February 5, 2019

Ferguson: Setting the stage for a free agent frenzy

Adam Gagnon/CFL.ca

Hard to believe, but we’re just one week away from free agency opening. A free agency period unlike many in recent years due in large part to the sheer number of available players, but also thanks to the big names associated with the potential for a league wide overhaul of your 2018 assumptions on who is the favourite to win the Grey Cup.

This off-season period has seen a total of 12 players released for the right to sign a futures contract in the NFL. A group of players who made their mark at all levels of the game and deserve the chance to chase their dreams down south.

Left behind is a pool of several hundred individuals in search of finding their fit and attaining the game’s ultimate goal of a ring.

Since the 2018 Grey Cup in Edmonton – updated to Feb. 5 – 80 players have re-signed with their team before hitting the open market next Tuesday, including a recent spike in the action as teams try to close deals before potentially losing members of their teams valuable core to divisional rivals.


That group of signees includes six of the 10 special teamers available this off-season, while half the fullbacks have stayed put before testing the free agent waters.

Winnipeg and Ottawa have been the most aggressive at bringing back the men General Managers Kyle Walters and Marcel Desjardins believe to be most valuable to their 2019 Grey Cup chances, while the BC Lions under Ed Hervey and new head coach DeVone Claybrooks have started slowly, likely budgeting to make a big Pacific splash come Feb 12. More on that in a second.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders have been surprisingly quiet this off-season despite the turmoil of front office re-arrangement, signing back only fullback Patrick Lavoie at the start of December and three defenders since. Expect Jeremy O’Day and Craig Dickenson to attempt putting their stamp – or perhaps gopher paw – on the frenzy a week from today.

When it comes to a positional breakdown at the spots with the most free agents available, it is unsurprising to see offensive lineman leading the way as they usually do in the CFL transaction wire. Over a third (35.7%) of available offensive lineman will not hit free agency next Tuesday after deciding to stay with their 2018 club. That number followed closely by linebackers (30.9%), running backs (30.0%) and defensive lineman (25.0%).

What could really define the 2018 to 2019 CFL turnover is the rapid movement of speed players. Of the 120 defensive backs and receivers available in free agency back in December, only 13 defensive backs (22.4%) and 10 receivers (16.1%) have signed so far.

That means of the remaining 227 free agents who might hit the open market next Tuesday, 97 (42.7% of remaining free agents) are pass catchers or the men that defend them.

All of which leads us to the question of the quarterbacks, where it appears the gunslingers have holstered their negotiating weapons for now and remain locked in a standoff of incredible stakes.

Only one quarterback – Ottawa REDBLACKS backup Dominique Davis – has re-signed so far with just seven days left to free agency.

That leaves 14 more on the market in a nine-team league. Most important are the names Harris and Reilly with Bo Levi Mitchell appearing ready to remain in Calgary should the NFL offers he receives not fit his vision.

Harris has every right after an outstanding season to wait out the Reilly deal and see how closely he can come to it, while Reilly has to believe his worth is more than that of Harris. Factor in BC making an aggressive push for Reilly’s services with Edmonton and Ottawa cringing at the number they could present Reilly and we get a waiting game that appears to take us right up to noon of what could be a very memorable Tuesday, Feb. 12.