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TORONTO — Some of the biggest dominos have yet to fall, but Tuesday marked a busy first day of free agency around the Canadian Football League.
Riders linebacker Solomon Elimimian and Ticats defensive tackle Dylan Wynn returned to their respective teams, while national defensive tackle Cleyon Laing moved from Toronto to Ottawa, headlining the day’s biggest moves.
The Argos signed wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, while star receiver Derel Walker has yet to land anywhere. In addition to re-signing Wynn, the Ticats have signed linebacker Larry Dean, who previously played in Hamilton before joining the Edmonton Eskimos in 2019, and the Lions added perennial CFL All-Star and defensive tackle Micah Johnson.
Following the first ever week-long negotiation window that closed on Feb. 9, the market officially opened on Tuesday at 12 p.m. ET, as players on expiring contracts were free to sign elsewhere.
After a last-place finish in 2019, the REDBLACKS took a proactive approach on the first day of free agency. In addition to Laing, Ottawa also added linebacker Chris Mulumba-Tshimanga and versatile running back and receiver Anthony Coombs, bolstering an already impressive Canadian talent base and giving new head coach Paul LaPolice another weapon to work with.
”It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to play for REDBLACKS and the City of Ottawa again,” said Laing. “I have always had a soft spot for Ottawa and how the teams and the fans embraced me in a short amount of time. Being able to seal that experience with a championship was a dream come true. I look forward to this chance to help build this group into a championship team with an amazing coaching staff and talented teammates.”
The REDBLACKS also signed SAM linebacker Don Unamba and defensive back Abdul Kanneh to bolster their defence.
The Argos also hope to return to the post-season after an underwhelming campaign. Led by new general manager Michael ‘Pinball’ Clemons and his right-hand man John Murphy, the Boatmen bolstered their Canadian content after losing Laing and centre Sean McEwen (Calgary), signing Mississauga, Ont. native Juwan Brescacin and offensive linemen Philip Blake and Dariusz Bladek.
Toronto has also reportedly addressed the defensive line, signing Canadian Fabion Foote and defensive end Alex Bazzie. The team has also reportedly been linked to Drake Nevis, while former NFL draft pick T.J. Jones has also signed according to reports.
Usually one of the quietest teams in free agency, the Stampeders were active on Tuesday. Days after adding a former Calgary Dino in McEwen to anchor their O-line, the Stamps stayed close to home with the addition of former fourth overall pick and local product Connor McGough. They also signed all-star defensive back Richard Leonard, defensive back Branden Dozier and punter Ronnie Pfeffer.
The Blue Bombers also had holes to fill in their secondary after Marcus Sayles and Winston Rose left to sign NFL deals. The contract extension for Willie Jefferson on the eve of free agency signaled a quiet week for Kyle Walters, but the Bombers’ general manager was able to land defensive back Josh Johnson. The team has also re-signed local product and linebacker Thomas Miles.
Unlike a year ago, the quarterback carousel was static going into free agency as all nine teams had addressed the No. 1 job. The backup position, however, is a different story, as several teams set their sights on a qualified No. 2. James Franklin and Riders offensive coordinator Jason Maas have been reunited in Regina, while Logan Kilgore and Montell Cozart signed returned to their respective clubs in Edmonton and Calgary. The Stamps, meanwhile, signed Dakota Prukop, who showed promise as an Argo last autumn.
The running back market was relatively stable as veteran C.J. Gable remains unsigned and Jeremiah Johnson has reportedly retired. The Eskimos added former Argos running back Branden Burks to pair with Shaq Cooper, while the Ticats signed former Stampeder Don Jackson.
The Eskimos lost receiver Daniels to the Argos and Unamba to the REDBLACKS, but made up for it with the addition of standout corner Jonathon Mincy. They also signed linebackers Justin Tuggle and Korey Jones and defensive backs Trumaine Washington and Anthony Covington.
Montreal was one of the quieter teams on the first day of free agency, but made under-the-radar moves that could pay off in a big way. The Als, after trading Bo Lokombo and releasing Tommie Campbell, signed free agent defensive back Tyquwan Glass, and extended veteran Ciante Evans.
In addition to Johnson, the Lions added some youth at defensive end, replacing veterans Shawn Lemon and Odell Willis with Chris Casher and JR Tavai — two potential starters on that side of the ball in 2020. General Manager Ed Hervey also signed defender Garry Peters to an extension and brought in national safety Derek Jones.
Late on Tuesday, the Lions also added offensive tackle Ryker Mathews. Mathews will line up at tackle opposite Joel Figueroa.
Despite a flurry of activity out of the gate, there are plenty of big moves in store in the coming days. A run on receivers could come soon as Walker headlines a group that also includes DeVier Posey, Dominique Rhymes and Naaman Roosevelt.
Derek Dennis also remains available, along with defensive back Patrick Levels and versatile Canadian Chris Ackie.
There’s still plenty to be solved, but the landscape has changed after Tuesday. Keep it locked to CFL.ca for what’s sure to be a busy Day 2 of CFL Free Agency.