TORONTO — We are quickly closing in on one of the most highly-anticipated dates on the CFL calendar.
Free agency arrives Feb. 9 as contracts are set to expire, signalling plenty of movement on the way.
While some of those players will sign extensions, it’s not too early to release our annual list of the top 30 pending free agents.
The ranking was determined by a panel of CFL.ca staff and analysts, taking into account age, production, national status and position scarcity. It assumes players are testing free agency and avoids taking into account NFL potential, the possibility of retirement or the odds of signing a contract extension.
Finally, note that the players listed are only those whose contracts will expire on Feb. 9, not those who have been released.
Without further delay, here are CFL.ca’s top 30 pending free agents:
A ratio-breaker, Loffler has had much success in the defensive backfield. He played in just six games in 2019 with the Montreal Alouettes, tallying 27 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble. Over his four-year career, three of those years with the Blue Bombers, the 28-year-old has amassed 212 tackles, a sack and nine interceptions.
Brooks suited up in 17 regular season games as he enjoyed his third season in Hamilton. He tallied 57 tackles, two interceptions and a sack and if the co-GMs in the Hammer don’t decide to sign him to a new deal, he’ll add to any team looking for talent in their defensive backfield.
28 JUSTIN TUGGLE LB | EDM
THE LOW DOWN
In his first season in Hamilton (2019), Tuggle collected 80 tackles, a sack and an interception. That season-long performance was enough to garner the interest of the Edmonton Football Team, where he signed as a free agent in 2020. If Edmonton does not sign the 31-year-old to a new deal before the deadline, there will likely be others interested in his services.
Age is but a number for Solomon Elimimian, who returned from injury in Saskatchewan with a vengeance and showed no signs of slowing down in 2019. The 34-year-old middle linebacker was third in the league in tackles (88) and got to quarterbacks four times in his 10th CFL season.
Injury kept Cunningham out for most of the 2019 season, but when he was in the lineup, he was one of the top targets for Vernon Adams Jr. The 31-year-old’s last full season was in 2017, where he hauled in 1,128 yards and four major scores. When healthy, the production is there, and would be a great option for any team looking for an impact pass-catcher
Ackie signed with his hometown Toronto Argonauts after hitting the free agent market in 2019. GM ‘Pinball’ Clemons has said he wants to keep the GTA players in the Argos’ building, so it’s likely that the team will try and have Ackie stay in the double blue. If not, Ackie brings versatility to any team as he has played in the defensive backfield and as a linebacker.
2019’s Most Outstanding Special Teams player had an incredible season, suiting up as a returner and a defensive back for the Ticats. The five-foot-nine, 190-pounder led the league in punt return yards (949) and was third in kickoff return yards (1,071). There is no question that Williams is now one of the elite special teamers in the league.
White found his groove in BC in 2019, hitting a career-high in rushing yards, surpassing the 1,000-yard mark for the first time. He was the feature back for the Lions but with a new head coach in Rick Campbell at the helm, it remains to be seen if he’s in the team’s plans moving forward.
Despite Ciante Evans missing five games in 2019, he still became a staple in the Montreal Alouettes’ secondary in his first year with the club. Over his five-year career, the 28-year-old has amassed 156 tackles and 12 interceptions, solidifying himself as one of the top ballhawks in the league.
Larry Dean continued to assert himself as one of the best linebackers in the CFL in 2019, finishing the year fifth in defensive tackles (86) with Edmonton. The 31-year-old MIKE linebacker elected to head back to Hamilton after becoming a free agent in 2020, but will he stay in the black and gold this time around?
Levels signed with the Tiger-Cats as a free agent last year after having an impressive season at SAM linebacker for the Montreal Alouettes. In 2019 with the Als, he tallied 86 tackles, and a career-high five sacks. The 26-year-old also added two forced fumbles. He’ll add to any team looking for a playmaker in the middle of their defence.
Lauzon-Seguin has been a staple on the Ottawa REDBLACKS offensive line for the last four campaigns after he was drafted by the team in 2016. It’s likely Marcel Desjardins will want to try to keep the Laval University product in the nation’s capital.
Don Unamba signed with the Ottawa REDBLACKS as a free agent in 2020 but didn’t play a single down in the nation’s capital due to the COVID-19-cancelled season. In 2019, Unamba’s cover skills and ability to blitz were on full display in his Edmonton, as the 31-year-old hit a career-high in sacks (six) and added an interception and 43 tackles in 12 games. Will he remain with Ottawa or decide to take his talents elsewhere?
Posey signed with the Tiger-Cats after becoming a free agent in 2020 but like so many other players who found new teams last year, did not get to suit up in his new threads. The 2017 Grey Cup MVP played in 12 games with the Alouettes in 2019 and hauled in 50 passes for 780 yards and three touchdowns.
16 MATT O’DONNELL* OL | EDM
THE LOW DOWN
At six-foot-11 and 350 pounds, O’Donnell was a massive part of Edmonton’s protection of Trevor Harris, pun intended. He was part of one of the best offensive lines in 2019 (allowing a league-low 25 sacks), playing in 12 games at left guard and right tackle. The Canadian should be one of the top priorities for Brock Sunderland to get under contract as soon as possible.
Rogers had an excellent 2019 campaign with the Stampeders, despite missing the regular season finale with an injury. He finished the season with 85 catches, 1,080 yards and 10 touchdowns. When healthy, Rogers has proven he’s a No. 1 target.
Nevis signed with the Argonauts as a free agent in 2020 but thanks to the cancelled season, never got to play a down with his new team. It’ll be up to ‘Pinball’ Clemons to decide if the 2019 Grey Cup Champion is in the team’s plans moving forward.
Bergman has been part of the Stampeders offensive line his entire CFL career, after he was drafted by the team in the 2013 CFL Draft. Since he holds a Canadian passport, he’ll be a hot commodity come February 9 if he doesn’t sign an extension to remain in Calgary.
Sewell, a nine-year CFL veteran, has played his entire career in Edmonton. He suited up in all 18 games in 2019 and tallied 35 tackles and eight sacks from the interior of the green and gold’s defensive line. It’ll be interesting to see if he remains in Brock Sunderland’s plans moving forward or if he’ll be searching for a new home for the first time.
11 JUSTIN MEDLOCK K/P | WPG
The Canadian Press
THE LOW DOWN
Medlock is well known as one of the best to ever kick the ball in the three down game and has found a home in Winnipeg for the last four seasons. Will the 37-year-old remain in blue and gold or will he find a new home somewhere else in the league?
Gainey established himself as a ballhawk in 2017 with a 10-interception season in Saskatchewan and never looked back. He signed an extension with the Riders before hitting the free agent market last year, will he do the same in 2021?
Law had a productive 2019 season on the Stampeders defensive line, tallying 41 tackles and 10 sacks. If Calgary can’t come to terms with the 32-year-old, there are eight other teams who would welcome him to their defence.
8 McLEOD BETHEL-THOMPSON QB | TOR
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Lost in a disappointing four-win season are some impressive feats from Bethel-Thompson, who despite being overlooked as the Argos’ starter twice led the league in touchdowns (26) and was third in passing. The 32-year-old could explore his options as a starter, or could take offers from contending teams that learned the importance of a skilled backup. MBT will have options as a free agent.
Stats-wise, 2019 might be a year that Johnson would want to forget. The four sacks he had made for his lowest total since the 2014 season in Calgary, where he had three in six games played. Johnson posted a career-best 14 sacks in 2018 with the Stamps and was revered around the league for his ability to get to quarterbacks. Can he do that in Saskatchewan, or will he look elsewhere?
Age is but a number for Charleston Hughes. At 37 years old Hughes had one of the best seasons of his CFL career, tallying 50 defensive tackles, just three shy of his highest total in his rookie season in 2008. The six-foot-one, 246-pound defensive end also hit double-digit sack totals in seven of his last eight seasons.
In his first season in Edmonton, Greg Ellingson continued to do Greg Ellingson things. The receiver hauled in over 1,000 yards, the fifth year in a row he’s done so. The productivity is there and the sky is the limit for this impressive pass-catcher for any team that wants him.
4 HENOC MUAMBA* LB | MTL
THE LOW DOWN
Henoc Muamba is one of the best in the business to patrol the middle of a defence and with his Canadian passport in hand, he’ll be highly coveted should he hit the open market on February 9. The six-foot, 230-pound middle linebacker was second in tackles in 2019 with 93 and if he becomes available any team would be lucky to have him put pen to paper.
Cameron Judge enjoyed a career-year in Riderville in 2019. Along with his 61 tackles and five sacks, the 26-year-old also hauled in two interceptions, including one that he took for a touchdown to solidify the Riders place on top of the West Division. Plus, with a Canadian passport, Judge will be coveted as a ratio breaker for any team’s defence.
It seemed that almost every highlight reel from 2019 featured at least one catch from Bryan Burnham. The 30-year-old hauled in a career-high in yards (1,492) and touchdowns (11) in 2019 and would be a welcome addition to any team looking for an impact pass-catcher.
Should Jeremiah Masoli test free agency, the five-foot-10, 228-pounder is likely going to be at the top of every team’s free agent board. The pivot is proven to play at an MOP-calibre capacity and can make an impact on any team that wants to pull the ball in his hands.
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