The release of the CFL.ca free agent tracker means the countdown to 2023 signing season has officially begun. This year’s signing period opens February 14th, which is just over ten weeks away. As per usual, we’ve got a star-studded list of players eligible to hit the open market on Valentine’s Day.
Starting with the West Division, we’ve compiled our most intriguing 2023 free agents.
» Market Ready: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» Breaking down the Als’ free agent list
» Cauz: Pending free agents that have my attention
» O’Leary: Playing free agent matchmaker
Winnipeg Blue Bombers: Stanley Bryant, offensive line
It’s weird, because I don’t think anyone is concerned the most decorated offensive lineman in league history is going to sign elsewhere. With Bryant, the pertinent question is if he’s going to return for an eighth season with the Blue Bombers. Otherwise, it just seems too strange to think about him wearing another team’s jersey.
On the one hand, Bryant will be 37 by the time the 2023 season begins. If Bryant isn’t up for the wear and tear of a gruelling 18-game campaign, it’s not like he has anything left to accomplish in this league. Bryant is a three-time Grey Cup champion and has won the CFL’s Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman award a record four times, including the last two. If he opts to retire, Bryant’s next stop is the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
But, as his most recent season can attest to, Bryant is still playing at an elite level. Combining that with how his team’s season ended, you don’t have to squint to see a world where Bryant is back in Winnipeg. The theme of “unfinished business” can be a powerful motivator, especially with people wired to win like Bryant. Knowing how high a level his game remains at, why wouldn’t the Bombers bring him back if he’s open to it?
BC Lions: David Menard, defensive line
I was a little surprised Menard wasn’t retained by the Alouettes following his breakout season in 2021. Instead, the Canadian defensive end went back to familiar territory and re-signed with the Lions. Menard was drafted by BC in 2014 and spent the first six years of his professional career with them before his one season in Montreal.
Back with the Lions in 2022, Menard set a new career high with nine sacks and racked up 17 defensive tackles and a forced fumble. Along with Sione Teuhema and Mathieu Betts, Menard helped form one of the league’s most dangerous pass rush rotations. With Betts already under contract, I’m curious if fellow Canadian Menard returns for another year.
Finishing near the top of the league in sacks the last two seasons, you can bet Menard will generate plenty of interest from other teams if it gets that far. One of the CFL’s highest paid defensive linemen last year, the 32-year-old Menard will have plenty of leverage once again. But BC has turned into a second home for Menard, so it won’t be much of a surprise if he’s back for an eighth season.
Calgary Stampeders: Shawn Lemon, defensive line
Lemon’s second stint as a member of the Stampeders has been fruitful. After finishing fourth in sacks with eight during the shortened 2021 season, Lemon upped that total to 14 this past season en route to being named the West Division’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. I guess that’s what happens when a proud guy comes in with a chip on his shoulder.
Remember, Lemon was released by Edmonton near the end of 2021 training camp and only joined Calgary a week prior to their first regular season game. But any whispers of Lemon’s reduced effectiveness proved to be premature as he remains one of the league’s most dangerous pass rushers, regardless of what uniform he’s wearing.
Lemon has clearly been a good fit in defensive coordinator Brent Monson’s scheme, so a return to the Stamps would make sense. However, Calgary has been very reserved in free agency under John Hufnagel and Lemon is coming off being named a CFL All-Star for the first time in his career. This could be one of Lemon’s last chances to hit it big in February, so I’m curious how this situation plays out.
Saskatchewan Roughriders: Larry Dean, linebacker
Dean was one of Saskatchewan’s big splashes in 2021 free agency but was unable to play that season after sustaining a torn Achilles’ tendon early in training camp. After rehabbing and re-signing, many wondered how Dean and 2022 free agent splash Darnell Sankey would coexist this past season. Both natural MIKE linebackers, it was an interesting situation to watch entering training camp.
It ended up working well. Sankey slotted in at middle linebacker and led the CFL with 120 defensive tackles. Dean moved to the weak side and finished third with 101. It was a great bounce back season for Dean after a devastating injury and it sets him up for a nice contract this winter.
Dean has finished no lower than fifth in defensive tackles in each of his last four seasons and has proven his ability to excel in two linebacker roles. Similar to Lemon, the 34-year-old Dean may only have a few more chances to hit it big in free agency, so testing the market would be understandable. That said, with how well he and Sankey (also a pending free agent) worked together, a return to Saskatchewan makes a lot of sense, too.
Edmonton Elks: Kenny Lawler, receiver
Somewhat quietly, Lawler had a very successful first season in green and gold. He was one of Edmonton’s bright spots during a frustrating 2022. Lawler finished with 894 receiving yards and five touchdown catches in just 12 appearances. Prorated to 18 games, Lawler would have likely been a top five receiver, which is notable knowing how little quarterback stability the Elks had.
Lawler’s situation is fascinating, especially after Edmonton gave him a massive payday last February. I’m curious if he’ll command money in that same neighbourhood after ankle and shoulder injuries affected him in 2022. Those injuries brought his numbers down, which could bring his leverage down.
In saying that, there’s no doubting Lawler’s position as one of the CFL’s upper echelon receivers. Coming out of Week 12, when he sustained his ankle injury, Lawler was tied for second in both receptions and receiving yards. Does Lawler wait to see how this year’s quarterback carousel turns out before signing? Or does he return to the Elks, who might be the team most able to keep him closest to his 2022 earnings?