January 19, 2023

Ferguson: Ranking the Canadian pending free agents

Kevin Sousa/CFL.ca

Here we are less than one month away from the official start of CFL Free Agency, when players are able to jump ship or cross enemy lines to wear colours previously deemed impossible.

This winter has felt particularly slow compared to others as players weigh their options closely and wait for the right offer or fit before signing on the dotted line.

With so many names left on the nine ‘big boards’ across Canada, it can be overwhelming to decide where exactly your favourite team could, or should, be targeting a possible upgrade within their financial construct.

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It is well-known in the CFL that you can often only go as far as your Canadian talent takes you, and with the quality of National players consistently as high as it’s ever been, there are still plenty of decisions to be made on those who wave the red and white come game day.

69 Canadians remain on the pending free agent list, with the largest group (20 players) defined as receivers. With that in mind, let’s take a look at my best available Canadians at each position.

QUARTERBACK
Michael O’Connor

Michael O’Connor saw action in 17 games in 2022, completing 15 of 27 passes for 157 yards and an interception (BCLions.com)

With Nathan Rourke off to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Vernon Adams Jr. assuming the starting role in BC, there is a real chance for O’Connor to return as BC’s backup, but as the only pending Canadian quarterback in 2023 free agency, there wasn’t much wiggle room on this one.

RUNNING BACK
Andrew Harris

In the choice between Hamilton’s Sean Thomas Erlington and the now three-peat Grey Cup champion Andrew Harris, it’s a question of youth and potential vs. age and experience. Harris showed last season in Toronto why his value extends far beyond measurable stats and while I’ve always loved Thomas Erlington’s game, the nod here goes to Harris for overall impact.

FULLBACK
Mike Miller

At the time of writing, Mike Miller, the CFL’s greatest special teams tackler, had JUST signed an extension with Winnipeg. If Mike O’Shea is the soul of the Bombers culture, Miller is it’s unwavering engine. He’s as relentless a player as you’ll find who doesn’t need offensive touches to change the game.

RECEIVER
Kurleigh Gittens Jr.

 

Some in Winnipeg may scoff at Nic Demski coming in second, but there is no doubt Gittens Jr. is the pick here despite a rough Grey Cup performance last November. He is one of the best – alongside Demski and emerging star Kaion Julien-Grant – to do it, not just amongst Canadians.

OFFENSIVE LINE
Michael Couture

A rock on the Bombers offensive line which has already secured both American tackles Stanley Bryant and Jermarcus Hardrick, Couture is the unsung hero of a spectacular group who was forced to evolve this season, but could always use more continuity as they reload for another playoff run.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Robbie Smith

One of the truly great all-time up and down sequences in Grey Cup history for an individual player saw Robbie Smith go from hero to villain and back again in a few short minutes. His pass rush prowess and athleticism have never been in doubt for me, but Smith has quickly evolved into an all around player as he enters the prime of his CFL career.

LINEBACKER
Cameron Judge

Much like Miller, Judge had signed an extension with Calgary as this was written. No linebacker made more plays in more ways last season than Cameron Judge for Calgary. With 8.9% of the Stamps big defensive plays (INT, QS, FF, FR, KD, TFL), Judge finished second on Calgary to only Shawn Lemon, whose stats primarily came via sack, while Judge posted multiple stats in everything but knockdowns. Game changer.

DEFENSIVE BACK
Royce Metchie

The man who was traded straight up for Judge paid off big time for the Argos in the 2022 Grey Cup championship journey. One of the more cerebral and polished minds on the back end, Metchie might not have quite the same range as Montreal’s Marc-Antoine Dequoy, who has already signed an extension with Montreal, but his communication and confidence raise him above the crowd here.

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