As we move closer to the start of 2023, we also move closer to the start of free agency in February. As much of the content here at CFL.ca will be year-end oriented for the next few weeks, I wanted to make sure we kept this week’s piece focused on free agency before attention gets temporarily diverted away from the class of 2023.
As such, this week we’ve highlighted four pending free agents whose stock is on the rise thanks to strong 2022 campaigns.
Cameron Judge, linebacker
After a frustrating 2021 in Toronto, Judge took his game to a whole new level last season after being acquired in an off-season trade with the Stampeders. Judge didn’t just look like the budding defensive star we saw in three seasons with Saskatchewan, he looked better. Judge was an absolute beast in his first year with Calgary and has upped his leverage on a new contract significantly.
Judge recorded just 13 defensive tackles in nine appearances during his lone season with the Argos, as that pairing never seemed to mesh. With the Stamps, however, things clicked almost instantly. In fact, Judge eclipsed his total from the year before by recording 15 tackles in his first two games alone with Calgary, en route to a career high 80. Judge also recorded five sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two defensive touchdowns.
Judge has established himself as the league’s best Will linebacker, which was underlined by being named a CFL All-Star in 2022. The fit with the Stampeders and defensive coordinator Brent Monson is obvious, so a return makes sense for both sides. But if Judge wants to test the market, the 28-year-old won’t have trouble finding lucrative offers.
James Butler, running back
Only Calgary’s Ka’Deem Carey finished with more rushing yards than Butler in 2022, which was his second as a member of the Lions. But year two saw Butler absolutely explode as one of the CFL’s most effective and dangerous tailbacks. In fact, no one rushed the ball more than Butler did last season, as his 210 attempts led the league by a decent margin.
This past season saw Butler, who will be 28 in February, join Carey and Winnipeg’s Brady Oliveira as the league’s only running backs to go over 1,000 yards. Butler finished the season with 1,090 to go along with seven rushing touchdowns. He also proved to be effective in the receiving game, with four more touchdowns and 384 additional yards.
What makes things even more interesting is the fact that both Carey and Oliveira are under contract for next season. With Jamal Morrow also re-signed by Saskatchewan, Butler is unquestionably the No. 1 potential free agent at his position. That gives him some nice leverage in contract talks with BC.
DaShaun Amos, defensive back
Amos’s decision to sign with Toronto for 2022 turned out being one of the best calls of his life. Not only did Amos post great numbers on the field, he also helped the Argos win the East Division regular season crown and eventually the 109th Grey Cup. After three strong seasons in Calgary, Amos timed his departure nicely.
Spending almost all season as Toronto’s starting field halfback, Amos finished with a career high 49 defensive tackles to go along with four interceptions, the second highest total of his career. Amos was an integral part of an Argonauts defence that forced a league leading 48 turnovers, which was one of the hallmarks of their success.
Amos and Toronto defensive coordinator Corey Mace know one another well, as they’ve spent the last four seasons together dating back to their time with the Stampeders. As such, I’d be slightly surprised if Amos isn’t back in Double Blue once again. But consider this: defensive backs with Amos’ size, football IQ and elite ability to cover are highly sought after on the open market.
Jovan Santos-Knox, linebacker
After arriving on the scene during the shortened 2021 campaign, Santos-Knox cemented his spot as one of the CFL’s top linebackers last season, his second with Hamilton. Santos-Knox posted a career best 105 defensive tackles, which saw him finish behind only Darnell Sankey of the Riders for the league lead. Santos-Knox also recorded one sack and one interception on the road to being named an East Division All-Star for the first time.
Since he signed with them in February 2021, the Tiger-Cats have made Santos-Knox a focal point of their defence, which was something that didn’t seem in the cards during a frustrating 2019 season with Edmonton. But with a clear need for someone to partner with Simoni Lawrence, Hamilton targeted Santos-Knox and the fit has been great ever since.
Mike linebackers like Santos-Knox will always garner significant interest on the open market, especially after two straight consistently strong seasons. Knowing how well he’s worked since arriving, there’s plenty of incentive for the Ticats to ensure he’s back for season No. 3.