“Siri, set a reminder that if my editors ask you to do a free agent feature on the top three players for each team to ask for an expansion on the list.”
Siri did not understand that request.
It’s painful to leave a player off the list, like my East Division look didn’t have Simoni Lawrence, Kameron Kelly, Money Hunter, Avery Williams, or Henoc Muamba.
Today I look at the West, and as much as this process has made my brain hurt … the lord hates a coward.
» 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
» Nye: Top 3 pending free agents on every East team
So away we go. Let’s start with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
I’m going to start this one like I did with the last one; with a Canadian receiver.
Nic Demski wasn’t a hard one to jot down on the top three free agents out of Winnipeg. All we have seen from Demski through the years is improved play and him becoming one of the most reliable receivers in the league. While the injury bug got him in 2021, his 900 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns landed him as a Division All-Star in just 13 games this past season. I’d expect to hear the Winnipeger signing an extension sometime soon because the Bombers would be foolish to let him go.
I know it’s cheating to put three players in one category but for the Bombers success the last few years, it’s been largely due to their offensive and defensive line, and key contributors in the trenches are coming upon free agency, including three starting offensive linemen. Do you pick a soon to be 38-year old Stanley Bryant, the man on the opposite side who has a few more years ahead of him with Jermarcus Hardrick, or the man in the middle Michael Couture? With Couture’s injury last year, the team kept rolling. With Bryant’s potential of retirement, I’ll slide over to ‘Yoshi’ Hardrick. The man can absolutely maul other human beings on the defensive line and every team would be interested to look at the right tackle. In saying that, all teams should look at all three guys.
Now I’m moving over to the defensive line for the Bombers and going with Casey Sayles. Slowly becoming a bigger name in the conversation of quality defensive tackles, Sayles allowed the Bombers to not miss a beat with Steven Richardson moving on to BC this past off-season. Consider Sayles an underrated pick to be a top free agent priority.
And onto the BC Lions.
Of course I had Bryan Burnham at the top of the list because I’ve loved every minute watching him bring down what you’d think were uncatchable balls until he would go up and make them catchable. So I wish him well in retirement. The silver lining is I got to add another player to the list.
David Menard and Mathieu Betts were fun to watch chase down quarterbacks in 2022 and Menard was a high priority signing for the Lions to bring back after he became All-Star calibre in his one season in Montreal. Menard has flourished with a bigger role and the more options to play Canadians, the better, especially when you can have two of them.
The BC Lions offensive line has solidified itself over the last few years after being one of the worst in the league a few years ago, and Joel Figueroa’s addition and play the last few seasons has been a big reason. He was one of my votes for CFL West All-Stars in 2022 and a few teams would be pondering what life would be like with an All-Star calibre left tackle added to their offensive line.
James Butler led all running backs in yards from scrimmage and touchdowns in 2022. Butler’s ability to catch out of the back field became a great check down option for a young quarterback in Nathan Rourke. After losing Burnham to retirement and the potential of Rourke signing in the NFL, the Lions don’t want to start losing too many of their All-Star calibre weapons on offence. Butler would get a job in seconds if BC passed on the 1,000-yard back.
Now onto the Calgary Stampeders.
Am I showing a bias if I lead with another Canadian? No, because in a league that requires half the roster to be Canadians, you need to have the best of the best and Cameron Judge is just that. After a down year in Toronto, Judge came to Calgary and rose back to someone that needed to be considered for the Most Outstanding Canadian in the league in 2022. He was runner-up for the award in 2019, and every general manager and head coach would be interested in his services this off-season.
Folarin Orimolade is the next one we’ll be talking about for pass rushers in the CFL. Watching back Calgary games, it was amazing to see No. 9 consistently putting pressure on the quarterback, and while he only had six sacks this past season, he was far more influential in the play than that. Yes, I know Shawn Lemon is a pending free agent as well but when these two player’s peers voted for Orimolade over Lemon for CFLPA All-Star, I don’t think I’m too far off with this one.
If Derek Dennis’ recovery from the broken leg has no hiccups, Dennis has become a perennial All-Star at left tackle. Like Joel Figueroa, you know teams will be ringing the phone to improve their offensive line. There was a slight drop off in consistency for the Stampeders offensive line after Dennis’ injury, which raises his importance to the Stampeders if he’s committed to coming back at 34.
Now, the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Darnell Sankey and Larry Dean!
These two linebackers were the second linebacking tandem in CFL history to have 100 tackles each. Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill were the last to do it, so, yeah, who couldn’t use a pair of linebackers who are doing things only done by a pair of future Hall of Famers? It was the second year Sankey led the league in tackles and Dean came back from a torn Achilles and didn’t miss a beat, while also being an incredibly inspiration to his teammates and strong voice for a defence that was the best side of the ball for the struggling Riders.
Jeremy Clark would be a player I’d have tried to sign in Saskatchewan before the season was over and that’s not to say Jeremy O’Day wasn’t trying. Clark played nearly every position in the secondary last season in Saskatchewan as he shifted from field corner to halfback to boundary corner and even was looked at in the coverage linebacker role. Only coaches who truly trust a player move them around, and defensive coordinator Jason Shivers definitely trusted Clark last season. And you can’t teach size and at six-foot-three and 220 pounds, Clark has great length to cover any and all comers.
And finally the Edmonton Elks.
Jake Ceresna. No question he is on the list. He may be in my top 10 of all the potential free agents this season. 10 sacks at defensive tackle!? In only 12 games!? Yeah, the man can beat double teams from the centre and guard and wreak havoc in the trenches. While Chris Jones was rotating player after player through the lineup, Ceresna wasn’t going anywhere after missing seven weeks with an injury.
Kenny Lawler was the big name free agent last season and it should be no different this year. Lawler made some questionable accuracy issues from his quarterbacks into highlight reel catches. While his season ended early because of injury, he was still nearly a 1,000-yard receiver in just 12 games played. Lawler will once again be a receiver teams are chasing if he doesn’t sign an extension with the Elks before then.
Is anyone else wondering when Ante Litre will get more offensive snaps? Litre is a player that exemplifies the importance of players who are willing to do it all. He’ll put his body on the line on special teams and then be ready to rip off a 20-yard run or catch when given the opportunity out of the backfield. When I look at the list of Elks free agents and guys who get interest, Litre is in my top three, which is also a good sign for the amount of young players Chris Jones has brought in and has under contract for next season.