Every CFL team at this time of year will be making a list and checking it twice. They’re going to find out who’s a fit for the right price with Free Agency coming in two months.
Okay, I’ll admit, as much as want to write this entire piece to the song of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, I think that is enough cheese before the holidays.
» Market Ready: The 2023 CFL Free Agent Tracker
» Steinberg’s MMQB: West Division’s most intriguing free agents
» Ferguson: Breaking down the free agent quarterbacks
» O’Leary: Playing free agent matchmaker
I’ve been tasked with creating the top three list for each team’s free agents, which for many teams is an unenviable task with so much quality potentially available until the teams start announcing who they’ve signed to extensions.
But today, let’s start with the four teams in the East Division.
Right at the top must be the Toronto Argonauts.
The receiver was the league’s top Canadian if it weren’t for Nathan Rourke. Gittens Jr. is only 25 years old and in his third year, and you can tell the young man continues to mature into a game-breaking and ratio-breaking receiver. He tops the Argos list, but may be in the top three of the entire league IF the Argonauts can’t sign him to an extension.
Justin Lawrence slides in at number two because of the value of Canadian offensive lineman. Trust me, there are plenty of teams who would love to get their hands on a 26-year-old centre who started every game for the Argonauts on their way to a Grey Cup Championship. Lawrence is also versatile enough to play either guard position, but definitely has filled the void left by Sean McEwen’s departure two years ago.
Wynton McManis slides into the top three. After two years in the NFL, McManis returned to the CFL and, if not for an injury, could have been on his way to winning the league’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player award. The team’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player was unavailable for the Grey Cup, which had me leaning towards putting Henoc Muamba here, but the age difference pushes me to McManis who could potentially be a longer term solution for Toronto, or someone else.
Now let’s move on to the Montreal Alouettes.
Like Gittens, Lewis’ name jumps off the page in the Alouettes free agent pool. Lewis would be part of my fantasy team if I was able to pick five receivers off any team. He’s a great route runner, a reliable pass-catcher, and a consistent player who is a threat every down. Any quarterback would be grateful to have Lewis added to the team and the Alouettes would be equally devastated to watch him leave.
Trevor Harris is another giant piece to the puzzle for Montreal. While Harris is turning 37 next season, and you have to find the next one, the Alouettes don’t have that guy after sending Vernon Adams Jr. to the BC Lions. Harris would stabilize a team at quarterback and if he departs would send the Alouettes into desperation mode to find his replacement. So you can see the value in a consistent presence behind centre.
Adarius Pickett’s second year in Montreal was a big step forward for the versatile linebacker/defensive back/pass rusher. Pickett is an aggressive, quick athlete who took on a larger role in the defence and became the team’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player. You can’t ignore this type of talent and nobody would if he didn’t end up back in Montreal.
And now over to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Bo Levi Mitchell tops the list of Hamilton, Saskatchewan, Ottawa and potentially Toronto and BC, depending on how things shuffle out. With Hamilton trading draft assets to acquire the negotiating rights to Mitchell, the intensity rises for the Tiger-Cats to lock Mitchell down before he becomes available to other teams. His final few drives in Calgary in the Western Semi-Final caught many people’s attention that Mitchell’s arm is still lively and a motivated competitor like Mitchell would be a huge bonus for a quarterback hungry organization.
Tim White’s final half of the season was outstanding! Six 100-yard plus games in his final nine games played proved White is definitely a No. 1 receiver in the CFL. Whether you’re asking him to make clutch second down conversions or sending him deep or he’s making a play in open space, White is yet another receiver who anyone would be salivating over to bring in.
Malik Carney may be the surprise of the entire list I’m compiling but in the final nine games of the regular season, Carney had seven sacks. Yes, one of those games was a hat trick against the worst offensive line in the CFL, but Carney played well in a rotation on the Tiger-Cats defensive line and when you have a second half of a season when given more opportunity in your second year in the league, you wonder what will happen in year three? In a league where finding pass rushers in always a priority, Carney could be a very affordable option for teams.
And finally, the Ottawa REDBLACKS.
Speaking of pass rushers, Lorenzo Mauldin IV is easily No. 1 on the list of REDBLACKS free agents. 2022’s Most Outstanding Defensive Player was one of the lone bright spots for an Ottawa team that didn’t have a lot to celebrate this season.
DeVonte Dedmon came back for Ottawa mid-season after his NFL tryouts and the big play return man is a player who can flip the field for a team instantly. Also, I’m always curious about what Dedmon could do in the receiving game. He’s never been put in a position to really utilize his big play potential in open space but I look at what Brandon Banks did when given a larger offensive role after starting as a return specialist and ponder if a bigger role for Dedmon would find similar results.
The REDBLACKS have the most free agents by far so there is a lot there to pluck from depending on who they sign to extensions, but for the number three on their list… I keep going back to Kwaku Boateng. Yes, you never know how you recover from an Achilles injury, but Larry Dean in Saskatchewan came back and didn’t miss a beat. The Canadian defensive lineman could become a massive ratio breaker for teams trying to find more options where to play their national players.