February 7, 2022

Ferguson: Setting the stage for free agency

Photo: The Canadian Press

There are no coincidences in CFL free agency and that’s what makes it so much fun to pick apart.

Somebody always knows somebody or there’s a connection that runs back 20 years or a player’s dad played with a coach or a player was brought to the CFL by an executive who now has the relationship to lure his skills elsewhere.

On and on the reasons go, where the blurred lines of business and fantasy football end can often be difficult to decipher, but the entertainment value for fans who know these players well always makes early February a highlight of the CFL’s off-season calendar.

How does this idea apply to 2022 as the negotiation window closes and we head towards the open market Tuesday at noon ET?

Where to begin?

Official Free Agent Tracker 
Steinberg’s MMQB: The time is now in the nation’s capital
» CFL.ca’s Top 30 Pending Free Agents

Nathan Rourke will have a loaded arsenal of receivers around him this season, thanks to his entry-level contract and the retirement of Michael Reilly (The Canadian Press)

With Michael Reilly retiring and Canadian QB Nathan Rourke anointed starter heading into 2022 training camp, the Lions could make it an Canuck-exclusive backfield, if they wanted to look at Michael O’Connor. With the best Canadian running back — Sean Thomas-Erlington of Hamilton — perhaps testing the waters, the Ticats were quick to bring back Don Jackson. In Montreal, a couple of fullback extensions likely made Alouettes’ FB Spencer Moore open to finding a new home; perhaps his hometown as now former Ticats FB Nikola Kalinic has left for the NFL.

What a tangled web we weave, but that’s just the beginning.

Postmedia’s Danny Austin reported this week that LB Cameron Judge works out with former Stampeders standout linebacker Alex Singleton all the time, so when Judge was traded from Toronto to Calgary this week for Brampton, Ont. native Royce Metchie, both men experienced the rare football trade where everyone wins personally and professionally.

When Dane Evans extended his deal in Hamilton, Jeremiah Masoli became available. If Masoli were to sign in Edmonton there’d be a good chance that Nick Arbuckle would have been the odd man out again, looking for a fifth team in just three years. Instead Masoli has reportedly inked a deal with Ottawa and former Ticats personnel man turned REDBLACKS’ GM Shawn Burke.

That move instantly makes Ottawa a more attractive destination for free agents, including Masoli’s old Black and Gold target, Jaelon Acklin. With Acklin reportedly set to sign in Ottawa, Jake Wieneke — who Ottawa was interested in — quickly pivoted and has reportedly come to terms with Montreal.

Oh, and the two quarterbacks Hamilton just signed to backup Evans — former Alouettes QB Matthew Shiltz and Wake Forest alum Jamie Newman — happen to train at the same place Evans does in Frisco, TX.

No coincidences.

Kenny Lawler was the league’s leading receiver in 2021 and his signing should create a ripple effect throughout the league (Jason Halstead/CFL.ca)

One of the biggest mysteries entering Tuesday remains the future of Bombers’ RB Andrew Harris. BC has reportedly put in a big offer for Winnipeg REC Kenny Lawler, utilizing the rookie contract QB Rourke is on to spend capital elsewhere. If the Bombers can’t match it — or don’t want to — AND were to not keep Harris, their attack would look much different this summer.

Perhaps the move is to release Harris, creating another explosion of dominoes around the league that could see Lawler stay in Winnipeg and BC look to spend their money elsewhere, stealing a top free agent from another team such as WR Greg Ellingson or DL Ja’Gared Davis.

With all starting quarterback caliber passers off the board, the 2022 frenzy will be owned by different positions than in the past. While Lawler holds the ropes of the receiver market, 2019 MOP award winner Brandon Banks is still available and has received little chatter amongst insiders. Talented Canadians Dan Petermann, Hergy Mayala, Shaq Johnson and David Ungerer all remain available.

On the offensive line it sounds as though Ottawa is prepared to execute a mass overhaul of talent with names like Hunter Steward, Ucambre Williams, Darius Ciraco and more lingering, ready to come together in an attempt to get the best out of Jeremiah Masoli. Other names are sure to jump at the resulting openings of Ottawa’s aggression.

Defence offers the deepest pool of talent this year. Everything from veteran pass rushers to young Canadians and everything in between, all of which is being peeled through across the country in boardrooms right now in hopes of getting the right value for the perfect player to push your team over the top.

Just remember when the signings start flooding your timeline Tuesday, there are no coincidences.

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