Nye: Looking at every team’s No. 1 free agency priority

When the free-agent gun sounds in less than two weeks, there are three strategies that will be deployed.

The teams that missed the playoffs are trying to find the talent to compete. The teams that made the playoffs but didn’t get to the Grey Cup will be finding complementary pieces to get to the next level. And of course, the two Grey Cup teams will be trying to fill the holes left behind by their top players getting plucked by the previous two or the NFL.

But all the teams will have a priority list. Here are my No. 1 priorities for each team going into free agency.

Thanks to the new negotiating window, we are 48 hours away from hearing rumours regarding where some free agents will land! It’s a great rule change to create another week of drama before the real show begins on Feb. 11.

Official Free Agent Tracker 
Esks sign Trevor Harris through 2022
REDBLACKS sign Nick Arbuckle
CFL.ca’s Top 30 Pending Free Agent List




There is no doubt that the Montreal Alouettes crossed off a top priority by signing running back James Wilder Jr. But the much higher priority is the defensive line.

The Alouettes were last in sacks, knockdowns, forced fumbles and two and outs forced. That all starts up front for the defence.

If the Alouettes can make a big splash with some of the top talent available right now, it would go a long way to being more competitive with the top teams in the league.

New general manager Danny Maciocia also isn’t hiding the fact that this is a top priority.


A lot of you are thinking I’m going to say quarterback. Yes, there’s no doubt improved quarterback play will help, but there aren’t many solutions out there.

My No. 1 priority would be extending Sean McEwen and adding to the offensive line depth. The Argonauts allowed the second-most sacks in the CFL, and with an improved offensive line and run game, I think the necessity of finding a new quarterback would diminish.

Without an improved offensive line, it won’t matter who the Argonauts have at quarterback.

:: EDIT: Sean McEewan was released from the Argos and has since signed with the Calgary Stampeders.



The Ottawa QB pass efficiency last season was 20 points less than the eighth-best team. That’s a huge gap and a huge need for the REDBLACKS. They’ve landed Nick Arbuckle, but they also need a CFL vet who could thrive under Paul LaPolice.

LaPolice has turned Matt Nichols into a solid starter, he helped Zach Collaros become a Grey Cup QB and was the coordinator in Saskatchewan when Darian Durant took off as a starter.

The new REDBLACKS head coach has his starter, but he’s also proven that he can make it work with a multi-quarterback system.


The Hamilton Tiger-Cats have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball that remains unsigned right now.

This has to be a big concern, but with the team getting to the Grey Cup, the reality is that all of them won’t return. The demand will be there from teams around the league, with some likely offering bigger salaries. Those two make things difficult.

But you can’t lose Dylan Wynn, Ja’Gared Davis and Adrian Tracy. Plus, Frankie Williams and Richard Leonard are potential free agents — the team was able to lock up Jumal Rolle on a two-year extension on Friday

Getting back key assets and filling holes with departing players: Those will be the top priorities for Hamilton to get back to the Grey Cup in 2020.

:: EDIT: The Tiger-Cats have since re-upped with Ja’Gared Davis and Frankie Williams.


I feel like the two biggest losses for the Bombers have already happened, as Winston Rose and Marcus Sayles signed deals in the NFL.

The Bombers’ secondary grew throughout the 2019 season, but it was those two who were the most consistent. Now, the Bombers have to be looking for defensive backs to help lessen the blow of that pair leaving town.

What’s likely a bigger elephant in the room is the status of Willie Jefferson. Extending him is huge, but with Jefferson, he’s going to be true to himself and is hard, if not impossible, to replace in free agency.

The Bombers helped keep their defensive line depth intact on Friday, extending veteran pass-rusher Jake Thomas. Extending Craig Roh would help alleviate some of the pressure if Jefferson moves somewhere else.


There are two high priorities for the Roughriders, and it’s difficult to say which one is No. 1. Without news of Cameron Judge and Solomon Elimimian — and with Derrick Moncrief signing in the NFL — it’s clear the Riders need help at linebacker.

Then, with Kyran Moore as the only starting receiver under contract for 2020, Cody Fajardo needs some weapons to improve on his first year as a starter.

Shaq Evans is a top priority to bring back, but the Riders do have 2018 West Most Outstanding Rookie Jordan Williams-Lambert for an entire training camp. He could be set for a return to glory in 2020.

So with that, linebacker is No. 1, especially getting Judge locked up if he doesn’t get a workout in the NFL.

:: EDIT: The Riders have since signed Shaq Evans to a new contract.



Like the Roughriders, the Eskimos are looking at a linebacking corps that is completely at risk of departing this season.

Larry Dean, Jovon Santos-Knox and Don Unamba were exactly what they were asked to be when they all arrived in free agency in 2019. They took the defence up a notch in Edmonton, so losing them would be a big loss.


The Calgary Stampeders have a similar story to the Bombers.

DaShaun Amos and Tre Roberson are off to the NFL, but additionally, Brandon Smith isn’t returning after announcing that he would retire following the 2019 campaign.

I know, John Hufnagel rarely builds the Stamps through free agency. But I can’t believe with so many losses to the secondary that he’ll feel comfortable with a rookie-laden unit to start 2020.

He may not go big, but I’m putting defensive backs as a top priority for Calgary.


The line play in BC has to improve. They gave up the most sacks league-wide (58) while not applying a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Those two things added together equal a poor season.

Can I combine it to say the number one priority is the trenches?

Seeing as this is my column, I can do whatever I want. So yes, line play is the top priority for Ed Hervey and new head coach Rick Campbell as free agency nears.