not: centre Dan Clark and tackles Bruce Campbell and Thaddeus Coleman. The Canadian depth along the offensive line is shaky, although rookie Dariusz Bladek is coming along nicely but they need more from former first overall pick Josiah St. John. As for tackle, Derek Dennis is still in the mix but his play wasn’t up to his top offensive lineman standard he set in 2016. Campbell and Coleman were both solid at tackle in the back half of the season.
The other big name free agents are of course Duron Carter and Brandon Bridge. Carter was voted the team’s Most Outstanding Player and quickly became a fan favourite. Already rumblings are out that he’s up for an NFL look this season so Rider Nation may have to wait. As for Bridge, he as well is a fan favourite and is a spark for debate on where his ceiling and potential are. Are we seeing his best or does he have a next level to be an unquestioned starter? Bridge set the table with a contract offer to the Riders later on in the season, but only the Riders will determine where that goes. Also, if James Franklin is the priority, why would Bridge want to play second fiddle in Saskatchewan?
The other aspect is there are some quality nationals pending in Saskatchewan: two Canadian defensive tackles Ese Mrabure and Eddie Steele; receivers Nik Demski and Devon Bailey; and veteran Rider special teamer/fullback Spencer Moore.
Receivers are big priority as after Rob Bagg, there wouldn’t be much, and all of them are the type of players you need to fill out your roster of national depth. They can all play, there is no doubt.
There is one player who is a ‘wild card’ for free agency. Kicker Quinn van Gylswyk was a highly touted kicker/punter out of UBC and hasn’t had much of a chance to show his stuff with Tyler Crapigna and Josh Bartel in Saskatchewan. With the need for good national kickers around the league, there should be more than enough interest in the young kicker.
WINNIPEG BLUE BOMBERS
19 total free agents, 5 national free agents
|BOND, Travis||I||OL||North Carolina|
|BRYANT, Stanley||I||OL||East Carolina|
|DENMARK, Clarence||I||WR||Arkansas Monticello|
|DRESSLER, Weston||I||WR||North Dakota|
|FEOLI GUDINO, Julian||N||WR||Laval|
|FOKETI, Manase||I||OL||West Texas A&M|
|HEATH, TJ||I||DB||Jacksonville State|
|KNOX, Kyle||I||LB||Fresno State|
|LEFEVOUR, Dan||I||QB||Central Michigan|
|LEGGETT, Maurice||I||DB||Valdosta State|
|NEVIS, Drake||I||DL||Louisiana State|
|RANDLE, Chris||I||DB||Utah State|
|WILD, Ian||I||LB||Mercyhurst College|
Let me start off by commending Kyle Walters for only having five nationals pending free agency. Yes, some of them are pretty good contributors like Jamaal Westerman and Sam Hurl, but that is a great number to have. There are more than enough pending FAs with Canadian passports that he can fill in with if he loses a few of them.
Now for the other 14 free agents, there is some work here, no question, at international offensive line. The top CFL offensive lineman Stanley Bryant and the underrated Travis Bond are pending. That is the left side of the offensive line and a very important group to lock down for 2018.
The other big questions are similar to the Stampeders with a lot of talent in the secondary up for negotiation. Chris Randle, Maurice Leggett, T.J. Heath and Kevin Fogg are all starters for this team and are playmakers for Richie Hall’s defence. Their reputation for taking away the football makes them one of the most entertaining defences to watch. It may be tough to bring them all back.
And finally, two veteran receivers in Weston Dressler and Clarence Denmark leave the Bombers having to think about the past, present and future at the position. I’d be somewhat surprised if both return, unless they agree to incentive-laden deals. Both will be 33 years old, which is by no means too old to play but it’s clearly time for the Bombers to start looking younger.