September 3, 2019

O’Leary: Several NFL cuts offer intrigue down the stretch

Johany Jutras/

If Labour Day feels like Christmas for CFL fans, this next stretch of the football schedule might feel like Boxing Week sales. 

With NFL cuts taking place over the weekend, some former CFL players could be coming back across the border. Some teams will be looking for a high-end talent that can push them over the top in the second half of the season. Others might be looking for a vet that could provide a spark to a disappointing season. 

Let’s start with the players that as of now won’t be coming back to the CFL.

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Laval Rouge et Or defensive lineman Mathieu Betts makes a move on a Carleton offensive lineman during U Sports action (Yan Doublet/Laval)

Some of the biggest names that we saw sign with teams over this past offseason are starting new chapters with NFL teams. That includes Alex Singleton, James Vaughters and Duke Williams, who are on practice rosters in Philadelphia, Chicago and Buffalo, respectively. 

Three other big names in the CFL — Diontae Spencer, Deon Lacey and Brandon Zylstra — were cut by their teams but claimed by new ones. Spencer has landed with Denver, Lacey with Miami and Zylstra with Carolina.  

Christian Covington and Brett Maher (Dallas), Ty Long and Dontrelle Inman (L.A. Chargers), Laurent-Duvernay-Tardiff (Kansas City), Sam Eguavoen (Miami), Anthony Auclair (Tampa), Erik Harris (Oakland), Michael Palardy and Greg Van Roten (Carolina) and Eli Ankou (Jacksonville) are either former CFLers or Canadian-born NFLers that have been drafted by CFL clubs. All of them made their respective rosters out of training camp this year. 

After combing through’s NFL Cut Trackerhere are a handful of familiar names that are free agents and could be CFL-bound. 

Brett Jones, OL, 6-2, 315 lbs

The Vikings released Jones on Tuesday afternoon, after having him as their backup centre through last season. Before that, the Weyburn, Sask. native spent three years with the N.Y. Giants. He started his pro career with the Calgary Stampeders, playing centre for them in 2013 and 2014. In the days and weeks ahead, Jones will presumably have some NFL options in front of him. Should he choose to return to the CFL — he weighed the option of medical school before deciding to play pro football — teams would line up to sign a 28-year-old Canadian centre that could anchor their offensive line for years to come.

Austin Pasztor, OL, 6-7, 305 lbs  

Pasztor holds a unique CFL distinction in that he was a piece of arguably the biggest trade in CFL history, while never having set foot on a CFL field. He became the first-round draft pick from the Argos that went to Edmonton in the Ricky Ray trade. The 28-year-old has built a seven-year career that’s taken him from Jacksonville to Cleveland to Atlanta to Tennessee, where he was released on Aug. 31. While his previous free-agency stretches have always led to another NFL opportunity, the Esks still hold his draft rights. 

Stefan Charles, DT, 6-5, 302 lbs 

Another Edmonton draft pick (10th overall, 2013), Charles seems like a distinct possibility to make his way to the CFL, if the desire to play is still there. The 31-year-old spent 2012-2015 with Buffalo and has bounced around since, suiting up for Detroit and Kansas City and having practice roster or offseason stays with Jacksonville and Atlanta. Charles signed with the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance league this year, which suggests that he might be open to other non-NFL options. 

Mathieu Betts, DL, 6-3, 254 lbs 

This is our last Esks-related prospect, promise. Brock Sunderland chose Betts third overall in this year’s CFL draft, despite the Laval product having signed as an undrafted free agent with the Chicago Bears a few days earlier. The two-time Vanier Cup winner and three-time winner of the J.P. Metras trophy for the top-down lineman in U Sports football, Betts was considered the top prospect by the CFL’s Scouting Bureau. If he’s exhausted his NFL options, Betts would be a welcome addition to Edmonton’s d-line. 

Marken Michel, WR, 5-11, 190 lbs 

Michel made it to the final round of cuts with the Philadelphia Eagles, but the talented receiver didn’t land on their 53-man roster. He’s come very close to an NFL job, having a strong camp with Philly, so the option of waiting for something to open up with another team is there. But so is a return to Canada, where he thrived as a Calgary Stampeder. The 26-year-old had 435 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games last year before he broke his shoulder blade, cutting a promising season short. 

Jameer Thurman, LB, 6-0, 230 lbs 

Another Grey Cup-winning Stampeder, Thurman had 82 tackles, two quarterback sacks, an interception and a forced fumble lining up alongside Singleton. When the disappointment of being released by his hometown Chicago Bears passes, the 24-year-old will have plenty of options to weigh, as he’d be a big addition to a number of CFL teams. 

Jordan Wililams-Lambert, WR, 6-3, 228 lbs

Another Chicago native cut by the Bears, Williams-Lambert had a very strong rookie season a year ago with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Now 25, he led the Riders in receiving with 764 yards and had four touchdowns playing in an offence that struggled to put points on the board. Imagine what he could do on this year’s Riders team, or paired with QBs like Vernon Adams Jr., Bo Levi Mitchell or a healthy Matt Nichols in Winnipeg. 

Michael Ola, OL, 6-5, 312 lbs

The 31-year-old has been a journeyman in the NFL. He’s been signed by nine different teams since 2014 after spending the 2012 and 2013 seasons with the Montreal Alouettes. It’s been a long time since he’s played three-down football, but if the options have dried up for him in the NFL, a return to Canada is within reason. CFL teams will never turn away a veteran offensive lineman, especially as the weather is shifting to running back season. 

Tevaughn Campbell, DB, 6-0, 195 lbs

First off, Campbell’s a Canadian player that’s proven he can play in this league, so he’ll get consideration from a lot of CFL GMs. The 26-year-old finished out the 2018 season in Montreal, where he had two interceptions and two touchdowns in 10 games, which led to a reserve/future contract with the New York Jets in January 2019. Adding a ratio-friendly, capable defensive back to your roster at a time of year when injuries have impacted every team across the league should work in Campbell’s favour.