TORONTO — The news came through this past Friday night and for those of us that helped put together CFL.ca’s top-30 pending free agents list, it felt like like we watched a No. 1 seed go out on the opening day of March Madness.
Zach Collaros is staying with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and in the wake of that not exactly shocking news, some of CFL.ca’s writers shared their thoughts on who the next man up is as we head into free agency on Feb. 8.
There’s plenty of talent to go around and plenty of approaches to take in choosing who tops your list. Do you look at overall skill? Fit for a certain team’s needs? Youth and upside? Loading up at a certain position? Our writers explored a little of all of that, with one name — perhaps again unsurprisingly — rising to the top.
Jamie Nye: There are three guarantees in life: Death, taxes and Bryan Burnham having an outstanding season. The BC Lions once again struggled offensively but Burnham is there day-in and day-out making incredible catch after incredible catch. He may be getting older but that just makes him wiser. Any offence is bolstered by his arrival considerably, while the Lions take a big hit if he doesn’t come back. He’s also been incredibly durable over the years.
Jim Morris: Jeremiah Masoli will get a lot of attention come free agency but the best player available is Bryan Burnham. The 31-year-old is a big target with great hands who makes the impossible catch look easy.
Burnham has been a bright light during some dark seasons for the Lions. The four-time CFL all-star was just 35 yards short of his fifth consecutive 1,000-yard season in the shortened 2021 campaign. He’s also a leader in the dressing room, which makes him a key addition to a team looking for pieces to fit into a Grey Cup puzzle.
Matt Cauz: Brandon Banks does not deserve to be the No. 1 pending free agent, but Banks is the most interesting. A combination of injuries to both himself and his quarterbacks contributed to an uninspiring 2021. But the 2019 MOP showed enough flashes last year that he could be 80 per cent of the receiver that put up 1,550 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns three years ago. Banks can help young quarterbacks with ease to complete bubble screens, can challenge any secondary downfield and in a pinch can contribute in the return game.
Kristina Costabile: Bryan Burnham is the top pending free agent available. He’s consistent, reliable and makes every catch look easy, including the ones that make everyone say, “how did he do that?” With almost five-straight 1,000-yard seasons, how could you want anyone else on your team to take your offence to another level? I think he’s hitting his stride and playing some of the best football of his career and if he doesn’t remain in BC, any team will jump at the chance to sign him to a deal.
Chris O’Leary: We should talk about Jeremiah Masoli. You could look at his Eastern Final benching as a big strike against him, or you could look at how he handled everything that followed it. It takes a special type of mental toughness to lose the starting job on a team that’s heading into the Grey Cup, be thrown back into the fray in the second quarter of that game, then be a completed pass away from knocking off a Winnipeg team that could be considered one of the league’s all-time great squads. Masoli will be available and has a lot to offer a team, depending on how you look at it.
Don Landry: I sure do love me some disruptive abilities on my defences and Ja’Gared Davis is the most disruptive free agent remaining on the list. He had another stellar season in Hamilton and got particularly good – and nasty — in the game that followed Hamilton’s Week 15 loss in Toronto, carrying that feeling through the post-season, where he tallied five sacks and a forced fumble. Five seasons in and at the age of 31, Davis is primed for his best one yet, I think. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him make a case for Defensive Player of the Year in 2022.
Marshall Ferguson: Bryan Burnham‘s ability to separate is special. When the ball is in the air I have as much confidence in him to find a way to catch it as any receiver of this CFL generation. I’d love to see one more season of the Reilly-Whitehead-Burnham trio to really see what they can create, but anywhere he lands in CFLFA will alter the landscape and that is the true mark of a top-flight free agent.