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February 13, 2019

Excitement in the East on Day 2 of free agency

Johany Jutras/CFL.ca

TORONTO — After a slow start to free agency Tuesday, all four East Division clubs came up big on Day 2 of free agency.

Ja’Gared Davis, Taylor Loffler, Jonathon Jennings and Shawn Lemon are all switching divisions, while the second day on the open market offered plenty of other activity.

With just one name remaining on CFL.ca’s top 30 list, let’s recap what happened Wednesday across the league.

Jennings finds his spot

A day after losing Trevor Harris to the Edmonton Eskimos, REDBLACKS general manager Marcel Desjardins added help at the quarterback position with the signing of Jonathon Jennings. While Jennings may have to compete with Dominique Davis for the starting job, it’s an exciting move for the 26-year-old who was once considered the CFL’s top up-and-coming quarterback prospect.

It’s an exciting move for Ottawa fans, too, who are hoping the change of scenery benefits the former rising star. Jennings is two years removed from averaging 9.4 yards per attempt, throwing 42 touchdowns and just 25 interceptions in his first 26 games of his career.

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The REDBLACKS may not be done at the quarterback position, as a report has surfaced that the team has interest in veteran Kevin Glenn. Desjardins did some more tinkering to his roster on Wednesday, signing veterans Ryan Lankford, Philippe Gagnon, Troy Stoudermire and Nicolas Boulay. Gagnon is one of the more intriguing names, the Laval offensive lineman having been a first-round draft pick with the Alouettes.

Back to the Jennings signing, though. The bigger picture in the CFL is starting to take shape, as most teams are set at the top of their QB depth chart — a far cry from a day ago when the market first opened. With Jennings in Ottawa and the Argos announcing that James Franklin will be their starter, it appears most teams have their starting role accounted for.

Veterans Travis Lulay, Kevin Glenn and Brandon Bridge are among the remaining free agent quarterbacks who could be in play as experienced, proven backups.

Ticats, Argos bolster D-line

While the Argos generated the least amount of pressure and the fewest takeaways on defence, the Ticats weren’t far behind. Both teams made significant upgrades to their defensive front on Wednesday, with Ja’Gared Davis signing in Hamilton and the Argos bringing in Shawn Lemon, Tobi Antigha and Cory ‘Poop’ Johnson.

Let’s start in the Hammer, where Davis could be the missing piece on Orlondo Steinauer’s defence. The Ticats had a top-ranked offence last year while their secondary was among the best in the CFL, but their inability to get to opposing quarterbacks cost them, especially in games against the REDBLACKS when Trevor Harris picked them apart.

The Ticats won’t have to face Harris this year in the playoffs, but they’ll be ready for anything after adding Davis to an already-impressive D-line that features Ted Laurent, Justin Capicciotti, Jamaal Westerman and Adrian Tracy. The 28-year-old Davis is considered one of the top defensive ends in the CFL, recording seven or more sacks in each of his three seasons. He was a vital part of DeVone Claybrooks’ defence, which took the Stamps to three consecutive Grey Cups.

Jim Popp wasn’t going to sit idly by while his biggest rival got better. The defensive line was also a focus just up the QEW, where the Argos signed Shawn Lemon, Tobi Antigha and ‘Poop’ Johnson. His real name is Cory Johnson, but either way, the Argos made quite a splash with some significant additions to their front seven on Wednesday, a group that should have plenty of success under defensive coordinator Corey Chamblin, who’s doubling as the team’s head coach.

Edge rusher Shawn Lemon returns to the Argos, where he’s had success with Corey Chamblin (Johany Jutras/CFL.ca)

Lemon has had success with the Argos before, recording 22 sacks in 28 games with the team from 2016 to 2017. While the veteran end is one of the league’s most explosive pure pass rushers, Tobi Antigha offers a unique skill-set himself. He didn’t always see the field behind Willie Jefferson and Charleston Hughes in Saskatchewan, but Chris Jones used him in all sorts of ways, highlighting his versatility. Often dropping back in coverage, Antigha had three interceptions as a defensive lineman.

As improved as the Argos’ D-line looks, the Boatmen added another big name to their front-seven in the waning hours of the day, signing hard-hitting linebacker and 25-year-old Micah Awe — the cherry on top of a busy day for Jim Popp.

The Argos also added Tyrell Sutton, while the Ticats brought back Canadian receiver Shamawd Chambers, who’s coming off a torn ACL suffered before the start of last season. The Sutton move comes as a surprise, as the Argos’ were already deep at running back with James Wilder Jr., Branden Burks, Mercer Timmis and Chris Rainey in the equation, but the veteran back offers a different type of skill-set from the others. Chambers bolsters the Ticats’ Canadian content at receiver, which already includes Mike Jones, recently-added Brian Jones, and Justin Buren.

Slow and steady in Montreal

Free agency has been somewhat of an equalizer in the East Division, which is shaping up for a competitive 2019 season. The Ticats are considered the early favourite, but on paper there appears to be very little between the REDBLACKS, Argos and Alouettes. All three teams have made quiet but savvy pickups in free agency, and if the season started today, their quarterbacks would be Jonathon Jennings, James Franklin and, if he wins the job in Montreal, Johnny Manziel.

So far Alouettes general manager Kavis Reed has put his team in position to keep up with the other teams in the East this season, flushing out his roster with proven, cost-efficient talent on both sides of the ball.


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On Wednesday, a day after adding a potential starter to the O-line on Tuesday in Spencer Wilson, the Als added a big name to the secondary, signing three-time all-star safety Taylor Loffler. The move completes Reed’s rebuild of the secondary, which features talented, young athletes including Chris Lyles, Patrick Levels and Branden Dozier in addition to star corner Tommie Campbell and Canadians Bo Lokombo and Dondre Wright.

Reed hinted the Alouettes wouldn’t be big spenders in free agency and, aside from getting arguably the best safety in the CFL in Taylor Loffler, he hasn’t. But it hasn’t stopped him from making the Alouettes a much deeper team in the secondary and on the offensive line, as the team looks to take a step forward in 2019.

DC in BC

Ed Hervey continues to dabble with all the big names in free agency, most recently adding star pass-catcher Duron Carter. While Mike Reilly, Sukh Chungh and Bryan Burnham take up a lot of money, Carter speculatively comes as a cost-efficient option with massive upside on what could be the CFL’s top offence in 2019. It’s big news for the Lions, who now feature one of the league’s most dynamic duos at receiver with Carter on the outside and Burnham on the slot.

The upcoming season is a big one for Carter, who struggled to assimilate with Marc Trestman after being released by the Riders mid-season. The talent is undeniable, but for some reason the 27-year-old just hasn’t put it all together to emerge as one of the league’s most dynamic receivers. The move to BC is a good career move for Carter, who will catch passes from the same quarterback that made Duke Williams, Brandon Zylstra, Derel Walker and Adarius Bowman into some of the league’s most prolific receivers over the last four seasons.

 

Another addition to the Lions’ offence is running back John White, whose connection with Ed Hervey goes back to their Edmonton days. White was one of the top up-and-coming running backs before suffering two season-ending injuries, but at 27 years old he’s still got a chance to be an upper-echelon running back in the CFL.

What’s left for Hervey to do on the Lions’ offence? There’s still some tinkering to be done, as the O-line and receiving corps may not be complete. But the foundation is strong, as the Leos are set to break out as one of the West Division’s top teams in 2019.

Full court press for Walker

The dominoes keep on falling in CFL free agency, but one remains. Derel Walker, considered one of, if not the best receiver in the CFL, is still on the open market. The 27-year-old is the only remaining player on CFL.ca’s top 30 list, and is reportedly seeking to become the highest-paid player in the CFL.

Jim Popp has openly discussed his interest in signing the dominant pass-catcher, and the Argos are a pretty natural fit. Walker has proven chemistry with James Franklin, who’s been named the team’s starting quarterback and is looking to become the star many had envisioned. A familiar face and a receiver who can separate would go along way for the Argos’ highly-touted pivot.

While Walker will be wined and dined in Toronto, including a Raptors game Wednesday night, the Argos won’t want to let him leave town without a contract. That’s because the Riders and Bombers have reportedly shown interest in Walker, with receiver being a top priority for both of those teams.

In most seasons, it’s taken the better part of a week to scratch off most players on the top 30 list. That hasn’t been the case this season, as top free agents have wasted no time either re-signing or finding new homes.

 

Elsewhere, the Stamps answered the loss of Ja’Gared Davis and Micah Johnson by signing veteran defensive end Cordarro Law. Injuries have limited the 30-year-old in his five-year career, but when healthy he’s been incredibly productive, recording 22 sacks in 32 games. If he starts opposite of Folarin Orimolade the Stamps could have a pretty dynamic duo at defensive end, despite several off-season losses.

The Riders remained quiet on day two, following the Zach Collaros and William Powell signings with the addition of Canadian receiver Cory Watson. After some key losses, Jeremy O’Day should have plenty of cap space to work with, and is expected to be a big factor moving forward.

Next door, the Bombers bolstered their defensive backfield with the addition of Winston Rose. In contrast with the Willie Jefferson signing on Tuesday, it’s a far more under-the-radar acquisition, but a notable one no less. Despite releasing Chris Randle and losing Taylor Loffler and Kevin Fogg to free agency, the Bombers have some pieces in their secondary, led by Brandon Alexander, Marcus Sayles, Anthony Gaitor and, now, Winston Rose. That should be a good defence in 2019.

Some notable free agents for Wednesday night/Thursday:

QB Kevin Glenn

QB Travis Lulay

WR Derel Walker

WR Emmanuel Arceneaux

WR Naaman Roosevelt

WR Shaq Johnson

OL Jovan Olafioye

OL Mike Filer

DL Mic’hael Brooks

DL Tristan Okpalaugo

DL Dylan Wynn

LB Chris Ackie

LB Marcus Ball

LB Jeff Knox Jr.

DB Other Foster

DB Rico Murray

DB Ciante Evans